What is humor? Why are things ‘funny?’

So I went out to grab a quick bite this morning, and was already in the door. I was loading up at the caffeine station (next to the door) when an older lady was trying to walk in, and a twenty something was leaving. The older lady scowled, and the young one smiled and held the door. The older lady stood in the middle of the narrow path and scowled a little more, and the young one smiled a little bigger.

It became a bit of a standoff to figure out who would move first. The scowling queen and the princess. (And Disney, if you make this into a film, I’m looking for my cut.) So I of course, stopped to watch. the more the princess smiled, the more the queen scowled. It looked like something related to laws of inverse proportions.

So I of course did something totally inappropriate. It struck me funny and I laughed. Not too loud, but enough they both looked at me. Which meant I snickered a little more and moved on. Apparently that was enough to break the standoff, and the scowler pranced through the door, and the princess smiled, took her coffee and bagel, and went to wherever princesses go.

So I’m sitting down for my few minutes of quiet, and started debating humor. Now I have a sick sense of humor, and I embrace it. And if someone gets a laugh out of whatever stupidity I may have just committed, so be it. You can only take yourself so seriously.

So one of my favorite descriptions for humour is that it comes from a benign violation of the way the world ought to be. http://www.psychologicalscience.org/media/releases/2010/mcgraw.cfm

I agree with this… almost. It’s the word benign I question. So I grabbed this handy definition:


[bih-nahyn] Show IPA


1. having a kindly disposition; gracious: a benign king.

2. showing or expressive of gentleness or kindness: a benign smile.

3. favorable; propitious: a series of benign omens and configurations in the heavens.

4. (of weather) salubrious; healthful; pleasant or beneficial.

5. Pathology . not malignant; self-limiting.

So maybe its just my previously referenced sick sense of humor, but I can’t be the only one. My wife is at least as twisted, just in different directions.

For example, in the Avengers, ***spoiler alert*** in one scene, the Hulk grabs Loki and treats him like a rag doll slamming him into pretty much unbroken piece in range. At the end of it, Loki is embedded in the floor, and lets out a slight cry, and the Hulk says “Puny god.”

Okay, I may have had to rewind and re-watch that scene no more than 200-250 times, but was that benign? I know I’m not the only one who found it hysterical (see reference to sick and twisted wife. I was ready to stop after watching it @ 100 times.) But if that had been a puppy, it would neither have benign, nor funny. So did the act of Loki trying to destroy New York make the act benign?

I’m a big fan of the work of Rick Gualtieri and the Tome of Bill series. http://www.poptartmanifesto.com/ Funny yes. Benign? Um, no. No way in hell, no.

I think a lot of what we see and find funny is about context. It’s the reaction of the normal person to unusual circumstances, and how they deal with it. In my own work, I have Melvin, an angel and a muse. He is not malevolent, but he certainly is not benign, waiting for the universe to end and start again. However, he does bring popcorn.

I guess, for me, it’s more important to be able to laugh at yourself. If you can’t, someone else will do it for you. I will, given the opportunity. And then I’ll trip over my own feet.


What do you think is funny?


And before sending hate mail, read:  http://www.wikihow.com/Stop-Taking-Jokes-Seriously



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