Sunday, March 18, 2012

Humor Playing Ground

"We delight, for mysterious reasons, in comic revelations about the inadequacies of the great as well as the absurdity of those all about us. We may even enjoy jokes at our own expense - unless there is too much of a loss of dignity and we feel, too directly, the hostility that is hidden in this humor. 

All of us can probably recall incidents in our lives that were funny and which made us feel good. And that seems to be one of the most important aspects of humor - it gives us pleasure, even if it does so in rather complicated ways. We even seem to derive pleasure figuring out how humor gives us pleasure." 

Arthur Asa Berger , 1993, An Anatomy of Humor

Arthur Asa Berger is a percipient interpreter of public mood. His explorations into Pop Culture's objects of affection tell us a lot about ourselves and other people. Berger recognizes humor in every subject, "there is no escaping humor and there is no subject...that hasn't been...joked about." 

Like many great thinkers before him, Berger recognizes that humor can be a subtle and powerful means of social control, but he also acknowledges that humor is just as much a force for resistance by subordinate elements in society. (p. 2)

In my mind, humor is the playground that narrows the discordance between the "have's and the have not's in society. In this way, humor really does bring us together

Those who have money and power, and those who do not. 

Those who are smart, and those who are not.

Those who are resourceful, and those who are not. 

Those who are mature, and those who are not. 

Those who are pushy, and those who are not. 

Those who are prudish, and those who are not. 

Those who are honest, and those who are not. 

Those who have manners, and those who do not. 

Those who know when to stop, and those who do not.

Samuel Beckett's Nonsensical Humor

"If life is absurd, as many existentialists suggest, then humor of absurdity can be seen as a means toward realism." 

Arthur Asa Berger, 1993, An Anatomy of Humor

Play by Samuel Beckett, Part 1

Freud, in his Jokes and the Unconscious, stated that "the nonsense in a joke is an end in itself, since the intention of recovering the old pleasure in nonsense is among the joke-work's motives. There are other ways of recovering the nonsense and of deriving pleasure from it: caricature, exaggeration, parody and travesty make use of them and so create 'comic nonsense'". 

Freud further cautioned that nonsense should not be confused with stupidity. While both are "inefficiencies of function", the former occurs because someone took "took much trouble" to do something, whereas the latter because they "took too little". Samuel Beckett's work clearly falls under Freud's "nonsensical" definition. 

Rhetorical Exuberance

A mechanic cut his hand. Several days later it became infected, 
so he went to the doctor. 

The doctor explained what had happened in highfalutin medical technology, treated the cut, and charged him a hundred and fifty dollars. 

The next week, the mechanic's assistant told him that the doctor's car was outside and had a flat tire. 

The mechanic said, "Diagnose it as an absence of flatulence of the perimeter caused by the penetration of a foreign object resulting in the dissipation of the compressed atmospheric contents and charge him accordingly." 

Rhetorical exuberance is a humor technique that derives its power from its extravagance, from our sense of the difference between what is said and how it is said. 

The note of pretentiousness on the part of the doctor is returned when he gets a taste of his own medicine. 

The Secret Technique Behind the Joke: Why Did the Chicken Cross the Road?

Why did the Chicken cross the Road? 

Disappointment and Defeated Expectations (logic) 

The technique of disappointment involves leading people on about something and then denies them the logical consequences they expect. 

This type of humor is very similar to "teasing" and is funny only to the extent that we find minor disappointment amusing. 

Eccentric Humor

Eccentric humor is based on the difference between what is customary, i.e., "normal," or what we are used to and what we find when we experience the abnormal or the deviant. 

Absurd humor violates our sense of logic, our sense of the way we think and behave. There is a difference between those people who are considered strange (different, from other cultures) and people who are eccentric (different, from our own culture and society who deviate from the norms). 

Arthur Asa Berger describes these people as "code violators." They do not live by our codes which, to us, seem quite reasonable and logical. 

In the right context, this code violation puzzles and amuses us.

Thursday, March 15, 2012

The Logic of Humor - Coincidences

A young man was called up for a medical exam by his draft board. 
When he was examined by the doctor, he pretended he couldn't see. 

"Please read that chart," said the doctor. 

"What chart?" asked the young man. 

"The one on the wall," replied the doctor.

"What wall?" asked the young man. 

The doctor then classified him as 4-F and the young man left. 

That evening, the young man decided to celebrate and went to the movies. 

When the film ended, to his amazement, the doctor was sitting right next to him. 

Thinking quickly, the young man asked the doctor, 

"Is this the line for the bus to Hoboken?" 

Coincidental humor involves our sense of order in the universe and the way we perceive the concept "fate."  Primarily based on embarrassment: circumstances putting us, by chance, in an awkward situation. 

Coincidences strike us as funny or "uncanny" or even humorously strange. The draft joke above involves embarrassment and an attempt to escape from it. From a psychoanalytic perspective, we find an id attempting to avoid the strictures of the superego. Underlying this is a notion that the universe is just and that wrongdoers usually get caught.