The Origins of Humor

People have been laughing since the dawn of mankind, and trying to make other people laugh is something that we have all aspired to at some point or other in our lives, but some people just seem to be funnier than others.  Perhaps you want to be funnier, but you just don’t know how.  Luckily, through careful observation of my children, I have discovered the origins of humor, and I am here to share them with you.

At first glance, it does seem like the children are just giggling about nothing half the time, but upon further study, I have been able to break down what makes them laugh into three clear categories.  There is nothing closer to a pure, untainted human than a child, and so knowing what makes them laugh will reveal what makes everyone laugh.  You can get highbrow and sophisticated with it if you want, but it still all boils down to one of three things.

1) The Misfortune of Others
You can call this the “somebody falls down” style of comedy if you wish, but there is something hilarious at a very basic level about watching bad things happen to other people.  If I trip over something, Ruby and Edward cackle loudly and beg for me to do it again.  Of course, it’s only truly funny if there are no long lasting consequences, but as long as everyone is fine in the end, schadenfraude is comedy gold every time.

Grownups enjoy this kind of comedy in films such as Clerks, The Hangover, The Cable Guy, most romantic comedies, and anything involving stooges.  Thank goodness it isn’t us, we think, as we see other people’s lives unravel in hilarious ways, or watch someone get hit with a pie.

2) The Absurd
There really is nothing funnier to children than to say something clearly wrong and out of place.  You want Ruby to laugh?  Just say, “Hey Ruby, cats say oink!”  She will be rolling on the floor for hours over that one.  Try telling her that you are going to have chairs and pillows for dinner.  Explain to her that you are going to drive the car directly into the living room and leave it there.  State quite firmly that you are going to buy shoes at the grocery store.  You get the idea.

Most comedy films use this to some degree.  Some go all out absurdist, like Spaceballs, or The Naked Gun, but even films where the general idea is to laugh at other people’s mishaps generally contain some level of absurdity.  Sure it’s funny watching some people wake up from a night of partying, not knowing what happened, but how much funnier is it if there is a tiger in the room!?

3)Parody/Satire
This could almost be included under the absurd, but I concede that it doesn’t always have to be, so I have given it it’s own category.  Basically, imitating something else, or changing the lyrics of a song, or in some other way changing part of an already established something, is funny.  Sometimes it is absurd, like if I sang “Row, row, row your car.”  You cannot row a car, so it is absurd, and yet also a parody.  However, I could also sing “Moo, moo, black cow, have you any milk?  Yes sir, yes sir, three jugs full,” and Ruby would laugh at this as well.  There is nothing absurd about it, other than she knows that the song is supposed to be about a sheep, so putting a cow in there is funny.  Also, milk and full do not rhyme.

There are tons of parody movies out there, from Scary Movie, to Johnny English, but the best, and funniest, movies, in my opinion, are the ones that use multiple forms of comedy, like the absurdist satire Ghostbusters (in which many bad things happen), or the aforementioned Spaceballs and The Hangover.

So what can you take away from all of this?  If you want to be funny, either say something ridiculous, or trip over something.  And if that doesn’t work, try writing a biting satire of our political system or something.  But above all else, pace yourself, because, as I have just said over and over again, true comedy is just timing.

Posted in Comedy, Humor.

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