What makes us laugh? (Repost)

The following is a repost, but I really thought it fit the Blog Carnival topic of Laughter well. For more posts on the topic of Laughter, visit Bridget Chumbley’s place, One Word at a Time.

When I go to the local bookstore, I browse for books much like I browse for clothes. I know what I like, but I’m always open to something a little out of my comfort zone. Which is why I made an impulse buy. I bought this book:

I wouldn’t say it’s full of profanity, but it’s got its fair share. But that’s not necessarily a deal breaker when I buy a book. I bought the book because the first reaction to the cover–I laughed. Then I read a few pages and laughed some more. And while I don’t agree with many of Denis Leary’s political and social views, I must admit he presents some pretty good examples of the sense of ridiculous entitlement many Americans indulge in.

But here’s where the book falls short for me–the snark (while sometimes needlessly cruel IMO) is funny at first, but after awhile it just sounds like a really grumpy, angry rant against anyone or anything that happens to piss him off. After awhile, it gets tired. Not funny anymore.

This got me wondering about what makes people laugh and why. After I googled it some in-depth search, I found an interesting article in Psychology Today. In part, it says:

“Over the past few years, laughter researchers have come to realize that the element of surprise was fundamental to most jokes…What Clarke realized was that while most jokes are surprising, the reason they are surprising is because everyone has an inborn pattern recognition system. It is the violation of standard patterns we find funny. And this violation is a universal.”

I suppose this is why, in part, Leary’s book ceased being funny for me. After the first several pages, everything he wrote was fairly predictable.

I think what we laugh at say much about our character.

Most of us have seen America’s Funniest Videos. We laugh when people fall off of bikes or fall down, but most of us would not find it funny without the disclaimer at the beginning of the show that “no one was seriously injured in the making of these videos”. Knowing that folks are okay gives us permission to laugh. (Well, that and the fact they sent the videos in in the first place.)

I hate to write a quasi-serious post about humor, but as someone who loves to laugh and loves to make others laugh, it’s disconcerting to me that so much of what we laugh at these days seems to be at the expense of others–often without their knowledge or permission.

The old adage still holds true: Laugh with them, not at them. If a person can laugh at themselves, they’re giving you permission to join in.

And now I will share a joke:

My mom is one of those really angry moms who gets mad at absolutely everything. Once when I was a little kid, I accidentally knocked a Flintstones glass off the kitchen table. She said, “Well, dammit, we can’t have nice things.” – Paula Poundstone

Okay. Your turn. Tell me a joke. Make me laugh.

Don’t worry — I’m easily amused…

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