Is Jokes Ever Funny?
Funny is a word that strikes a cord of excitement, surprise and enjoyment with all its shades of innocence and playfulness. Most psychologists agree that there are two aspects of humor which lie in its ability to stimulate the intellect and its ability to elicit feelings of playfulness, and joy. Humor has been defined as a means of eliciting emotional reactions that vary from amused surprise, to shame, guilt, and disgust. In other words, humor is the ability to elicit specific emotional responses in others, similar to the way certain physical actions can cause physiological reactions in us.
When it comes to funny games and other forms of humor, you will find that there are many different theories in existence that attempt to explain its appeal. The most popular of these theories, known as the incongruity theory, states that we derive enjoyment from the feeling of incongruity when we observe or experience a funny event or occurrence. In other words, when something upsets us, we react to it in a manner that either involves laughter or discomfort. If the incongruity is profound enough, we derive pleasure from the discomfort and the ability to find humor in the situation. This theory has been used by therapists to help patients overcome deep-seated feelings of discomfort, and it has even been used in court to help judges determine which witnesses should be interviewed during a trial.
Another school of thought about how to find humor in situations holds that our greatest ability lies in the ability to laugh at ourselves. In other words, our ability to enjoy humor originates from within us, and not from the outside stimulus. The feeling of being put into an uncomfortable situation where we must either laugh at ourselves for our own discomfort or laugh at the situation itself, is one of the most painful feelings in the world. However, the ability to laugh at our own misfortune can go a long way toward improving our outlook on life.
Some psychologists believe that people laugh at the wrong thing quite often – for instance, when someone says, “Are you sure that’s a horse?” The meaning is unclear, since horses are not a common word. Yet people laugh because they associate horses with death or dying. So if they hear someone say, “Are you sure that’s a horse,” they’ll likely assume that’s what the person was referring to, and they’ll feel better for not believing the statement outright.
A third school of thought about the relationship of humor and society holds that the media can shape our perceptions of funny. For instance, some believe that popular humorist shows on TV to create a younger generation that values sarcasm and irony more than truth and humor. The result is that people feel the need to defend their own sense of humor, and they can interpret any joke as offensive. The result can be a consistent and ongoing cycle of self-fulfilling prophecy.
So can jokes ever truly be funny? Probably not. But by choosing your jokes wisely, you can add the right level of biting humor and use them to share information, instead of creating a sense of false offense or defensiveness. When you choose to tell a joke, even if it may not make the crowd laugh, you’re still contributing to the rich tradition of good communication.