Comic Relief: A Comprehensive Philosophy of Humor (New Directions in Aesthetics)

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Popular Features. New Releases. Description Comic Relief: A Comprehensive Philosophy of Humor develops an inclusive theory that integrates psychological, aesthetic, and ethical issues relating to humor Offers an enlightening and accessible foray into the serious business of humor Reveals how standard theories of humor fail to explain its true nature and actually support traditional prejudices against humor as being antisocial, irrational, and foolish Argues that humor's benefits overlap significantly with those of philosophy Includes a foreword by Robert Mankoff, Cartoon Editor of The New Yorker show more.

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Comic Relief : A Comprehensive Philosophy of Humor

The Art of Videogames Grant Tavinor. Cultural Appropriation and the Arts James O. Comic Relief John Morreall. The Performance of Reading Peter Kivy. The Art of Comics Aaron Meskin. Art as Performance Dave Davies. Once-Told Tales Peter Kivy. Art and Ethical Criticism Garry L. Mirrors to One Another E. The Art of Theater James R. Interpretation and Construction Robert Stecker. Back cover copy Western philosophy's traditional assessment of the nature and value of humor has not been kind, as the standard theories made humor look antisocial, irrational, and foolish.

Comic Relief: A Comprehensive Philosophy of Humor (New Directions in …

It wasn't until well into the twentieth century that humor gained even a semblance of respect. Comic Relief goes a great way toward ameliorating this injustice. In it, noted philosophical humor writer John Morreall develops a comprehensive theory that integrates psychological, aesthetic, and ethical issues relating to humor.

He also presents and critiques the standard Superiority, Incongruity, and Relief Theories of humor, revealing how they not only fail to explain its nature, but actually support traditional prejudices against humor. While utilizing elements from traditional theories of humor, Morreall goes into much greater depth about the opposition between amusement and emotions, the cognitive and practical disengagement in humor, the psychological and social benefits of humor, and the comic vision of life itself. He further argues that humor's benefits overlap significantly with those of philosophy, concluding that philosophy's traditional rejection of humor has been an egregious error.

Informed by scholarly research, Comic Relief is an enlightening and accessible foray into the serious business of humor. Humor, Anarchy, and Aggression.

The Superiority Theory: Humor as Anti-social. The Incongruity Theory: Humor as Irrational. The Relaxation Theory of Robert Latta. Humor and Disengagement. Humor as Play. Laughter as a Play Signal. What Was First Funny? The Worth of Mirth. Humor as Aesthetic Experience. Tragedy vs. Comedy: Is Heavy Better than Light?

Enough with the Jokes: Spontaneous vs. As argued, each of the other theories cannot account for all the aspects of humor explained by the Enlightenment Theory.

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The discussion is illustrated with examples of humor and explores the acts and circumstances of humor, its literary and artistic expressions, and its physical reactions. Part II shows how the Enlightenment Theory meets challenging issues in humor theory where other theories sometimes falter, including issues such as failed humor, motivation for humor, tickling, laughing gas, and sadistic humor.

Also mentioned are literary and musical humor and the relationship of wit to humor. Key Words enlightenment humor, humor aesthetics, humor philosophy, humor theory, incongruity theory, laughter theory, relief theory, repression humor theory, superiority theory. Though these and other kinds of humor come from different eras and cultures, they share a common thread of incongruity.

This article, in two Parts, offers a new theory of humor, not to replace other well-established theories but rather to incorporate and reorient them. Particularly of late, others have advanced theories of humor especially based on evolutionary and biological considerations, but the unifying theory here has aesthetic dimensions and consequences. As mostly discussed in Part II, this new theory explains aspects of humor that other theories hardly fathom, including failed humor, motivation for humor, tickling, laughing gas, and sadistic humor. The discussion is illustrated with examples of humor and explores the acts and circumstances of humor, its literary expressions, and its physical reactions, such as smiles and laughs.


