Laughter and Comedy: What Makes Us Laugh?


This excerpt is from my paper ‘How Effective is Laughter and Comedy in Creating an Atmosphere of Positive Peace?’

What Makes Us Laugh

Laughter is defined as meaning ‘to manifest the spasmodic utterance, facial distortion, shaking of the sides…the instinctive expression of mirth, amusement, sense of the ludicrous…’25 Laughter is an overt expresson of humour.26 Laughter is the result of comedy, humour, wit, mirth, jokes, fun, funniness, smiling, playing, fooling, clowning, satire and parady.27 The commonest cause of laughter is that something unaccountable or incongruous is said which excites surprise. The feeling expressed is based on antithesis.28 What makes people laugh is governed by their attitudes which have changed over history and within the life experience.29 People are said to be what they laugh at and through laughingthey are engaged in social control and unity.30

Laughing is empowering, it connects with feelings of elation, joy, triumph, liberation and power whereas tears link to feelings of distress and helplessness.31 Laughter is generally thought to be natural, cheerful, convivial, exhilarating and healthy.32

The levity of laughter is considered a force which raises things, lightens up and metaphoically lets people fly. Seriousness is the opposite, similar to gravity or concern, which pulls things to the centre, suppressing or denying freedom.33

The intent behind laughter can be either aggressive or playful. Laughter that expresses joy and happiness and is untiring in its devotion to make people laugh, is the image of a love, which is absolutely self giving. Laughter is needed just as people need love.34 Laughter is visualised as the pearl that the oyster forms around the speck of irritation. 35 Nietzsche is quoted as saying ‘I have canonized laughter, higher men learn to laugh’.36 According to Lorenz, laughter at its most intense is never in danger of causing primal aggressive behaviour.37

Laughter and humour serve social, psychological and physiological functions. The process facilitates an indirect form of communication conveying messages, creating social relations and managing delicate situations. Humour and laughter release tensions, frustrations and anxieties. In times of tragedy humour is a technique for neutralising emotionally charged feelings. Humour and laughter promote health and longevity and is an important function for biological survival.38

Konrad Lorenz in his book On Aggression states that laughter produces a strong bond or fellow feeling among the group.39 Groups under stess are likely to develop a sense of humour. Oppressed groups transform misery into laughing at oppressors. This has been observed in concentration camps and the civil rights movement. In a spirit of harmony the group is able to laugh at each others foibles revealing mutual trust and communal relationship. Laughter is a communication of approval.40

Mohandas Gandhi

“My life is my message.”


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