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Whence sense of humor?
Posted: 27 July 2011 08:57 PM   [ Ignore ]
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Inspired by some comments in another topic, I’d like to raise the question, “What personality traits contribute to or detract from a sense of humor?” We were discussing this question in the context of intelligence. On the one hand, intelligence seems to contribute to the ability to create humor, but it also seems, in some cases to detract from the ability to appreciate humor. And lack of intelligence, one commentator pointed out, seems to make people easily amusable. So the first question is, “What role does intelligence play in the creation and appreciation of humor?”

But other issues can be addressed. Is there a significant gender gap in either the creation or appreciation of humor? What about age? Extroversion/Introversion? Intensity of spiritual beliefs? (We all know that fundamentalists of all stripes seem humorless—is this due to religion or to the general lack of humor of anybody who takes anything too seriously?) Does education have an effect—are educated people more likely to create or appreciate humor?

What about correlations between sense of humor and activities? Are musically inclined people more or less humorous? Painters? Model airplane makers (you really need a sense of humor when that plane dives into the dirt)? Programmers? Bureaucrats? Priests? Teachers? Police officers?

One group definitely seems to lack a sense of humor: people who spend a lot of time on political blogs.

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Posted: 27 July 2011 10:47 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 1 ]
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I was hoping somebody would fire up this topic; humor is such a big part of human interaction, it’s impossible not to discuss it.  It seems like a lot of traits go into creating a sense of humor.  Many comics say that suffering and being miserable helps enormously, and if you research it, lots of famous comics did have self hating, self destructive lives, even after they achieved fame and fortune; certainly Pryor, Carlin, Benny Hill, Lenny Bruce, Bill Hicks, Redd Foxx all fall into that category. Simple crazyness probably has a role;  Intelligence definitly plays a role - social intelligence most likely.  I think there is probably nobody alive who doesn’t appreciate some kind of humor (except maybe the brain damaged). I think fundementalists have a sense of humor, they might try not to show it in order to maintain a kind of self percieved emotional purity.

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Posted: 28 July 2011 04:01 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 2 ]
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Humor tends to be a corrective against self-importance and people and subjects that are taken too seriously. It can also be a breath of fresh air into topics where both sides are intransigent. This is probably one reason why political blogs are devoid of humor: because they take themselves ultra-seriously. And perhaps they should. But IMO the best politicians and political pundits know how to make points with humor rather than bombast.

Humor makes the medicine go down easier.

Humor also makes us relax our defensiveness a little. Laughter cleanses. And sometimes that can clean out stale arguments in a way that allows us to see things in a more objective, less partisan, light.

BTW, love the avatar, Chris. Very funny! LOL

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Posted: 28 July 2011 05:35 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 3 ]
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“a corrective against self-importance” Damn, that’s good. IMO that’s the main definition of humor in general.

Let’s examine some of the sources…

As a past fan of the movie and series MASH, I appreciate humor as a bandage to cover severe emotional wounds. This ties to the previous comment that many comedians have had tragic parts to their lives.

The Three Stooges also invokes a type of humor that some people get and others don’t. There does seem to be a gender difference here. I have absolutely no data to support this but I believe men generally appreciate the stooges’ humor more than women. I also believe that much of the stooges humor is societal/cultural. I have found, for example, that the Chinese have a difficult time appreciating bad things happening to people. In a sense, they seem more rational and compassionate than Westerners.

Seinfeld (and others) showed how humor can come from simply having a perspective different from the social norm. I can talk to almost anyone about the series and they say, “Oh yeah, I remember that one.” This sort of ties into another type of humor; that of changing expectations. I.e., “Where there’s a will, I want to be in it.”

Some humor is not universal. Lenny Bruce was an example of someone who people found either hilarious or pathetic. Andrew Dice Clay was ... well, really, did anyone like him?

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Posted: 28 July 2011 06:13 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 4 ]
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Re. Andrew Dice Clay (and humorists like Don Rickles): you raise a good point, traveler.  There’s also a cutting, sarcastic form of humor that’s not light at all, but that instead works to demean or satirize. I think sometimes it’s a matter of taste whether a particular joke is demeaning or just light hearted. Viz., the topic that started this thread.

The best political humorists walk a fine line, sometimes light hearted, sometimes vicious. I’m thinking here of people like Jon Stewart and Steven Colbert.

But simply by bringing humor into it, they deflate pomposity. And that’s a good thing.

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Posted: 28 July 2011 06:38 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 5 ]
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From a personal experience, I am unaware of any group of people or a trait, including intelligence, that correlates with a sense of humor. I certainly have a preference for a type of humor which I could associate with a group of people, but that is merely my personal choice and it probably tells me more about who I am before anything else. No idea.

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Posted: 28 July 2011 06:54 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 6 ]
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Culture (or ethnicity?) plays a role. LINK

There are also generational connections. My father-in-law has a lot of “old” jokes that just don’t seem funny today. (yes, I laugh anyway because I’m polite)

A quick search turned up a lot of academic papers on humor. So there’s lots of research for those who are really interested.

