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nikipedia's avatar

What is humor?

Asked by nikipedia (27526points) June 11th, 2008

Tried searching and didn’t come up with anything. What makes something funny? What does “funny” mean, anyway? I have some ideas, none of them satisfying.

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20 Answers

Notreallyhere's avatar

you asking that and answering this

scamp's avatar

@Notreallyhere What is her answer?

Notreallyhere's avatar

It would take so long for me to explain what happened but here it goes (short version) I was trying to put a link to a funny quote when I got 8 calls then my phone got frozen then the smoke alarm went cucu. Then I ralized I don’t know how to do a link from my phone…I’m not trying to be funny it really happened in less than ten minutes.

scamp's avatar

Oh.. Ok I get it now!

Notreallyhere's avatar

Know the only humor here is how dumb my answer sounds

iwamoto's avatar

i guess funny are things that are for instance clever, or absurd, here’s a clever one

jack has to do an essay on reproduction, next day in class, the teacher reads them,

..our cat is pregnant and will be getting kittens.. very good ann, a B

…i saw our two dogs have sex last week..good observation tommy, a B as well..

..hmm, john wayne rides through the prairie on his horse, gets chased by 500 indians, turns around and shoots them all…jack, what is the meaning of this? ..nobody fucks with john wayne!

see, it’s a word joke, something absurd is for instance this, it’s even got word jokes in it, it’s so absurd that it makes us laugh

marinelife's avatar

A shared absurdity.

A clever word play.

Sometimes something inane that just strikes your funny bone so that you cackle like a loon and barely avoid peeing.

For example, my mother and I were shopping. I am not tall 5’ 41/2” and my Mom is not so spry anymore. Large bags of Lays Potato Chips were on sale Buy 1 Get 1 Free so we decided to buy two bags and split the cost. Because of the sale, all the chips were gone except on the very top shelf. Standing on tiptoe, I managed to get one bag. Then using that bag, I began batting at the next bag to knock it down. I had been at it a few minutes and finally the bag was just teetering on the edge about to fall into my hands, when a rather Junoesque woman came by, reached over my head and grabbed the teetering bag. Shoving it firmly onto the shelf and out of my reach, she said, “Oh, let me help you put that back.” She then sailed on blithely ignorant that she had foiled me. When she and her cart disappeared around the corner of the endcap, my mother and I burst into gales of laughter.

nocountry2's avatar

One man’s humor is another man’s absurdity….humor is in the eye of the beholder.

Foolaholic's avatar

I think most of what makes up humor is irony and timming.

buster's avatar

Moe slapping the shit out of Curly and Larry.

girlofscience's avatar

Funny is what makes me pee myself! So I have an easy determinant for myself. But if you have greater bladder control than a three year old, I can’t help you.

ninjaxmarc's avatar

humor is when after I’m in tears.

monsoon's avatar

Sigmund Freud was obsessed with this question, and thought (of course) that all humor arose from socially inappropriate sexual or aggressive urges. He even wrote a book about it, Jokes and Their Relation to the Unconscious.

Harp's avatar

Yes, I know this question is 3 months old and no one wants to see it pop up on their list anymore, but I finally have something to contribute to to it, so please bear with me

I recently read a paper by a Russian physicist who has been working on the problem of getting computers to recognize humor. The paper itself is about the un-funniest thing you’ll ever read, but the hypothesis on which this guy bases his algorithms is interesting. I’ll try to sum up what my layman’s mind was able to glean from it.

Essentially, he sees humor as being the brain’s way of redirecting energy when it is forced to abruptly negate a misconception in response to a specific malfunction of the information processing system. funny, huh?

In practice, this means that the brain is sent off on one trajectory by predicting the probable meaning of a set of variables but then is faced with an incompatible version which necessitates the immediate cancellation of the first trajectory. wait, it gets better

He suggests that there’s survival benefit in our mental habit of making probabilistic assumptions based on given information, rather than waiting until all data is available to avoid ambiguity. But this habit results in having to occasionally stop dead in our mental tracks when we realize our assessment was completely wrong.

He frames this neural activity in terms of energy, so that as the neural momentum of the false trajectory is canceled, that energy has to be redirected. This, he thinks, is the role of laughter; it’s a redirection of the neural energy into the motor cortex, where it finds expression as the muscular contractions of laughter. Laughter, then, is the blowing off of the energy generated by putting the brakes on that false trajectory. He thinks that if the neural energy is redirected to the emotions (e.g. pity, shame, anger…) instead of the motor cortex, the humor effect is reduced or eliminated.

