Thoughts on Humor and Comedy: Instruments of Normalization

“Perhaps I know best why it is man alone who laughs; he alone suffers so deeply that he had to invent laughter.”
– Friedrich Nietzsche

What is humor? What makes this or that funny? Why do we laugh? Is it nervousness? Do people laugh because they are anxious? Because they cannot cope with contradiction, paradox, uncertainty, conflict?

Why do people laugh when others hurt? Why do we laugh at the absurd? Why do we find humor in other peoples suffering or misfortune? Why do people laugh when they are afraid, or get giddy when they are fearful or uncertain? What causes man to break out into a cackle, into a release of noise and air? Does humor provide us with an escape? Does laughter allow the body to breath, to unshackle itself from oppression, the tension holding us together, the seriousness infiltrating the conscious experience? Why does man seek comfort in the comedic, the funny?

Why are we entertained by the ridiculous? Why are we amused by the senseless, the crazy, the illogical, the idiotic, the inane, the irrational, the jokey, the ludicrous, the wacky, the silly, the stupid, the goofy?

Does comedy and humor and amusement provide an outlet for all the pressure? An opportunity to abandon the structure?

Why do children laugh so much? Why are they so funny? Is it because they live in a yet-to-be-established world, free of predictable structure and order? Is it because the little they do know has yet to be synthesized into a predictable experience?

I have intuitions about these things.

Does a culture become increasingly comedic in proportion to the oppression they feel? Is there a correlation between the prevalence and seriousness of societal norms and prejudices and a society’s humor?

Are the most easy going people the most humorous? What humor do they produce? Slap stick? Laugh at life? Bathroom?

Are the serious people most humorous? What humor do they produce? Dry? Dead pan? Sarcastic? High brow?

Are the weird people most humorous? What humor do they produce? Quirky? Witty?

What makes for good comedy and humor? Who are most often the targets of such humor?

It seems humor is characterized by absurdity, by contradiction. In ancient Greece, comedy always involved the targeting of gods and politicians, people possessing the most influence. This even occurred in the Elizebethan era, and still occurs today.  Why is this the case? Is it because comedy offered a release from the dominating influence? A chance to unveil and reveal the absurdity ruling their life? Comedy pokes fun at the leaders, the ideals, the norms, the rules and principles. It pokes fun at stereotypes and prejudices.

Comedy is irony. What is irony?  It is a sharp incongruity or discordance that goes being the evident and simple intention of the words or meaning. It is the use of words to convey meaning contrary or opposite from its literal meaning. The etymology of “irony” is from the Ancient Greek word eirōneía, meaning dissimulation or feigned ignorance. (Eirōneia, “irony, pretext”, from eirōn, “one who feigns ignorance”).  Why is irony a form of deception that conceals the truth? What is truth? What is being concealed?

It seems humor requires a juxtaposition. The context— involving the subjective speaker and referenced object— appears to determine the type of humor.

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Why is humor so important for society?

I look around me, observe my culture and society, and note the location and subjects of our humor. Politics and politicians, all the people that demand to be taken seriously, take center stage. Stereotypes and societal conventions and norms are the next victim. The last are those who aren’t serious enough, the outcasts, the crazies, those on the fringe who don’t seem to follow lock step with everyone else.

Regarding children— I think there is something very revealing about the nature of humor that children can teach us. Why are they so giddy? Why is everything such a joke to them? Why are they so damn happy?

I believe it all revolves around the absurdity of normalization: the ridiculous nature of our expectations about reality. Expectations that, for the most part, we have been impressed with, trained to possess through conditioning.

When you have an open mind, when you are easy going, when you go with the flow: you find that life brightens. Life becomes a fluid exchange of emotional expression. Your mind breaths, it loosens its grip on certainty, on predictability, and everything melts into a plenum of feeling.

Who are the comedians? What type of person are they? Do they go to humor to cope with the otherwise debilitating demands of social pressure? What is their role in society? Are they there to remind us that it’s all a joke? That nothing is so serious that you need to stop feeling?

Can comedy be detrimental? Can it be injurious to society? Can it harm a mind? How so?

I imagine that comedy may lull the people into a state of complacency. The word “amuse” means “to divert attention, a suspension of thought”. What happens when a society prides itself on amusement? The danger, it seems, is a society failing to come to terms with its oppressive condition. That is, a society in denial. Does it matter if the oppression is internally imposed or externally imposed? Imposed by the self or imposed by others?

