How Humor Connects Us All
Is Humor a Science or an Art?
An interesting article about humor and comedy showed up on vox.com a couple of months back. It was from a section of their website called The Highlight by Vox—Vox’s home for ambitious stories that explain our world. Their What’s So Funny? collection posts several articles about humor, but the one I’m interested in exploring is the science behind humor. You can check it out here: “The Very Serious Science of Humor, How Studying What Tickles Our Funny Bone Can Help Explain Who We Are,” by Allie Volpe. (Dec 19, 2022)
As you know, I am a funny motivational speaker who focuses on the people side of business. In particular, I speak about transformation, both in work cultures and in personal life; a transformation that comes when people embrace their awesomeness to truly find what’s important in life. My teaching and speaking style has always used humor in order to help people learn—I think the best way to slide some important stuff into people’s psyches is to do it with a dose of comedy. People often learn the most while they are laughing. So I am what you could call a student of comedy—how it works, its various forms, how a joke or story is set up, its rhythm and punchline. So this article is right down my alley.
The article speaks about how humor resonates with all cultures, from the simplest to the most complex. Playfulness is apparent in many animal species and the history of humanity abounds with examples of humor developing to manage serious situations and misunderstandings. Social status, camaraderie, conflict reduction, and relationship building all benefit from the application of a little humor to increase social cooperation and help humanity thrive. So it’s serious stuff, right?
Is Humor an Art or a Science?
So serious that ultimately of course a whole field of study was created to examine how humor and comedy evolved and act in our human experience. The author talks about the Humor Research Lab which was launched at the University of Colorado Boulder, just down the road from where I live. (I found it interesting that this lab is located in the Business School of the University, which doesn’t seem that funny. Maybe ironic?) Many universities and colleges around the world study the subject. Numerous papers and books have been written about comedy and humor and how and why they work. Humor it seems is worthy of scientific study.
But is it a science that can be quantified? Or is it an art that can only be experienced?
I tend to believe that it’s both. I have a pretty well-developed sense of humor—one that has allowed me to make a living by being both funny and serious at the same time. It’s the juxtaposition of both together that often promotes laughter in my audiences. As the article talks about, it’s often terrible, disturbing topics that can garner the most laughter from comedians. As somebody once said, tragedy plus time equals comedy.
Moreover, times and attitudes change, and what was once acceptable to laugh at or about, no longer is. The author cites Dave Chappelle as an example of a comic once hailed as a genius who is somewhat out of favor today because of his edgy material. Comics often have the unenviable job of calling attention to society’s ills by poking fun at them for laughs, only to see society move on and then reject the messenger who showed them the way.
How To Be Funny
Like one of the subjects in the article, many, including myself, are interested in how to be funny. In the speaking world, I am often asked to give seminars on how to punch up your speech with humor. Once I taught a course on the subject of how to be funnier to a group of attendees of a conference of the Association for Applied and Therapeutic Humor. (Yes, there is such a thing—AATH.org.) About one-third of the audience was wearing silly hats to the session—think lobster hats, pylons, lampshades, and rubber chickens. These were serious people who were desperate to be funny in order to be taken seriously. How messed up is that?
My personal opinion is that they were more interested in the science of humor than they were in the art and practice of humor. Again, I believe that humor is often a feeling, a personality style that really can’t be studied and copied, otherwise, it is inauthentic and falls flat. And if there’s one thing that most folks can spot a mile away, at least where humor is concerned, it’s inauthenticity. (Okay, we can save that one to argue about in another blog).
I no longer teach how to be funny courses. It’s too hard. But read the article. Here’s the link again: Science Humor Comedy.
Funny keynote speaker Brad Montgomery is an award winning, Hall of Fame speaker. He got his start as a magician & comedian, but now serves convention and meeting audiences in many fields including health care, real estate / REALTORS, sales people, educators and teachers, and 100s of others.
Brad presents his funny keynotes both live and in person, and virtually over Zoom and a few dozen other platforms.
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