Others have used this research to speculate on the evolutionary role of laughter as a way of communicating to a group that what seemed like a threat was, in fact, a non-issue. Much humor resolves to this: a tense situation suddenly becomes a non-issue. Laughter is the primate way of communicating that message to the clan.

Well, I’m sure you’re all rolling on the floor after that little chuckle-fest. Nothing like trying to explain a joke, huh?

wundayatta's avatar

I think there are several things that make things funny, but perhaps the common element is related to what Harp said above: there’s a kind of surprise. I.e., you’re expecting an idea to go one way, and instead it goes in a completely unexpected direction.

There are a number of techniques used to create this surprise. They range from the subtle to the profane. This list is by no means exhaustive: Puns, Potty Humor, Absurdity, Wild exageration, the Unexpected.

Puns create surprise by apparently saying one thing, but then if you take a word differently, it changes the meaning in one or more ways. It is the surprise discovery of the multiple possible meanings that makes us laugh, or in this case, groan.

Potty humor is about the shock not just of the unexpected (flatulence or bad language in inappropriate situations), but in the breaking of taboos. Humor is often allowed to talk about things that are not discussed in polite society. Sex. Menstruation. Defecation. Strombolis. No. Wait. How did that get there? I swear, I didn’t type it! Maybe the flutherbot?

Absurdity works because the surprise comes from things that just can’t happen. They sound plausible on the surface, but gradually they begin to take things out of the world we are used to. The thing is, there’s actually a humor machine. Not the computer program that Harp was talking about, but an honest to god mechanical machine. You feed it grass and paper clips, turn the twisty handle, and out pops the joke. The machine even laughs!

Wild exageration is also known as being over the top. It is perhaps a form of absurdity, but it’s built on an existing situation, and then stretching it one or two or ten steps further, but in this case, it can happen. It’s not absurd like the example above. You know, I tend to go on and on, sometimes, and people get rather tired of me, but do they just stop reading? Oh no. Somehow they seem trapped in my words, reading for hours, until the bitter end, and then, oh yes, then, they take it out on me. You thought my knuckles hurt because of carpal tunnel? Oh no. For some reason, flutherites are partial to thumb screws!

I think a major mechanism in humor is a reliance on the unexpected I’ve shown a few examples of types of unexpectedness above. These things lead to a realization that we’ve been had. But we’ve been had without malice. So our response is delight, and we laugh to show that delight. Or sometimes we groan, because a pun or a joke is so cheesy or awful. Yet, there’s delight in the awfulness, somehow.

The question also asks what funny is. I think this is rather recursive. Or is it discursive? Yeah, yeah, I know. You’re all cursing me now! In any case, as circular as this is, it seems to me that funny is what makes us laugh. The things I described above are ways of achieving funnidom. I’m no expert though. I can’t remember a joke to save my life. I can’t be funny in person, either. The only time I can achieve any semblance of funniness is in the written form, where I have a chance to think.

But a lot of humor is formulaic. Each comedian settles on a format and milks it and milks it. Letterman, Leno, etc etc. They all have a schtick. My schtick is rather unhealthy: self-denigration. (Like saying I can’t be funny). It, I think, appeals to the tenderness people might feel towards someone completely non-threatening. You can feel sorry for him, and laugh at him for the way he fumbles through life. Clueless. But here’s the surprise; the unexpected, I am both utterly clueless on some things and totally clued on other things at the same time. Go figure.

Bri_L's avatar

I asked my wife and she said and I quote:

” go take a leak and look down”

Lord I love her.

Siren's avatar

I like nocountry’s answer. Funny is whatever an individual finds it to be.

chameleon's avatar

humor is the ability to enjoy everything

Siren's avatar

I like your answer too chameleon. It’s uplifting.

atlantis's avatar

I’ve concluded from my observation on life so far that the sophistication of humour, as well as tragedy, is an indicator of advancement of a civilisation/way of life/community.

On a fundamental level of the brain’s function, humour and optimism is linked to alertness and survival. So humour is whatever uplifts your spirits but it’s a hardwired system of survival if you really look at what it is. That’s what I think after reading Harp’s reply.

The sum of the uses of humour in a culture or civilisation; even by an individual; may be the hidden indicator to survival capacity. If only in terms of resiliency.

I may just be making leaps and bounds logically :P

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