Is humor good for a laugh?

When I was first aware of humor (late 1950’s/early 1960’s), it was typically referred to as “slapstick humor”. The “pie in the face” kind of humor. There was nothing subtle about it! It quickly developed into satirical humor, usually with political tones and that was often termed “dry humor”. The Monty Python crew took humor to a point of absurdity, and it survived rather well against political satire and slapstick humor.

In my teen years (all in England), I had a good laugh at Tommy Cooper (slapstick); David Frost (political satire); and around 1970… John Cleese “and gang”. Filtered into my life within that range of humor were Polish jokes.

Based on the WWII experience, there should be no antagonism between the English and the Poles, but the Polish jokes were very derogatory. The most common inference in the joke being that they were rather simple in their thinking.

As I moved into my early 20’s, the Polish jokes seemed to lose popularity, but were replaced by Irish jokes. These had the same basis of humor as the Polish jokes i.e. The Irish were assumed to be rather simple in their thinking.

When I came to Canada, it was the Newfoundlanders who bore the brunt of cultural jokes (known as “Newfie” jokes), and the connotation was exactly the same as the Irish and the Polish jokes!

Why we see a need to make fun of another culture, using a benchmark which could never be supported with data, rather puzzles me.

My first experience of a compromise being made was with Dave Allen. He would make jokes about the Irish, and also about the Catholic faith… but his rationale was interesting. He felt that he could do that because he was both Irish, and raised Catholic!  This same perspective seems to have filtered down to other comedians now in that there are a number who openly “bash” their own culture… but why?

The answer presumably is that it gets a laugh and, if you are dependent on laughs for your living, then it is simply the law of supply and demand. The question therefore becomes “Why do we find it funny, when an individual presents an absurd circumstance that is culturally based?”

With my background, I could probably tell a Polish joke, an Irish joke, and a Newfie joke and at least get some smiles. If I made a similar joke about a Canadian, the reaction could be quite different. It was not that long ago that woman/wife jokes were often presented,  but I suspect that the upswing towards equality, and the sensitivity towards negative sexual identity has effectively minimized those. I cannot remember the last time that I heard a “gay” joke, but it was a long time ago.

In one of my numerous pre-volunteer work training programs, I recall an explanation for negativity. It was basically an attempt, on behalf of the negative person, to feel better! To that person, being very negative, their natural goal is to bring “you” down, because their sense of well being is relative to yours (or anybody else). Assuming a fictitious “well-being” scale of 1 to 10, where 1 is border-line suicidal and 10 is total ecstasy. Then if I rate myself as a 4, I can feel pretty good about things in general if I can drag you down to at least a 4… or preferably lower!

Given that perspective, are we “bashing” other cultures because we are dissatisfied with our own? Why did we used to make fun of people with mental challenges? Our perspective has certainly changed as a result of much publicity, but why did we ever feel the need to mock those people in the first place?

Somebody once said “Comedy is a serious business.” I prefer “Comedy is no laughing matter.”

Comedy is defined in numerous ways,  but always includes “the desire to cause laughter.” I can laugh at Ray being silly because it means that he is happy. I can laugh at children being silly because they are enjoying their childhood. I can even laugh at people I know when they are being silly because they are in control, and it is part of their character… so what happens when somebody makes a joke about another person being silly?

Is humor always good for a laugh? I would suggest a decisive “No!”

Just thinking!

 

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16 thoughts on “Is humor good for a laugh?

  1. I couldn’t help but laugh at your last 2 lines in a comment. “I really do not understand the basis…” I will say no more. 🙂
    But this was a good post, for it does ask an interesting question. Why do we laugh at derogatory scenarios? Wish I knew the answer.
    Of course that is just one of many things I wish I had the answer for!

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Brilliantly put, Colin, and I absolutely agree with you. Our idea of humour has taken such a hit that I almost miss the slapstick kind of humour I never really enjoyed. But it used to be without the slyness, the deceit, and the rejoicing-in-someone’s-weakness kind of flavour that a lot of modern ‘humour’ stinks of. It’s all very well to enjoy a good joke, and tell others to ‘take things more lightly’, but didn’t humour originally intend to make the world a better, happier place? There is a world of difference between spreading laughter and being nasty.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Humor, and laughter in general, apparently has some distinct heath related benefits although I suspect that those benefits could well be negated if we are laughing at somebody’s expense. Of course laughter can also provide a welcome, albeit temporary, diversion from troubling matters. The question for me (as noted in various comments) is why do we find humor in derogatory scenarios. Current TV programming includes “game shows” that rely heavily on intimidation and demoralizing tactics. I assume that participants are well aware of what their participation will entail, but it still begs an answer to “Why is it amusing/funny to witness another person’s dilemma?” I really do not understand the basis for my own sense of humor… let alone anybody else’s!

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  3. Thank goodness for politicians. They usually seem deserving of ridicule (within reason), and their skins are thick enough to bear it. I think political humor helps to relieve anxiety and a sense of helplessness. I also think it’s un-funny to target jokes at people or groups who have less power.

    Liked by 1 person

  4. Hi Colin. While I agree with everything you wrote, I would like to present a short, different perspective, especially about Dave Allen’s humor in joking about the things that were personal to him. Most humor has at least some basis in truth. Dave, having experience with that nationality and religion, exaggerated things traits he saw and was quite familiar with. As they say, you need to be able to laugh at yourself. While I do not advocate the perpetuation of harmful (or any) stereotypes, I sometimes wonder if “political correctness” has gone too far and everyone has gotten just a bit too uptight. Jeff and I have recently joined an Episcopal church. It’s great to hear the members make fun of themselves with jokes such as where there are four Episcopalians gathered, there’s a fifth. 🙂

    Liked by 2 people

    • Hi Amy. I think that there is case for people to just lighten up a little at times, but that’s rather subjective depending on who is the target of the joke, and whether the audience is receptive to that direction of humour. As for Episcopalian humour? That’s not really the same is it because you are in fact laughing at yourselves re the perspective on alcohol. We’re back to the Dave Allen perspective.
      I like the old saying “If you cannot laugh at yourself, then perhaps you shouldn’t be laughing at others.”
      The basis for my post was not to devalue humour per se, but rather think about why we laugh at what we do. I can still have a little chuckle at an Irish or Newfie joke and, while many would share in the laughter with me, I have to wonder why the “simpleton” cultural stereotyping is funny. I have no answer. 🙂

      Liked by 1 person

  5. Wit and satire is often confused by those ignorant, lacking decency, compassion or good sense. They seem to think ridicule, bitter snarking and anger are wit’s equal….and are rewarded too often with laughter by others.
    At this point it’s always good to consider the source of the statement. (People used to shake their heads at such and say things like “what an idiot to say that” instead – indicating it was out of line or inappropriate…indicating you did not want to be associated with anyone who said things like that.)
    We didn’t get the Polish jokes (except in sitcoms on tv/radio), but we had the rednecks, the Aggies (A&M University), yankees, old geezers, city fellas, rural hicks, blonds, nerds, gossipy housewives, used car salesmen, college educated, dumb jocks, frat boys…as you say the list is endless.
    At some point it has to be said, those who look to be offended will find cause and mean words are just a lot of hot air and noise. You do not have to contribute to it – by saying it or encouraging it by reacting.
    Good to teach children to consider the source, be strong in their own identity, and ignore stupidity. And we can hope eventually everyone grows up and stops acting like insecure children looking for attention any way they can get it.
    Great post.

    Liked by 2 people

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