Distinguishing comedy as humor applied to tragedy or to celebration gives us a clue as to why we laugh rather than weep at the mishaps of others.
Humor is an inherently adaptive device and can be applied to tragedy or to celebration. Humor applied to tragedy shifts the realism of it into an extreme metaphysical truth, comically confronting the end of life or the sadness associated with loss and despair.
Applying humor to tragedy doesn't make tragedy funny; it simply utilizes humor as a device to communicate a tragic message. Laughter in the presence of tragic humor is common, however, it is humor as a device, which has been adapted to a concept (in this case, tragedy) that instigates the laughter, not the tragedy itself.
Humor applied to celebration steers us toward happiness in a delightful and engaging way. Focusing on celebration improves our mood and allows us to capitalize on our strengths.
There are a number of neural mechanisms associated with the biological bases of altruism and the effects of positive interventions on the brain.
Martin Seligman is the Director of Positive Psychology Center at the University of Pennsylvania and founder of positive psychology, a branch of psychology which focuses on the empirical study of positive emotions, strengths-based character, and healthy institutions. Dr. Seligman unveiled his theory on positive psychology in his book Flourish.
The effects of positive emotions gives us further insight into how and perhaps why humor should be categorized according to its delivery device. In this way, a joke can be associated with positivity or negativity.
Often times, negative jokes are inadvertently told at the expense of another person's pain. This is why jokes can be offensive and evoke negative responses. However, it is not always the intention of the person delivering the joke to offend. The ambiguity in how we define 'humor' causes confusion as to how a joke should be categorized, further compounding the uncertainty about why some jokes fail to elicit genuine laughter. While laughter has been the historical barometer as to whether or not a joke was funny, negative humor should not be automatically categorized with positive humor just because it causes someone to laugh.
It is for this reason that I feel categorizing jokes and comedy delivery devices according to positive (celebratory) or negative (tragic) concepts is important, which can allow us to debunk a joke and choose one according to our intention rather than because someone previously laughed. The person who laughed was most likely not person about whom the joke was told.
Cynicism causes us to question whether something will happen or more precisely, whether it is worthwhile in the first place. Cynicism is pessimism about the future.
Invectives are insulting, abusive, or highly critical language.
Irony is the purposeful expression of an opposite for humorous or emphatic effect. It references dramatic or tragic concepts, such as those used in Greek tragedy, by which the full significance of the character's words or actions are clear to the audience or reader but unknown to the character.
Quips are quick and inventive verbal humor, similar to irony in the respect that the speech is usually directed at an individual rather than an object. Quips utilize ambiguous language or prevaricates to conceal the truth.
Satire utilizes comedic applications of tragic humor such as irony, exaggeration, or ridicule to expose and criticize people's stupidity or vices.
Negative humor is contemptuous in nature and uses scorn and sarcasm to deliver a concealed message rather than emphasizing achievement, delight, joy, happiness, pride, success, or satisfaction, as is commonly expressed in positive humor.
CELEBRATORY DELIVERY DEVICES USED IN HUMOR
Aphorisms are concise or terse statements used to express an idea. Historically, aphorisms developed from the Spartan propensity for austerity and were used in military jargon for means of efficiency, for philosophical reasons (Stoic minimalism) or to reference scientific principles as an aid in defensive strategy.
Aphorisms developed into dry wit or "laconic humor," which contrasted with the refined, poignant, delicate humor of Athenian "Attic salt" or "Attic wit" (prestigious dialect spoken in Attica).
Hippocrates' "Life is show, art long, opportunity fleeting, experience deceptive, judgment difficult" is an example of this type of humor, which later evolved into maxims that utilize the same concise, cleverly and pithily delivered language to express a subjective truth or observation.
Folklore utilizes the traditional beliefs, customs, and stories to describe and transmit valuable information to a community as a tool for adaptation and survival. Folklore, therefore, consists of legends, music, oral, history, proverbs, jokes, popular beliefs, fairy tales, theologies, and customs that attempt to "preserve" the community as an aesthetic unit.
Maxims are short, pithy statements expressing a general truth or rule of conduct that developed from an austere application of adaptation and survival. Maxims were concisely expressed subjective principles of behavior intended to motivate individuals toward future action. The advent of prior success, developed into principles or rules, which were then judged as moral if they had universal value. Once a maxim was judged universal (i.e., moral), it was verbally expressed with the same austerity from which it derived, resulting in a short statement subjectively understood as action that would, by nature, yield positive outcomes. The maxims therefore "motivated" individuals to repeat actions that would strengthen the community as an aesthetic unit.
Mot pour fire is a "complimentary" expression that acknowledges an individual who evokes humor irrespective of the circumstance, tragedy or celebration. I have listed it as a positive humorous device given its "complimentary" delivery. It is the epitome of acknowledgement and adaptation verbally expressed. "That was a hoot," and "You crack me up" are English examples of the French expression "Tu a toujours le mot pour rire" (you always have a funny thing to say).
Parables are succinct stories, delivered in prose or verse that illustrate one or more instructive principles or lessons. They differ from fable in that fables use animals, plants, inanimate objects, and forces of nature as characters, while parables generally feature human characters.
Parables, as a device, use a prescriptive subtext suggestion indicating how a person should behave or believe, while providing guidance and suggestions for proper action in life. Parables generally refer to any fictive illustration that might naturally occur, by which spiritual and moral matters might be conveyed. Parables "teach" an abstract argument, using a concrete narrative, which is more easily grasped, for the "benefit of the community" as an aesthetic unit.
Plaisanteries are inconsequential remarks made as part of "polite" conversation that often times result in a laugh at ones own "pleasantry". Plaisanteries include cultural bandinages and witty conversations about art and life. The energie is light in mood, and is structured like a fast gavotte dance, sharing the same energie as the rigaudon, a lively, French, baroque, folk dance for couples.
Some historical plaisanteries include "Jamais you ne sommes plus heureux sue quand nos plaisanteries font rire la bonne" (Never are we as happy as when our jokes result in laughter from the good) by Jules Renard; "Quand on observe la nature, on y découvre les plaisanteries dune ironic supérieure" (When you observe truth in nature, there you discover the pleasantries of superior irony) by Honore de Balzac; and "Tant qu'on fait fire, c'est des plaisanteries. Dès sue c'est pas droll, c'est des insultes" (As long as we laugh, they're jokes. As soon as it's not funny, they're insults) by Coluche.
Proverbs are short, pithy sayings that are concise as they are forceful in their expression. Existing since ancient times, the Book of Proverbs or the "Proverbs of Solomon" were wise sayings in the context of transmitting knowledge for ones own household, royal setting, or house of learning. Proverbs offered "advice for successful living" and were ostensibly written as a legacy for the "benefit of offspring or future generations."
Wit is the aptitude for using words and ideas in a quick and inventive way to invoke humor. Like parables, wit makes something already said or referenced clearer. Wit utilizes intelligence, shrewdness, astuteness, cleverness, common sense, wisdom, sagacity, judgment, acumen, insight, savvy, or what is called "street smarts" as a repartee, badinage, banter, or wordplay.
Puns fall under the category of applied wit, much like comedy falls under the category of applied humor.
Categorizing comedy delivery devices according to a positive or negative nature allows us to freely choose which message we intend to deliver as we explore the heights of the humor scale and expand our definition and understanding of what makes something funny - or not.
When people can look to humor and feel uplifted rather than apprehensive, that will be the day when we've raised the expectations of humor to the level where humor's true power resides.