“A joke is an epigram on the death of a feeling.”
– Friedrich Nietzsche

Comedy— as Nietzsche poignantly articulated— is the death of a feeling. Perhaps it is healthy to feel? Perhaps those who are all jokes, all fun and games, are the most trapped, the most stifled, the most oppressed of all?

In order modern culture entertainment and amusement are the rule. I have to believe it has something to do with the denial of their condition, their sad sorry suffering state.

Think about the comedy in our culture. Think about the comedians in our culture. Which shows do you watch them in? In what circumstances and situations? Are they mocking a situation? A type of person? A situation or person that should be taken seriously? Think: Seinfeld, The Office, 30 Rock, Community, Parks & Recreation, Modern Family, Always Sunny in Philadelphia. Or: South park, Family Guy, the Simpsons. Or comedians: Zach Galifianakis, George Carlin, Richard Pryor, Lewis C.K., Jon Stewart, Mitch Hedberg, Dave Chapelle, Chris Rock.

What do they all have in common? They expose the absurdity of our condition, of our seriousness, of our prejudices, of our monotony, of our slavishness,

What’s sad about all of these things? They create a false sense of comfort. They lead us to believe it’s alright, that everything’s O.K., that because we can talk about it, because it’s out in the air, it’s not a problem, not a threat, not something to worry about. That someone else is taking care of it.

That’s scary.

They poke fun at our condition, and we laugh at it, thinking “geeze, I’m glad someone got that out”, cause everyone feels it, but no one talks about it, no one expresses it.

Comedy is an instrument for normalizing the suffering. It allows us to embrace our condition.

When do we draw the line and stop laughing? When do we get serious about our circumstance and do something about it?

Man alone suffers so excruciatingly in the world that he was compelled to invent laughter.
– Friedrich Nietzsche

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What is comedy? The word comedy is rooted in Ancient Greek “kōmōidia“, from kōmos, “revel, carousing” + either ōidē, “song” or aoidos, “singer, bard”, both from aeidō, “I sing”. Comedy is singing? Why is comedy singing? What does singing have to do with laughing? Does singing relate to expression? to the expression of feeling?

What is humor?  from Latin humor, correctly umor “moisture”, from humere, correctly umere “to be moist”. That’s not very telling. I just think of Hippocrates humours, meaning “liquid” to refer to bodily secretions like phlegm, blood, choler (yellow bile). My intuition would lead me to believe it has something to do with the tears from laughing? Alas.

opprimere

Lots of unrefined, undeveloped rambling:

I believe that oppression is man’s greatest asset. I believe that when man is not oppressed, he has no need to adapt, no need to grow and acheive and strive and thrive. I would say that oppression is the ultimate good. Since I can think of nothing pleasing about actively undergoing oppression, I would say that it is tantamount to suffering. But like suffering, oppression presents an opportunity to tap into previously unknown potentials in order to endure and survive.

What is oppression? More or less, it is “the exercise of authority or power in a burdensome, cruel, or unjust manner”, or “the feeling of being heavily burdened, mentally or physically, by troubles, adverse conditions, anxiety, etc.” If man is to live as a truly free and autonomous being, one can argue that there is no such thing as just authority and that all authority is a burden.

The etymology of oppression? Coined mid-14c., as “cruel or unjust use of power or authority,” from Fr. oppression (12c.), from L. oppressionem, noun of action from pp. stem of opprimere. Meaning “action of weighing on someone’s mind or spirits” is from late 14c.

Oppression is nothing more than demands. Demands are the effect of some initial cause. Demands instantiate voids to be filled, or requirements to be satisfied, with a response such as thought or action. Humans respond to these voids by exercising human ingenuity, innovation and invention. These responses exist as conceptualizations, systems, meanings, or structures where they inhabit the mind and manifest as through our action.

I believe that our efforts to escape from oppression, from physical or mental demands and the duress they may cause, provide us with the ultimate salvation by rescuing us from our previously cramped conceptions of human possibility and forcing us to expand our horizons of what it means to be fully human. When we commit to escaping oppression we commit to adapting, we commit to conceding outdated paradigms and belief systems for a novel, alternative perspective.

Where does oppression take place? It can occur to the mind and the body. I believe civilization has capitalized on the venture of oppressing the mind. Nature imposes its own form of oppression. Natural, or environmental, oppression, was much more of an issue in the past due to our failure to capture the nature of cause and effect as well as our frail ability to leverage physical laws to alter or overpower the course of physical phenomena. Throughout our evolution, however, we’ve managed to innovate and invent ways of overcoming the oppression of natural physical constraints.

