How Comedy and Humor Work

Do you know how humor affects your brain? Do you know why you enjoy it so much? In fact, it produces an effect on your mind similar to that produced by moderate stretching on your muscles. Find out more here.
How Comedy and Humor Work
Sergio De Dios González

Reviewed and approved by the psychologist Sergio De Dios González.

Last update: 05 September, 2023

How many times have you been recommended a comedy show by a friend yet, when you watch it, you discover that you don’t like it at all? As a matter of fact, humor, at a neurological level, is rather complicated and difficult to understand. Indeed, one of the greatest challenges for artificial intelligence is in understanding jokes. In this article, we’ll find out how humor and comedy work and figure out why your friends might like some comedy shows that you don’t.

Firstly, we’ll establish some of the rules and regulations of comedy. One is that humor is often a spontaneous element that’s enhanced by anticipation. Secondly, laughter is contagious. For instance, it’s much easier to laugh at something when we’re with others than when we’re alone.

In fact, comedy has a variable effect depending on who we’re with. A study conducted in 2015 demonstrated that it’s possible to identify if two people are friends, simply by the way they laugh. The experiment was carried out with 966 people from 24 different cultures. Therefore, humor is seen as a universal code that crosses all kinds of borders.

So, if you’re lamenting the fact that the comedy show that your friend recommended you watch, you didn’t find that funny, try watching it with a loved one. Because laughter and humor have a high component of identification and complicity. As such, you’ll soon see how a joke that you didn’t find funny before ends up making you laugh because your companion found it funny.


Firstly, let’s establish a definition of humor. There have been many writers, comedians, and thinkers who’ve tried to define humor accurately in words, so we know it’s no simple matter.

Both Borges and Schopenhauer agreed that humor is “putting something where it doesn’t go”. Although this is a really abstract definition, other scholars on the subject, such as neuroscientist Scott Weems, fully agree. He wrote the book, Ha ! The Science of When We Laugh and Why (2014) and understands humor as a conflict in the brain that forms part of our understanding of the world.

Comedy has a high component of surprise. Every joke begins with an initial situation that’s recognizable to you, while its climax consists of a surprise, an unexpected development that doesn’t meet your expectations.

The moment someone begins to tell you a joke, your brain begins to shuffle different possible endings. The funny thing is that when none of those endings occur, you laugh. Thus, humor is closely linked to surprise.

In addition, laughter accompanies a pleasant feeling, so your brain wants more. In fact, the response that humor provokes in your brain can be compared to that of your favorite food or certain addictive substances, such as drugs.

What makes a joke funny?

Along with a break in a communicative situation, successful comedy plays with many other factors. One of them is empathy. After all, jokes that refer to everyday situations with which you identify are much funnier. That’s why we don’t all like the same comedians since we don’t all empathize with everyone in the same way.

Another factor to take into account is that humor is a mechanism that you use in all kinds of social interactions. Whether it’s to identify with a friend or to break the ice in a tense situation, with humor, you can demonstrate either your discontent or approval about a situation.

Therefore, the use made of humor and its degree depends on each individual. That’s because a sense of humor is a compendium of the experiences, values, and traits that define each of us as an individual. That’s why there are comedies that some viewers like and others don’t. So, the idea that humor is subjective is completely true.

The same doesn’t happen with drama since it has an intersubjective component in which the vast majority of the population agrees. For example, someone losing a loved one.

Co-worker having a laughing fit

The benefits of comedy and humor

Beyond understanding the reasons why a comedy might be funny or not, it’s worth highlighting the undeniable benefits of humor on your physical and mental health. In fact humor:

  • Reduces stress.
  • Elevates your mood.
  • Improves brain function.
  • Lowers high blood pressure.
  • Promotes relaxation.
  • Boosts your immune system.
  • Increases your ability to fight disease.
  • Reduces the probability of suffering cerebrovascular accidents.

Comedy and humor also have a high social component. Furthermore, it’s socially accepted that a sense of humor is associated with intelligence. It also helps us improve all kinds of interpersonal relationships.

They say that laughter decreases the distance between two people. Moreover, studies have shown that smiling improves our physical attractiveness, while a sense of humor improves our personal attractiveness. Indeed, in addition to comedy bringing people together, laughter and smiles are more enjoyable when shared with others.

All cited sources were thoroughly reviewed by our team to ensure their quality, reliability, currency, and validity. The bibliography of this article was considered reliable and of academic or scientific accuracy.

This text is provided for informational purposes only and does not replace consultation with a professional. If in doubt, consult your specialist.