How’s Your Sense of Humor?

October 3, 2016

A good sense of humor is one of the most valued traits you can have. People that are capable of joking around and making others laugh are like a breath of fresh air for themselves and for others. They can refresh even the most bitter moments in life. Without a doubt, this is a great virtue. It’s an automatic and not always conscious mechanism, and it is truly useful in order to help release built up tension.

Laughter liberates us, because it lets us be spontaneous and has within its essence a playful aspect. One single session of laughter is much more relaxing than many of the tasks or activities we plan with the same purpose. Thus, laughter has that magical property of rejuvenating us and improving our attitude towards the world.

Sigmund Freud spoke of the importance of jokes and laughter within the psychoanalytic theory. He discovered that through those everyday diversions, the unconscious world is clearly expressed. Thus, our desires and deepest feelings are revealed through what amuses us. 

What makes you laugh?

People laugh at surprising situations, sometimes at things that are quite absurd. Or when something perfectly coherent acquires an absurd meaning.

Misunderstandings play a fundamental role in what makes us laugh. Misunderstanding usually originates from a double-entendre or puns. This, is turn, gives way to three types of jokes or reasons to laugh: the funny or witty remark, the excessively innocent joke, and the sexual or obscene joke.

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Freud also discovered that through a joke you can break or dismantle censorship. A funny thing can bring up issues or situations that are more or less taboo in the world of “seriousness.” Many of the jokes we make express aggressive or sexual content, which would be intolerable in other types of context.

Such as this joke:

A middleman introduces his client to the girl that he has chosen to be his potential girlfriend. Unpleasantly surprised, the young man tells his agent: “What have you brought me? She is ugly, old, cross-eyed, toothless and…” “Can you speak up?” interrupts the other, “She is also deaf.”

Laughing at flaws, whether your own or others

Ridiculousness is created when there is a state of disproportion between the elements in a situation. It is the same case with clowns, who wear enormous shoes which in result seem funny. It is also the case on the great fashion runways (Paris, Milan, Madrid, etc.), when someone stumbles.

Comedians ridicule figures of power through the caricature of characters and well-known situations. In general, these caricatures seek to exaggerate an aspect of the event or of the personality of the protagonist, expressing scathing criticism and, at times, being extremely aggressive. However, they are tolerated because they contribute towards a catharsis: it is one of the tools that citizens have against power.

An example of this kind of joke or caricature is as following:

Mother and son: 
-Son, never lie, liars never amount to anything in life. 
-Then, why do we vote for people who never deliver what they promise? 

Mockery and ridicule, through caricatures, are instruments that allow us to question behaviors, analyze them and expose them fearlessly. However, when they are directed towards a vulnerable person, the effect is quite the contrary: it establishes a relationship of vertical power, which victimizes the vulnerable person. It is the classic case of “laughing at people and not with them”.

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Humor based on spicy and innocent jokes

Sexual topics are a constant among many jokes, especially using double meanings. On one hand, they have  nothing to do with sex, and on the other, they are completely about sex. Such as the following:

Two friends meet up and one says to the other:
– Yesterday I arrived home and found my girlfriend in bed with a big strong dude. The thing is that, to my surprise, as soon as he saw me, he lunged at me and pushed me into a corner. Then, he drew a line on the floor and told me:
– If you so much as step on this line, I’ll kill you. The next thing I know, he hops back into bed with my girlfriend, and they continue on with their activities. 
– Wow, what an ordeal! And what did you do? 
– Me?… Who does that guy think he is!? When he wasn’t looking, I stepped on the line!  

Jokes with double meanings and sexual content make people laugh because they move to the forefront a topic that will never stop being taboo. In the previous example, more than the topic itself, is the ruse of making the other person think about sex, without that being the specific topic at hand, using a very ingenious formula.

But, witty and innocent jokes also make people laugh, precisely due to their naivety or obviousness. Such as this one:

A baby bat says to his friend:
-What’s your name?
– “Vam” -says the second.
-“Vam”, what? – inquires the first bat.
-“Vam pire”. What about you?
– My name is “Otter”
– “Otter” What?
– “Otter Vampire”.

These candid jokes have a form of “white” humor, because their meaning doesn’t rest upon a camouflaged aggression or on a double meaning that breaks some sort of taboo. Instead, they are based on pure wit and pure absurdity. Strictly speaking, they are mental games and plays on words.

Humor is a valid formula to express your ideas. However, a controversy still exists about where its limits or boundaries lie. Is it acceptable in every situation? Is it legitimate even when it stigmatizes a social group, such as with sexist jokes? Can humor generate visceral hatred such as what happened in the tragic events of the Charlie Hebdo magazine? The issue is open for debate.

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