Body and mind are inextricable, so that what oppresses the mind manifests simultaneously in the body, and what oppresses the body manifests simultanesouly in the mind. In this way, as man alleviates physical oppression, he simultaneously frees his mind. But where does that leave the mind?

All life wishes to not only survive, but thrive. Existence depends on ensuring a continuity. Life does not want equilibrium. Life wants the power to create its own equilibrium, to impose its own balance, its own demands, on the world.

The oppression that occurs in the mind originates from abstractions generated and perpetuated by culture, from power relations vying for authority and dominant influence.  What are these abstractions? They are belief systems, language, meaning, conceptions like truth and law, etc. What are these power relations? The forces generated by competition between opposing ideologies. These forces present themselves as the will, or the emotional driver reinforcing every form of action.

Culture is a conglomeration of these abstractions and power relations. Culture shapes and programs individuals with the systems of abstractions and relations necessary for navigating, acting and reacting, within the culture.

Culture produces individuals and these individuals produce new physical boundaries that expand or contract oppression.

Was man ever a blank slate? There was never a garden of eden. The first oppression was natural environmental oppression. Out of human’s adaptation arose social relations and ultimately oppression.

Does scarcity drive oppression? When there is plentitude, is man oppressed? Only when social oppression continues to persist.

Oppression forces you to make a choice between fighting to anhiliate and overpower the oppression or acquiescing the mind and body under its force. One is active, the other is passive.

Education is oppressive. This oppression, when actively overcome, is positive. When this oppression overcomes, it is negative.

What is value? What determines value? Does all value maintain an equivalent price? Is value determined by emotional attachment? Utility? One can say that anything that is useful possesses an emotional attachment, since our emotional reflexes arise from deep primal impulses to survive.

What is value? Clearly utility has something to do with it, but then again, hardly anything at all. One can agree that just about anything can be useful to someone at sometime, but not someone at just anytime or all the time. So value has something to do with utility. Is art valuable? It produces an emotional response that aids in your well being. Love is valuable because, in some other degree, it does the same.

Because we cannot use every useful thing all the time, we must consider how we use our time. In this way we establish a hierarchy of values that serve us according to the proportional time we spend in any given activity.

Some abstract, qualifiable values are information, experience, feelings, thoughts, and I’m sure the list goes on, but these seem to be the most basic.

Candidus

Ah. To be happy. I can be happy. I am happy. But the dumb are happy. It doesn’t take guts to be happy. It takes guts to be sad. To endure hardship and suffering. Sure, happy is pleasurable. But imagine, just imagine a life that was entirely happy. I like to think that such a life would be terribly boring. Terribly nauseating. Like eating sugar at every meal, you’d get sick of it. Most people think that suffering is a curse. I tend to disagree, quite vehemently too. Suffering and sadness are blessings. They harden and humble a man. They make him more appreciative, more aware. And while they might callous soft skin, they deepen the capacity to care and contemplate, to hold more in.

To be happy: the dumb are happy. That is what I observe. Any blubbering idiot can be happy. But to be sad? This requires courage, but not just courage, it requires sacrifice. Sacrifice of the pleasures that preponder the mind night and day.

Amusing. I resent those who keep themselves constantly amused. Do you know what the word amuse stands for? It is a suspension of thought: ‘a’-‘muse’. As in, ‘no muse’. As in, to divert attention, inspiration or thought. The french came up with that one. It’s quite clever.

So we have a society that prides itself on amusement. It is a virtue to be amused.

Suffering and sadness create depth. I can always spot the deep thinkers. They’re the sensitive type, but you’d never know it by looking at them. They keep it in. Some people have the good fortune of being born sensitive. In these cases suffering and sadness are thrust upon them. For everyone else, well, they need to wait to misfortune. And some never have the fortune of misfortune.

But the suffering and sadness doesn’t just make people deep and contemplative. No. It makes them bold. Bold to be themselves. To be happy. To embrace it all. They know no boundaries. For them, fear has been found. They fear nothing. They understand that to fear suffering is to already suffer from what you fear. They realize that it is all apart of the play. For everyone else, they avoid pain. They avoid hardship, suffering. Their lives are a despairing denial. They seek comfort and in this comfort they water down their potential.

Some people run. They run from vulnerability. They run from pain. They run from every really experiencing joy. Let them run. They run only from themselves, and then they never know themselves. For them life is a sheet of paper containing wondrous lines and colors, but no depth.