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Posted: 28 July 2011 06:57 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 7 ]
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Well, we know that humor often involves some sort of emotional release or a masking of strong emotion. For example, the Three Stooges’ humor, and most slapstick, is, IMO, obviously a release for physical aggression. There’s plenty of humor around sexual behavior. Consider Mae West’s classic line “A hard man is good to find”: it’s a masked statement of sexual desire. Most impressive to me is tragicomedy; MASH is one of the best in this category. The way that they blended the horror of war with knee-slapping humor was brilliant, and I’ve never gotten a grip on how they did it.

Another major source of insight into humor is cultural variation. Once upon a time, I was lecturing to a large crowd in Tokyo. There must have been a thousand people in this huge auditorium. I had inserted a number of jokes into my lecture, and they all bombed. I was illustrating a point with some energetic pantomime when I failed to take into consideration the assiduousness with which the Japanese polish their stage floors. My feet came right out from underneath me and I fell flat on my butt. The auditorium went dead silent; I sat there looking into a thousand horrified faces and tried to figure out what to do. Fortunately, my Muse saved my butt (as it were) and a grin slowly crawled across my face. The audience burst out into laughter, the most uproarious of the entire conference. Release of emotional tension combined with Doug’s point about deflation of pomposity. I have since learned that falling on your butt is a kind of humor that seems to work in all cultures.

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Posted: 28 July 2011 07:04 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 8 ]
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I now remember reading in (I think) The Invisible Gorilla by the psychologists Chabris and Simons, where they describe an interesting experiment: They showed the participants a list of jokes and asked them to rate them from the funniest to the least funny. They also asked them to rate their own sense of humor. Supposedly, the more modest ones—those who rated themselves as not that funny—correctly identified the funniest jokes. And how did they know which jokes were the funniest? They asked the professional comedians, who should be able to tell what is funny since that is what allows them to make a living.

I’ll try to post the jokes tonight and you can all test how strong your sense of humor is.

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Posted: 28 July 2011 07:32 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 9 ]
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Re. pomposity: I don’t think it’s any coincidence that in a dictatorship among the first people rounded up are the comedians.

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Posted: 28 July 2011 08:03 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 10 ]
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George - 28 July 2011 07:04 AM

And how did they know which jokes were the funniest? They asked the professional comedians, who should be able to tell what is funny since that is what allows them to make a living.

Interesting. I’d want to know the statistical correlation between these comedians. Are they all in rough agreement? Or not? If the former, that goes some way towards at least establishing a little bit of objectivity here. If the latter, it would show that the selection process remained largely random.

I’d also wonder about comedians at different times and places. Would 1950s professional comedians, or professional comedians from (say) Korea or Germany, agree with 2011 comedians from the US about joke quality? I imagine there would be some overlap (we can find foreign or past humor funny) but a great deal of non-overlap.

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Posted: 28 July 2011 08:03 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 11 ]
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I didn’t know that (dictator stuff), but I suspect G.W. would have loved to isolate Stewart & Colbert.

An article on the SCIENCE of humor.

Edit to add: And you don’t have to have a dictatorship. Chaplin was harassed by the FBI during McCarthyism.

[ Edited: 28 July 2011 08:06 AM by traveler ]
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Posted: 28 July 2011 08:14 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 12 ]
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traveler - 28 July 2011 08:03 AM

Edit to add: And you don’t have to have a dictatorship. Chaplin was harassed by the FBI during McCarthyism.

Sure. And not all comedians are problematic for dictatorships: only those who skewer the dictator.

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Posted: 28 July 2011 08:29 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 13 ]
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I’m a little confused why this thread is under “Science and Technology”  Anyhooooooo…

HERE is an example of something our group probably finds humorous while many would not.  LOL

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Posted: 28 July 2011 08:30 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 14 ]
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George - 28 July 2011 07:04 AM

I now remember reading in (I think) The Invisible Gorilla by the psychologists Chabris and Simons, where they describe an interesting experiment: They showed the participants a list of jokes and asked them to rate them from the funniest to the least funny. They also asked them to rate their own sense of humor. Supposedly, the more modest ones—those who rated themselves as not that funny—correctly identified the funniest jokes. And how did they know which jokes were the funniest? They asked the professional comedians, who should be able to tell what is funny since that is what allows them to make a living.

I’ll try to post the jokes tonight and you can all test how strong your sense of humor is.

A professional comic’s opinion in what is funny is entirely useless.  Not everybody responds the same type of humor or to the same comics. The personal charisma of a comic also has a lot to do with how successful they are, i.e.  you can be funny - but fail as a comic.

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Posted: 28 July 2011 08:40 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 15 ]
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http://194.3.120.243/english/study/IGCSE/language/response-to-texts/I-hate-England.htm  The English writer A.A. Gill broke humor in to two groups in his book Hunting The English.  Basically, he says there is the humor of the oppressed, and humor of the oppresser, he uses British and Jewish humor as examples to beef up his statement. I think there is a little tiny bit of truth in what he says.  Guess where each type of humor fits!  tongue wink

[ Edited: 28 July 2011 08:54 AM by mid atlantic ]
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