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Why is it humorous?

NOTE: none of the jokes included belong to the author.

Joke 1 — A marquis returns from a business trip to find his wife in bed with the archbishop. After a moment’s pause, the startled marquis calmly opens the window and starts blessing people in the street.

“What are you doing?” cries the anguished wife.

“Simple, my dear: The Monsignor is performing my function, so I am performing his.” (The Treasury of the Encyclopedia Britannica, pg. 451)

In the joke above, we see the classic underpinnings of what is thought of as funny. An unexpected outcome (the marquis blessing the people in the street) is logically substituted for an expected outcome (the marquis getting angry). Therefore, when a presumed notion is refuted by a second valid but contradictory notion, the situation is humorous.

Practical jokes operate on a base level where we are reminded of our physical limitations. The maestro is important looking in a tuxedo, but we laugh when he slips on a banana peel. Our nation’s greatest ideals are embodied in our president, but we laugh when he vomits on a foreign dignitary. In both cases, the perception of societal importance is negated by the reality of the people obeying the same forces of gravity and biology as the rest of us schmucks. When considering dark humor, black humor, gallows humor and morbid humor, the situation becomes more complex.

Joke 2 — A woman gets into a terrible car accident. Her husband rushes to the hospital where his wife is being treated. After several hours of anxiety, the doctor comes to give the prognosis: “Listen: Your wife is alive but in very bad shape. She has lost all ability to care for herself. You will have to attend to her every need. You will have to feed her every meal. Bathe her every day, clean out every orifice.” At this point the man breaks down and starts to cry. The doctor pats him on the back and says: “Just kidding. She’s actually dead.” (unknown)

Here we are reminded of the proverbial “fate worse than death.” Though there are many levels where the expected/unexpected switch may occur, there is an undercurrent present. As Napoleon said, “We laugh at a man to avoid crying for him.” (The Darwin Awards) The situation is too horrible for us to react in any way except laughing. This has larger implications when talking about less socially acceptable topics like racism and slavery.

Joke 3 — First Egyptian Guard: What do you call a Jewish slave with 10 gold chariots, 50 oxen and inroads to the Pharaoh’s personal court?

Second Egyptian Guard: A Ra damned kike. (Esquire magazine)

When we talk about race in mass media humor, there are two possibilities. In South Park do not laugh at Kyle for being Jewish, we laugh at Cartman for being racist. But there are also the social conventions with which racial stereotypes are grounded (Kyle is the smart one). Whether it’s Chappelle’s Show or Blue Collar Comedy, each are based on a fundamentally racist premise: Group A does X, Y, and Z. Hilarious.

The reason why we laugh at racism is slightly different from dark humor. Humor points to someone’s fundamental truth. Whether we want to or not, we think in racial terms. What’s really funny is that we know the difference between South Park racism and something that’s blatantly racist. The creators of South Park can use racism because they’re not racist, yet a KKK member cannot tell racist jokes without being offensive. We realize how insignificant race is when we laugh at South Park. Meanwhile, the KKK member holds race paramount and is chastised for it in the comedic medium.

Immanuel Kant calls laughter “the sudden transformation of a tense expectation into nothing.” Sex, death and racism are funny because they are each edgy subjects that are still a part of the human condition. I hope enlightened comedy helps to turn these fears into the nothings they really are. We all need to laugh more.

Joke 4 — Hear the one about the cannibal who dumped his girlfriend? Think about it. (www.pvponline.com by Scott Kurtz)

Gideon Weinerth is a Pratt sophomore. His column appears every other Tuesday.

 

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