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May 1, 2017

How Joking Is Making Others Complicit in a Small (and Passionate) Crime

A = Jester = Criminal
B = Subject of Joking = Victim
C = Audience = Law and Order

The A targets and attacks his B and the C has to solve and judge this - all with a certain amount of sympathy.

At first A makes rationalizations and tells (himself) a story in which his attacking B has meaning. B is mainly portrayed in the light of A's preoccupations with him, as A's side of the story. The C has to determine to what extent this is the case and will find the action more acceptable/reasonable if he sympathizes with the cause and motives of A. He will also judge the rationalizations and story of A on the trustworthiness, frequency of violations and in some cases on the likeability of the person in general; if he knows A to be a person with good intentions and friendly relationships, now and then violating the norms is somewhat more acceptable.

The action is performed. One or more (societal) norms are violated. Depending on how big the violation is, the C may reconcile or loosen up the following up or - in case of a very light action - even let is slide. Besides, there are worst things in the world/bigger fish to catch. If he felt a close connection with the A on forehand or gets to know him better during the process, he feels something of the urgency of the action. He may even feel something of the thrill of it.

A becomes known. His action brand him as the typical A that he is. Different kind of C's have encountered him and their judgement varied. There's, apparently, no one, worldwide norm for dealing with an A. His name pops up in different records. His reputation is established.

March 7, 2017

Humor as a Vehicle for Conservatism and Progressivism

Conservatism: the belief in established and traditional ideas and practices.

In what way is humor a vehicle for conservatism? Well, the fact that in a lot of comedy material the characters don't really develop their personalities - i.e. genuinely learn new ways of looking at the world or gain meaningful insights from their experience - but rather are portrayed as types with certain traits, is a hint towards this idea. Correctively joking about repetitive or 'stupid' behavior is another. Jokes are used as more or less closed units of information that deliver prejudice or message, instead of opening up a conversation about a topic of interest. Also, humor can be quite offensive, enforcing own prejudices while blocking sympathetic relationships.

Progressivism: the belief in developing new ideas and practices.

In what way is humor a vehicle for progressiveness? Well, the fact that humorists are quite often seeking the psychological boundaries of a subject, suggests they are not bound by any particular code of norms and suggests humors openness to other points of view. The way humor is being used as a mechanism for handling difficult or stressful situations (together) is a hint. Pointing out and joking about contradictions in behavior and thinking is another. Also, humor may create a bond between the people that share it, which possibly deepens and develops their understanding of the subject of discussion and their personal relationship.

With these scenario's, a joke can be conservative to some groups, while being progressive to others (it can strengthen mutual understanding and develop a relationship while at the same time insult and make fun of other people their traits). The question that some social psychologists are trying to answer, namely whether 'conservative' or 'progressive' people appreciate humor more, must largely depend on the content and usage of the chosen humor; and it is hard to judge humorous examples in a (politically) neutral way. It's not as if humor is somehow a neutrally given and then people can neutrally decide the amount of conservatism and progressivism in it and then measure whether a conservative or a progressive person likes the humor more. This seems to me to be as much an act of creation as is wanting to prove which group appreciates humor more in the first place. It forms the world as much as it reports it.

Remains an important question to be asked: where's the humor in this? Why, after all, only talk about two groups, while Robert Benchley famously said that there are two kinds of people in the world: those who believe there are two kinds of people in the world and those who don't?

February 23, 2017

Exaggerated Breathing

Human beings exhale ("hhahhahha"), other primates, like chimpanzees, inhale ("ahhahhahh") while laughing.

January 23, 2017

'Fun' and 'Funny'

I've noticed something that I think is fun. Or maybe funny. Let me explain.

Somebody can say that something is 'fun' and mean that it's a source of amusement or enjoyment. This applies to both humorous and non-humorous situations. The word 'funny' has the same connotation, but here humor definitely has to be involved.

This makes you wonder why the diminutive form is there for humor. Both fun and funny can be applied to a longer period of time (playing game can be fun, a show or a person can be funny), so it probably isn't because humor and laughter more often depend on the impulsiveness of the moment.

Maybe the diminutive form is a sign of tenderness. In order to feel more close to others, we give them diminutive forms of (nick)names. On the other hand, making things smaller could be a sign of nonchalance. 'Funny' could be a kind of peripheral area of the much larger and more significant domain of having fun. Just like 'risky,' 'thirsty' and 'moody' are peripheral areas of the much larger significant domains of taking risks, having a thirst or having a mood. Now the diminutive form suddenly is a sign that humor is not to be taken too seriously or maybe even that it has little to contribute to our lives. 

