Learning about humor can help us in our quest to “make-a-d’ funny” (is that Italian?)
There is no one theory that adequately explains why we laugh. Instead, I present 3 popular ones that give us insight:
- Superiority theory
- Incongruity theory
- Relief theory
The superiority theory is not PC. It can hurt feelings. It theorizes that we make fun of people as a way to feel superior to them. An example is someone slipping and falling. If we know they got badly hurt, we probably won’t laugh but if they’re okay, then many of us just lose it. Even more deviously, we might laugh harder if they’re overweight (we’re comparing our physique to theirs and hoping we’re slimmer).
I’m not suggesting we go around making fun of people. Superiority theory simply points out one reason we laugh (even if we’re uncomfortable admitting it).
One way society deals with superiority guilt is to make fun of people in high authority. This way we can feel good without blame. Beware all you politicians!
Incongruity Theory has us putting two things together that don’t match at first, but then it clicks and we are like “aha”.
Joke: This lady from New Orleans wanted to have my baby. But I said, “No thanks. I like my eggs Cajun free.”
In this example, we visualize two separate things–a woman from New Orleans wanting a baby and cage-free eggs. At first, there doesn’t seem to be anything in common. Then we realize eggs are an important part of getting pregnant and cage free eggs are said to be healthier than regular ones. Wah lah! There’s the connection…and the joke.
Finally, in Relief Theory, energy and negative emotion build up until laughter allows it to escape. This is a Freud special! You ever been in an uncomfortable group setting where everyone is nervous until the first person cracks a joke and lightens the mood? This is basically relief theory at work.
More theories to come in future posts!