Without wishing to state the obvious, isn’t laughter a funny thing? I don’t mean the actual physical act, but why is it that as a species we find things funny so much that we go out of our way to get a side-splitting laughter stitch?
It makes us feel good, of course, which is why the gelotologists spend so much time studying the therapeutic benefits of a good giggle.
But while we know what makes us laugh, no-one seems to know why.
And it must be hard to figure out because there are so many different sorts of humour – slapstick, bawdy, sophisticated, political, racist, sexist, riddles, cartoons, stand-up, improvised, situational, observational, toilet, wordplay. You name it and there is something for anyone to laugh at.
Years ago I read the Isaac Asimov short story Jokester. It was typical Asimov fare of sci-fi with a humorous edge. It involved a very smart compute called Multivac, not unlike Douglas Adams’ Deep Thought I suppose. Anyway, an equally smart scientist uses it to analyse humour to find out why there is no such thing as an original joke, except for the pun.
Eventually the computer tells him that all funniness is a psychological experiment by extraterrestrials who are studying mankind. But having gotten to the bottom of why humour, knowledge of it makes it useless and the aliens ‘switch off’ comedy and suddenly nothing makes us laugh any more. A scary thought. Not having jokes would be far worse than alien invasion, ravenous black holes or a meteorite on collision course with earth.
You’ve probably guessed by now that I don’t have any answers, but neither does science it seems. Which is odd since humour is one of the fundamental things that make us human. But it also very subjective – what makes me laugh may not be funny for you. The trick of the successful comedian is to find a routine that is subjectively funny for the greatest number of people.