We can't take Comedy seriously...can we?
Updated: Aug 29, 2021
Actually yes...yes we can, thanks for coming, pleasure to meet you, drive home safe...
ok wait, it's not quite as simple as all that.
Let's do a break down, a bit of bite size theory
There's a hidden reason behind comedy not being taken seriously as a subject
Comedy - after all - is fundamentally just a method of communication. We are deeply social creatures & we've developed and used comedy for many different reasons over thousands and thousands of years & it's not going anywhere anytime soon.
So the interesting questions are how? & why? do we use comedy to communicate?
The answer, after all this time is <shrug> "I dunno" - Now let's not do a disservice here, it's more like "well...we think it might be this, or maybe that or some combination of all of the above"
We got theories about comedy coming out
There is no one unifying theory of why comedy works, but
here's a quick fire list of the big players in the game:
Each have their Pros and Cons, some are more practical than others. But there is no doubt that (ironically) the one theory that's done the most harm AND has been around the longest is 'Superiority Theory' which basically states that humour's ONLY use is as a weapon to ridicule or elevate - it makes one person, political party, idea etc seem superior and another inferior - there are 'winners & there are losers'.
P.S. no I don't really know what a wazoo is either...
Why this theory of comedy
This is a blog, so I'm going for a quick 'one-two punch combo takedown here.
ink to more nuanced reading below.
Here we go: Comedians often deploy 'Self-deprecation' in their jokes, in fact it's so common that most comedy courses recommend that you use a self deprecating joke about you appearance / mannerisms / point of view at the very start of a set (performance)
Now riddle me this
Who exactly wins, or loses in self-deprecating humour?
Did the comedian lose because they proverbially 'shot themselves in the foot'? and became the butt of the joke, so therefore the audience 'wins'?
Or did the comedian win because they took the initiative and decided to 'shoot themselves in the foot' and take the first hit, right in front of the audience, making a brash statement of who decides what goes down here, tonight? so therefore the audience 'loses'?
What's your answer? - share your comments below
‘having feelings of superiority is neither a necessary condition nor a sufficient condition for laughter or amusement’ (Hutcheson 1750)
A case of seeing, without really looking
It's a classic case of a skewed mindset AKA 'Baader-Meinhof Phenomenon' which consists of:
selective attention (deciding to what to look for, before observing)
confirmation bias (suddenly seeing the pattern everywhere, because you've tuned your mind towards it)
binary thinking (it either is, or it isn't - nothing in between)
In short, if you go looking for 'winners' and 'losers' - you'll find them. It's just like how we view Freudian psychological theory today. If you go looking for symbolic genitalia everywhere - while you puff down on your oversized cigar *ah-he-hem* - you will find it everywhere. That doesn't make it true.
Why you should care
How long do you think a bad theory can stick around? no seriously have a think before you scroll down. Maybe a couple of years, ten, twenty, a hundred?
What if I told you that 'Superiority theory' remained the undisputed champion, the dominant thinking, the king of the comedy jungle for almost 2000 years? - that's right - two - thousand - God Damn years.
As wise as they were, this theory comes from Ancient Greek philosophers Aristotle and Plato, so long ago in fact that were not even sure of the exact date (roughly 300 B.C) or even if one of these guys actually existed or not (the main issue is that Aristotle's books were written by Plato- you can open this can of worms yourself here)
Did you notice the date of that quote debunking Superiority Theory? feel free to scroll back up & take a look. That, that quote was from the first serious critique of the theory and its from the 1700's
The historic importance of Platonic and Aristotelic thought in the theory of humour cannot be overstated…[it has] determine[d] theoretical thought on humour for well over 20 centuries’
‘the sloppy theorizing that created and sustained the Superiority Theory has troubled the whole history of thought on laughter and humor’ (Morreall 1987:4-26 )
We are so far behind, it's laughable
You're probably feeling the exact same thing I was feeling when I first found this out "...No...really?!...NOOO...that can't be true" Honestly, you couldn't make this stuff up.
If you're curious and critically minded I urge you to research this yourself - word of advice, keep your sanity - start backwards from the bust up between Hutcheson and Hobbes IN THE 18th CENTURY!
Now I can't just stand up 'round here all day ranting and raving. I've got a pie to throw, banana peel to drop, and a production of 'Waiting for Godot' on Zoom.
But if this tickles your mental pickle (Freud would love that one) take a look at our latest videos on our channel
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