Yes. The man who has suffered greatly finds himself at home even in the most terrifying worlds, worlds which most no nothing about. Ah yes. To be happy. You fool. Life is not always happy. You have bought the lie, swallowed the pill, forfeited your life.

Life is suffering. To embrace suffering is to embrace life. To avoid suffering is the strongest sentiment of death. When life hurts, know that you are alive.

Let us embrace the balance. Let us embrace the crests and troughs. The balance lies in the synthesis, the contrasts created by the peaks and valleys. To reside in the middle is lifeless. While the moments spent there are brief and good, a life in the middle, or at one extreme or the other, is a predictable flat line. Let’s find balance while undulating across the extremes. This way we can mark our progress by degree.

I believe that some people are born wild, while others are born domesticated. Some born free, others born slaves.

With a large intelligence and a deep heart comes the inevitability of pain and sadness. Great men, I think, must have great sadness.

Oh you disagree do you? What great achievement was ever won without the perspiration of pain? One must embody the discipline of driving through suffering and sadness?

I am happy. But I choose my moments. I prefer to be conscious, to have a pulse, rather than be happy. So this may be why I am always thinking. It is an involuntary response to being fully alive.

Candidus: The Art of Suffering

Ah. To be happy. I can be happy. I am happy. But the dumb are happy. It doesn’t take guts to be happy. It takes guts to be sad. To endure hardship and suffering. Sure, happy is pleasurable. But imagine, just imagine a life that was entirely happy. I like to think that such a life would be terribly boring. Terribly nauseating. Like eating sugar at every meal, you’d get sick of it. Most people think that suffering is a curse. I tend to disagree, quite vehemently too. Suffering and sadness are blessings. They harden and humble a man. They make him more appreciative, more aware. And while they might callous soft skin, they deepen the capacity to care and contemplate, to hold more in.

To be happy: the dumb are happy. That is what I observe. Any blubbering idiot can be happy. But to be sad? This requires courage, but not just courage, it requires sacrifice. Sacrifice of the pleasures that preponder the mind night and day.

Amusing. I resent those who keep themselves constantly amused. Do you know what the word amuse stands for? It is a suspension of thought: ‘a’-‘muse’. As in, ‘no muse’. As in, to divert attention, inspiration or thought. The french came up with that one. It’s quite clever.

So we have a society that prides itself on amusement. It is a virtue to be amused. To be dumb.

Suffering and sadness create depth. I can always spot the deep thinkers. They’re the sensitive type, but you’d never know it by looking at them. They keep it in. Some people have the good fortune of being born sensitive. In these cases suffering and sadness are thrust upon them. For everyone else, well, they need to wait for misfortune. And some never have the fortune of misfortune.

But the suffering and sadness doesn’t just make people deep and contemplative. No. It makes them bold. Bold to be themselves. To be happy. To embrace it all. They know no boundaries. For them, fear has been found. They fear nothing. They understand that to fear suffering is to already suffer from what you fear. They realize that it is all apart of the play. For everyone else, they avoid pain. They avoid hardship, suffering. Their lives are a despairing denial. They seek comfort and in this comfort they water down their potential.

Some people run. They run from vulnerability. They run from pain. They run from ever really experiencing joy. Let them run. They run only from themselves, and then they never really know themselves. For them life is a sheet of paper containing wondrous lines and colors, but no depth.

Yes. The man who has suffered greatly finds himself at home even in the most terrifying worlds, worlds which most no nothing about. Ah yes. To be happy. You fool. Life is not always happy. You have bought the lie, swallowed the pill, forfeited your life.

Life is suffering. To embrace suffering is to embrace life. To avoid suffering is the strongest sentiment of death. When life hurts, know that you are alive.

Let us embrace the balance. Let us embrace the crests and troughs. The balance lies in the synthesis, the contrasts created by the peaks and valleys. To reside in the middle is lifeless. While the moments spent there are brief and good, a life in the middle, or at one extreme or the other, is a predictable flat line. Let’s find balance while undulating across the extremes. This way we can mark our progress by degree.

I believe that some people are born wild, while others are born domesticated. Some born free, others born slaves.

With a large intelligence and a deep heart comes the inevitability of pain and sadness. Great men, I think, must have great sadness.

Oh you disagree do you? What great achievement was ever won without the perspiration of pain? One must embody the discipline of driving through suffering and sadness.

I am happy. But I choose my moments. I prefer to be conscious, to have a pulse, rather than be happy. So this may be why I am always thinking. It is an involuntary response to being fully alive.