Wednesday, October 2, 2013

Day 2: Is laughter the physical expression of superiority?

Today, I laughed at: Good Job Brain podcast
When the iPhone updated about a year ago to include the new podcast app, I had moved into my apartment and had no TV yet. Or even internet connection. So, I used my phone for entertainment for a few days and I discovered podcasts. 
"Good Job Brain" was the first one I found and I've loved it ever since. I realized I really love trivia and learning new things, and I love finding any opportunity to tell people the facts I've learned from the shows. 
This week's episode had me laughing during a segment they were talking about the Big 5 in hunting in which a tangent led to the hosts discussing lion-head urinals. OK, sometimes my fifth grade sense of humor gets the best of me, I'll admit.

Laughing is an involuntary reaction to certain external or internal stimuli. Laughter can arise from such activities as being tickled, or from humorous stories or thoughts. Most commonly, it is considered a visual expression of a number of positive emotional states, such as joy, mirth, happiness, relief, etc. (Wikipedia) 
I was told once by a friend that laughter is always at the expense of another, in some form or another.

For example, if you laughed at a comedian, there's a good chance you're laughing at self-deprecating humor. A comedian may be on a rant about airline food or how his wife and kids treat him poorly, therefor, he's telling you how he has suffered. He may muse on random topics or everyday minutia, painting himself in a confused light and, therefore, we're laughing at his confusion a little.

And, although rarely do adults find the humor in chicken crossing the road jokes, in essence, we're questioning why a chicken isn't doing normal chicken things like clucking or laying eggs and, instead, he's venturing out into the world. Silly chicken, why must you attempt this? This isn't what chickens do! You go the cluck back to your little coop and pop out those eggs! (If you laughed at that sentence, you're actually laughing at the idea I can tell a chicken what to do, making that chicken inferior in some way. Don't you feel ashamed?)

Gamma and L. question this chicken about his motives
to cross the street.

Consider slapstick, in which a person is put into an embarrassing situation or, in the case of the Three Stooges, even hurting themselves.

Look at puns and wordplay, in which the joke teller is actually, despite the actual intelligence in making the statement, setting up the joke so it looks like he's making himself appear as if he didn't remember the real meaning of the word or phrase. In fact, there are puns that go unnoticed simply because the person is genuinely confused as to the meaning of the words used.

My daughter, 2, laughs at my funny faces. But what is she doing? She's laughing because Mommy's making her face look weird.

When I laugh at my own jokes, I'm laughing at my own expense, whether I'm making a pun or whether I've dropped a wooden spoon covered in mashed potatoes on my shirt (and it's the only thing I can do to keep from crying at yet another mess I have to clean up).

Does this mean the adage "Humor is not funny if it's at another's expense" is true? Well, there's some sort of gray area. Are you laughing at another's expense who agrees to be the "butt" of the joke? Are you laughing at the "butt" of a joke who intends his actions to be humorous? And, if it causes no harm in the long run, is it OK to laugh?

I never could find any evidence of how true my friend's statement was, if he had read it in a study or came up with it on his own. But I can't, for the life of me, think of an instance, in fact, when there isn't a bit of the feeling of superiority in my laughter, even if it's something that is a mutually understood exchange, such as the comedian who makes his living making people laugh with his stories.

Of course, I'm going to teach L. laughing at someone's misfortune is inappropriate if the misfortune is not intended to be a humorous instance. I hope I can pass down some of my dad's advice and she is able to laugh at herself, which usually takes the place of embarrassment in situations that used to make me extremely uncomfortable. Once I discovered if I laughed along instead of focusing on not being perfect, situations didn't seem as extreme. In fact, associating them later with humor brought about a more positive outlook. So, if I had the choice between embarrassment at my expense and laughter at my experience, I'd pick the ability to laugh at the experience, for sure.