What’s So Funny?

Exploring Current Topics in Humor and Laughter

Why Humor Matters

Let's give humor the respect it deserves.

When was the last time a comedy won best picture at the Oscars? If you can’t remember, how about this—when was the last time a comedy was even nominated?

It simply doesn’t happen, unless you consider Forrest Gump a comedy, or maybe Annie Hall. We don’t take humor seriously, which is a shame because it certainly isn’t easy. Take for example the movie The Hangover. That movie didn’t get a single recognition by the Academy in 2009, despite the number of best picture nominees literally doubling that year. That’s like saying that for every person who saw An Education, the coming-of-age story of a teenage girl in 1960s London, there are over 20 movie-goers who simply didn’t know any better.

And to those who say The Hangover was easy to make, I present the two sequels. If comedy were easy, these movies would have been very different.

The most common argument against taking humor seriously is its depth. The Hangover certainly wasn’t a moving character study, and it probably didn’t say much about the human condition. Also, just because a film is well received and people pay to see it, that doesn’t mean it’s good art. If that were a true measure of quality, then McDonalds would be fine cuisine. Taylor Swift would be classic music.

This blog will be my exploration into the world of art and humor, and hopefully I’ll show that art serves many purposes. It can—to steal from James Joyce—forge in the smithy of our soul the uncreated conscious of our race. It can also make us laugh and think, and though that ambition might not sound as poetic as Joyce’s, it’s still important. There’s a saying that if you want to make a point, tell a story, and to make many points at once, tell a joke. Good humor approaches truth from many angles, and sometimes the punchline just keeps us from seeing them all.

So next time you’re tempted to ask the hotel concierge if the establishment is pager friendly, ask yourself why that line is so funny. A deeper statement might be hiding underneath.

But don't forget that tigers love pepper. They hate cinnamon.

 

Scott Weems is a cognitive neuroscientist with degrees in psychology, education, and creative writing. He is also author of Ha! The Science of When We Laugh and Why.
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