In some ways, however, funny has more nuances than fun. You can, for example, use inflections like 'funnier' or 'funniest,' while you can't say that yesterday was 'funner' than the day before or that you think watching sports is the 'funnest' thing of all.

Maybe this only shows there is more of a competition in humor. Maybe it shows the usage of these words should be carefully researched in the future and be compared to words words with similar word forms and their meanings in other languages. Most probable of all is that me talking about these issues doesn't prove or solve a thing.

December 24, 2016

Reproducing the Humorous Spirit

"But few people ... realise the difficulty of reproducing a humorous or comic effect in its original spirit.

"I saw Harry Lauder last night," said Griggs, a Stock-Exchange friend of mine, as we walked up town together the other day. "He came onto the stage in kilts" (here Griggs started to chuckle) "and he had a slate under his arm" (here Griggs began to laugh quite heartily), "and he said, 'I always like to carry a slate with me' (of course he said it in Scotch, but I can't do the Scotch the way he does it) 'just in case there might be any figures I'd be wanting to put down' " (by this time Griggs was almost suffocated with laughter) - "and he took a little bit of chalk out of his pocket, and he said" (Griggs was now almost hysterical), " 'I like to carry a wee bit of chalk along because I find the slate is' " (Griggs was now faint with laughter), " 'the slate is-is-not much good without the chalk.' "

Griggs had to stop, with his hand to his side and lean against a lamp post. "I can't, of course, do the Scotch the way Harry Lauder does it," he repeated.

Exactly. He couldn't do the Scotch and he couldn't do the rich mellow voice of Mr. lauder and the face beaming with merriment, and the spectacles glittering with amusement, and he couldn't do the slate, nor the "wee bit chalk" - in fact he couldn't do any of it. He ought merely to have said, "Harry Lauder," and leaned up against a post and laughed till he had gone over it." 

Stephen Leacock, "Humour As I See It" in Laugh with Leacock, 1946 New York

November 5, 2016

A Joke Formula #2: the Light Bulb

How many X does it take to change/screw in a light bulb? N, Y.

Pick any subject for X. Then Y has to contain some common knowledge (a prejudice, description, image or idea) about that subject. Although N ('Number') comes first in the second sentence, it generally should be the quantification of that primary characterization, in that it makes sense because of Y. (I doubt whether or not this last description is really helping.) 

This formula is often being used to target an individual or a group its stupidity - after all, how hard is it to change or screw in a light bulb? So when thinking about filling in your ideas, it might help to think of some flaws or stereotypical habits of your subject. This formula can also be used to highlight more positive characteristics, but in that case it may be harder to find it humorous because of this whole light bulb situation.

Here are two examples and a link with a very large collection of examples of this formula:

How many Marxists does it take to screw in a light bulb?
None, the light bulb contains the seeds of its own revolution.

How many voyeurs does it take to change a light bulb?
Only one, but they would much rather watch someone else do it.

October 28, 2016

Humor as a Coping Strategy

Humor is quite commonly used as a means to deal with loneliness, boredom, tension and stress. Whenever you're in a situation where coping is needed, please think seriously about your answers to the following questions:

"When am I going to Hawaii and who am I going to take with me?"
"If I could reincarnate and choose any life form I'd like to incarnate in, what would I choose and why?"
"How do I explain my problems to my great ancestors, while they're having a discussion about what they're going to eat tonight?"
"If I could change the laws of physics, what's the first thing I'd change and can I change it back again?"
"Can I think of a starting question for a contest that I've always wanted to know the results of?"

October 6, 2016

September 25, 2016

Q&A With Your Sense of Humor

Here are some questions that can help determine and develop your present sense of humor. Think of three situations in which you laughed last month and try to answer:

- Why did you laugh?
- What was the context?
- How did you relate to the subject?
- Was the humor original?
- Was the humor intended or not?
- Was it spontaneous or prepared?
- Did it disrupt the circumstances?
- What do you think of the person who caused or created it?
- Was the particular wording or sounding of the humor important?
- How important do you think timing and intonation were?
- How did others respond to the humor?
- Do you think these others were important for your appreciation of the humor?
- Are the three situations different or alike?

