What Is Humor?

Tragedy is when I cut my finger. Comedy is when you fall into an open sewer and die.

- Mel Brooks, The 2,000 Year Old Man

Podcast of the Day

What is humour and why is it so important to us? There is a long history of philosophers attempting to answer these questions. In this episode of the Philosophy Bites podcast Noël Carroll gives his explanation of what humour is, and illustrates it with some jokes too.

Listen to Noël Carroll on Humour

Video of the Day

Short Article of the Day

Think of the most hilarious video you’ve ever seen on the internet. Why is it so funny?

As a researcher who investigates some of the potential side effects of humor, I spend a fair bit of time verifying the funniness of the jokes, photos and videos we present to participants in our studies. Quantifying the perception of humor is paramount in ensuring our findings are valid and reliable. We often rely on pretesting – that is, trying out jokes and other potential stimuli on different samples of people – to give us a sense of whether they might work in our studies.

To make predictions on how our funny materials will be perceived by study subjects, we also turn to a growing body of humor theories that speculate on why and when certain situations are considered funny. From ancient Greece to today, many thinkers from around the world have yearned to understand what makes us laugh...

Continue reading Alex Borgella's article: Science deconstructs humor: What makes some things funny?

Further Reading

When people are asked what’s important in their lives, they often mention humor. Couples listing the traits they prize in their spouses usually put “sense of humor” at or near the top. Philosophers are concerned with what is important in life, so two things are surprising about what they have said about humor.

The first is how little they have said. From ancient times to the 20th century, the most that any notable philosopher wrote about laughter or humor was an essay, and only a few lesser-known thinkers such as Frances Hutcheson and James Beattie wrote that much. The word humor was not used in its current sense of funniness until the 18th century, we should note, and so traditional discussions were about laughter or comedy. The most that major philosophers like Plato, Hobbes, and Kant wrote about laughter or humor was a few paragraphs within a discussion of another topic. Henri Bergson’s 1900 Laughter was the first book by a notable philosopher on humor. Martian anthropologists comparing the amount of philosophical writing on humor with what has been written on, say, justice, or even on Rawls’ Veil of Ignorance, might well conclude that humor could be left out of human life without much loss.

The second surprising thing is how negative most philosophers have been in their assessments of humor...

Continue reading the Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy article on the Philosophy of Humor by John Morreall

Bonus Webcomic

Related Topics

If you’re interested in humor, check out some of the following related topics for more resources:

 Aesthetics | Emotion | Psychology

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