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Philosophy Cafe - Cafe Philosophique Message Board › Your Last Word on Humor

Your Last Word on Humor

Jeff G
Oakland, CA
Here's some ideas on how one might further pursue thinking about humor.  They are based on our discussion, but I didn't get notes on everything, or you may have thought of something we didn't cover.  You are invited to post a response in the Message Board "Your Last Word on Humor".  Put the question at the top of your response.

• Have you ever wished to do stand-up?  What is in it for you?  What's at risk?
• What part does humor (or lack thereof) play in your "personal style"?  How do you regard others for being productive of, or receptive to, humor?
• Animals are reliably funny.  The catnip prop was meant to remind us of our capacity to stimulate involuntary behavior in others, which makes us laugh.  This sounds mean...but cats want catnip!  Don't they?
• Is laughing proof that "humor" is taking place?  What would be the benefits and drawbacks of separating the two?  How would we determine what's funny without the behavioral evidence?
• We shared stories about humor in the workplace.  Reconcile the use of humor to create group solidarity and its use to maintain a pecking order.  Why might managers frequently lack a sense of humor?
• We touched on recognition as an underlying element of humor, in an "emperor's new clothes" sense of seeing what's really there.  Or did we mean recognizing our own foibles?  Maybe there is a link to recognition as status, too.  How odd that a peculiar behavior like laughter should be connected to something so basic as knowing what we see.  Is there anything else like it?
• Explore the saying "it's funny because it's true".  Not everything true is funny--but Jon Stewart is!  Can one "speak truth to power" and be a "court jester" at the same time?
* What is the association between humor and novelty?  Reconcile this with humor as a symptom of recognition.  Why do we seem to laugh only when the truth is disguised?
* We discussed George Carlin's "Seven Words You Can Never Say on Television", as perhaps an example of how times change what we think is funny.  Or maybe it was Carlin who changed the times?  Discuss Carlin's or another comedian's impact on humor over time.
* Comedy can fulfill a protective role, as discussed by performers in their biographies.  (Perhaps you have such a story.)  As with catnip (above), humor here seems to play a physical--not just social--role.  Explore the potential physiological utility or origins of humor.
* Comedians often tell of difficult home environments.  How might humor occur in families, whether positively or negatively?
* When, if ever, do you laugh while alone?  Is it always because you are imagining others to laugh at, or with?
* Laughter can create a feeling of "connection"--or disconnection, in the case of ridicule.  Perhaps which mode we perceive depends on whether we believe ourselves to be connected or disconnected in the normal, non-laughing state.  What does humor say about the social presence to you?
* What is the "dark side" of humor for you?  You might explore this by comparing how you feel telling versus hearing jokes, or the kind of jokes you prefer.  Typically we're uncomfortable when we don't "get the joke":  what is the root of that unease?
* Humor is said to "lighten" our moods, but it is also reported to impose a burden on us.  Is humor a cleverly-disguised hurdle in the social maze of establishing one's authenticity?
* We joke about death:  Greg Williamson's book of sonnets, Oscar Wilde joking on his deathbed.  What is the proper setting to understand gallows humor:  the body, society, the Other?
* How is the comic related to the tragic?  Okay, books have been written on that...perhaps consider the question in the context of doing philosophy.  In particular, is there a role for absurdity?
* We discussed humor as a tool to broaden public conversations.  How can it "build bridges"?  Can there be a constructive way to provoke people?  When is it helpful to be ironic?
* Bridges connect Places, a theme we explored recently.  Thus humor might be viewed as a sort of juxtaposition--two things in the same place.  Connect this to existing theories of humor, or find some examples.  Perhaps the bridge metaphor tells us more about Place than about Humor?
* Does humor "withstand analysis"?  How would we know if something is a "whole brain phenomenon"?
* What are similarities between laughing and crying?  Does their relationship seem significant?
* We mentioned "unintended laughter", but what is "intended laughter"?  "Unintended" was associated with breach of conduct, or an outlet (for stress)--but couldn't either be intended as well?  Is laughter basically voluntary or involuntary?
* Last, we looked at my staple remover that has a tiger's head, and looks like a sabertooth.  Why is such an artifact humorous, or not?  We heard an anecdote relating to how staple removers are a necessity due to the existence of staple guns.  Weave a story or argument around this kitschy prop.
* We never commented on the etymology of "humor".  Why might the stuff that causes laughter be conceived of as liquid?
* We forgot the kids!  Is humor different for children than for adults?  Why do (many) kids laugh so much?  Or reinterpret another other question in the context of child development.
A former member
Post #: 17
? (why question mark?)
To me the dark side of humor has to do with exclusion of the other, simplifying and distorting in order to ridicule, shifting the conversational tone so that the serious or heartfelt feels out-of-place, creating an impression of being above the fray and beyond reproach, when many instances of humor are pushing a serious worldview (while making it easier to maintain "plausible deniability" because one is just being funny) Some humor seems simply funny (and innocent); some seems ripe with all sorts of bad things.
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