You can also use these questions to determine and develop your sense of non-humor, in case you didn't laugh while somebody was desperately trying to be funny. Repeat these questions every once in a while.

September 11, 2016

An Exercise for Developing a Playful Attitude

(1) Write a short solicitation letter for a job you would love to have. The organization that is hiring only has one criterium: you have to tell at least one funny personal story that illustrates how you came to want this job.
(2) Write a short resignation letter for a job you would hate to have. You have to tell at least one sad personal story that illustrates how you came to hate this job.
(3) Analyse the main differences between the two letters. Analyse the letters themselves, as well as your attitude and approach in writing them. Then try to conclude which lessons can be drawn to adopt a more playful attitude in your communication towards others in general.

September 4, 2016


Make a sentence in which one word clearly has two distinct meanings, and at the same time make sure both these meanings can be (loosely) applied to the situation you're describing. Alternatively, make a sentence in which one word clearly sounds the same as another word that has a distinct meaning, and at the same time make sure both these meanings (loosely) apply to the situation you're describing. 

Here are some examples, of which the keywords are underlined:

To write with a broken pencil is pointless.
Claustrophobic people are more productive thinking outside the box.
It's a lengthy article on Japanese Sword Fighters, but I can Samurais it for you.
Atheism is a non-prophet organization.
Einstein developed a theory about space, and it was about time too.

August 12, 2016

Five Exercises

(1) Write a 5-page letter to your neighbors cat on the subject of how jealous you are at her socializing skills.
(2) Put on a cucumber mask, look in the mirror and elaborate on how talented you are.
(3) Write a spontaneous e-mail to a friend in which you explain why she is one of the funniest persons you know, despite the fact that she has no or little sense of humor.
(4) Substitute social conventions like shaking hands and applauding for each other for at least one day ("Nice to meet you, I'm John (clap clap clap)").
(5) Perform a rap when bringing bad news.

July 10, 2016

Sounds of Laughter

For those who like to hear (or study) soundbites of people laughing:

1   2   3   4

July 3, 2016

Yes, We CAN

Contextualize, Anthropomorphize and 'Narralize'. This is a scheme that seems to me to be an effective tool for the creation of humor. I've never heard it in this particular form before, because I've made it up. But you can probably see how it is been widely used. This is how it works.

(1) Pick a subject, preferably one you're already familiar with, and think of its regular context. Think about its most important qualities, its function in daily life, the most common phrases we use for describing it, well-known situations and problems surrounding it. You can write down and highlight some of the things you think are most fun or interesting. Keep it simple and specific.

(2) Anthropomorphize the subject. This means you've got to give it human feelings and qualities and/or make it behave like you or any other regular human being does. An easy way to do this is to ask the question: 'What would it be like to be an X?' You might already have thought of some funny ideas at this point.

(3) Now you can think of a narrative that combines the pieces of information. What would it be like to be an X and be involved in a story of ..? This line of thinking will probably lead to more abnormal situations and therefore (potentially) to more funny situations or jokes.

March 2, 2016

How to Be Impressive

"If a spectacle is going to be particularly imposing I prefer to see it through somebody else's eyes, because that man will always exaggerate. Then I can exaggerate his exaggeration, and my account of the thing will be the most impressive."

Mark Twain - "O'Shah", Europe and Elsewhere (1923)

February 15, 2016

A Joke Formula: the Difference

What's the difference between X and Y? D, Z.

Take two things or subjects in mind that usually don't go together or are each others opposite. Let's call them X and Y. Now try to formulate some of the main differences - D1, D2, etc. - between them. Then try to formulate why and how these differences relate to each other; Z (non-sense is allowed).

The purpose of this formula is - positively worded - to foster creativity and highlight unexpected relations between things. Here's an example:

"What's the difference between a tea bag and a tampon?"
"I don't know."
"I'm not having tea again at your house."

A formula alone does not garuantee a good joke. You can change the style of the formula, but the contrasting is crucial for the comical effect. To increase the likelihood you'll apply it creatively, it might be helpful to start with writing down some thoughts and observations with the formula in the back of your mind. Also:

- Pick a familiar subject (don't pick subjects that are too emotional)
- Brainstorm and associate playfully
- Try to write in a conversational style, don't be too analytical
- Keep it short
- Be specific in naming things
- Try to find words with similar sounds, tones or emphasis
- Personalize the wording
- Make it look easy
- Keep an audience in mind

Have fun experimenting.