Plato’s “superiority theory” of comedy says that people find humour in misfortunes, because of the joy & relief of being in a better situation. Freud’s “release theory” posits that laughter is the cathartic explosion of nervous energy. The “incongruity theory” says that an inconsistency between expectation and reality causes laughter. A recent theory is the “benign violation hypothesis” – that humour happens when a person simultaneously recognises both that a norm has been violated and the violation is not upsetting.
Other theories explain laughter from an evolutionary perspective. Laughter occurs in every society, and some form of it is displayed by other social animals too. Primates tickle each other and make huffing sounds approximating human laughter, and even rats seem to giggle when tickled. Researchers studying dolphins have noticed that they make distinctive calls when play-fighting. Concluding that the sound signals when a potentially anxious situation is actually non-threatening. Psychologists theorise that this is the reason human laughter may have first developed too. “Only joking..”
Animals certainly play, and exhibit obvious pleasure in doing so. They clearly understand FUN but do animals have a sense of FUNNY? Of irony? Of the ridiculous, or the absurd? Our neighbourhood crows certainly seem to laugh as they tease our downstairs neighbour’s cat. Plato’s crows, enjoying their superiority..
A sense of humour is just common sense, dancing. – Clive James
Some see comedy & laughter as a downplaying of the seriousness of an issue, but I do not see it that way. I laugh, not because I do not grasp the gravity of the situation, but precisely because I do. To me, laughter and sorrow walk hand in hand. Plato thought that tragedy is funny when it happens to someone else, but we often find humour in our own misfortune too, given enough time. That embarrassing wedding day, terrible vacation, or car breakdown in the middle of nowhere was nightmarish in real time, but is often served as a funny anecdote much later. Our misfortune is funnier seen in the rearview mirror, when there is balance between how bad a thing is and how distant it is.
Life is a tragedy when seen in close-up, but comedy in long-shot. – Charlie Chaplin
We’re all participating in an ongoing tragicomedy every day of our lives, where tears can be of joy or sadness, and quite often both at the same time. Is laughter the best medicine? Well not really, in terms of fixing physical things. No amount of laughter will mend your broken leg or cure your bowel cancer. But it heals the spirit, and makes the malady more bearable. Humour has certainly helped me through some absolutely terrible times. In a sense, all humour is gallows humour in that it helps us deal with the inherent ridiculousness of our existence. Of mortality.
It’s hard enough to write a good drama, it’s much harder to write a good comedy, and it’s hardest of all to write a drama with comedy. Which is what life is. – Jack Lemmon
Humour can be used to illuminate, especially in crazy times, when the grotesque becomes normalised. If the King is strutting around with no clothes, the person pointing it out is more likely to be a clown than a journalist.
For me, comedy starts as a spew, a kind of explosion, and then you sculpt it from there, if at all. It comes out of a deeper, darker side. Maybe it comes from anger, because I’m outraged by cruel absurdities, the hypocrisy that exists everywhere, even within yourself, where it’s hardest to see.- Robin Williams
Humans are helpless when they hatch, unlike baby giraffes or foals, that gambol about as soon as they are born. We are not yet fully cooked, and need to ferment or prove a little after coming out of the oven. I’ve never found newborns to have the appeal that most people instantly feel, but as soon as they laugh, I feel the baking process is done >DING!< and a human is viewable to me there. Long before we humans can walk, talk or think rationally, we can LAUGH.
The secret source of humour itself is not joy but sorrow. There is no humour in heaven. – Mark Twain
It is fascinating how soon after a human is born, while still not understanding anything about the world yet, the baby already has a sense of humour, and can laugh. And what a sound. Is there anything so infectiously funny as a wee baby cracking itself up? But what amuses the laughing baby so?
Sausages are just funny. I don’t know why. I can’t explain it. – Phoebe Waller-Bridge
If humour comes from the unexpected and/or benign violation, how can a baby develop a sense of such things after only 3 months? I think a big part of laughter is the simple joy of connection with others – Peek-a-BOO! Giggle!
Laughter is the closest distance between two people. – Victor Borge
The order in which human faculties unveil themselves is telling; THINKING critically at 84 months, TALKING at 36 months, WALKING at 18 months, but HUMOUR is there almost at the dawn of human life, at 3 months. SMILING at 6 weeks. It’s as if Mother Nature realised that you can get by without motor skills, critical thinking, or language, but you’ll need a sense of humour, and right from the start, if you’re to cope with living a human life.
I always knew looking back on my tears would bring me laughter, but I never knew looking back on my laughter would make me cry. – Cat Stevens