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Humor and its physical reactions have long been enigmas, as have emotional reactions to fictions. Why we laugh at a joke and weep at a tragic drama both remain mysteries. A comprehensive theory should explain the entire range of acts, circumstances, expressions, and reactions associated with humor, an ambitious task because humor can arise from action slapstick, physical mimicry, and tickling , authorship jokes, quips, banter, wit, wordplay, cartoons, and musical mimicry , foolishness and mistakes Spoonerisms, malapropisms, and faux pas , and circumstances animals acting like human beings or laughable situations like a burglar alarm being stolen.

As noted above in Section 1, here we posit a broad definition of humor: any acts, circumstances, communications, or their consequences that elicit mirth. We also assume that the physical reactions are inextricably linked to humor, though not every laugh or smile emanates from humor, for example, nervous or courtesy laughter. These broad assumptions are challenging, but the new theory offered here arguably accommodates all aspects of humor and its physical reactions. Theories of humor abound, reflecting the variety of humor itself.

Roughly speaking, the Incongruity Theory holds that humor arises from acts, circumstances, and aesthetic expressions, literary, artistic, and even musical, that are incongruous with the observer's expectations. Laughter is an affection arising from the sudden transformation of a strained expectation into nothing.

However, the opposite may prevail: Laughter may arise from a sudden transformation of a minimal expectation into a stimulating surprise, as with a joke's punch line. This theory is persuasive since all or almost all kinds of humor entail incongruities or changes of reference. For instance, under this theory the baby who laughs when his or her parent makes a funny face is reacting to an incongruity because the parent is temporarily associated with a distorted face.

Incongruity results from collision of two or more frames of reference, a "bisociation" that might never be manifested in everyday life, sometimes produced by wit, mistake, chance, or deliberate physical actions. One can change a situation to create an incongruity, as when a dignitary is addressing a crowd one minute and gets a pie in the face the next, or when one moment the self-assured person is confidently striding but the next instant slips on a banana peel, falls into the clutches of gravity, and is utterly deprived of dignity.

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Comic Relief: A Comprehensive Philosophy of Humor / Edition 1

Pause Then we met. Churchill's second husband. Although theorists have categorized incongruities, such categorization may not capture all incongruities. But a malapropism is not a literalization nor an exaggeration, nor exactly a reversal. In addition, the Churchill witticism above doesn't neatly match any of the three categories. A problem with the Incongruity Theory in its basic form is that, though it proffers a possible sine qua non of humor, by itself it does not explain why incongruity causes laughter.

Furthermore, most incongruities are not funny; some are even dead serious. As with any theory, it is insufficient to explain a necessary condition but not the cause. The Repression Theory, also known as the Relief or Release Theory, advanced by Freud and Spencer, explains the raison d'etre and physical reactions to humor. It also explains the lewd or malicious joke insofar as it relieves a repressed desire to engage in unacceptable behavior. Moreover, this theory correctly assumes that all physical reactions to humor ostensibly involve an energic release, even if sometimes subtle, as with inward mirth or a Mona Lisa smile.

As conceived by Spencer, laughter is an economical phenomenon to release nervous energy mobilized by incongruities or false expectations. However, the Repression Theory is stretched when humor is highly intellectual and no repressed desire is being expressed, or the situation is so relaxed that no anxiety is being relieved, as with person viewing a sophisticated New Yorker cartoon or smiling at a funny face. Additionally, this theory fails to fully explain failed jokes, which are discussed in Part II.

Furthermore, why should incongruities which characterize all, or almost all, kinds of humor cause an energic release and be the means of relieving anxiety or expressing repressed desires? Though the Superiority Theory provides a raison d'etre for humor, by itself , in its basic form, it does not fully explain the physical reactions to humor or the role of incongruity in generating humor.

Besides, not all humor generates superiority. For instance, what feeling of superiority comes from making a funny face or performing a funny magic trick?

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Moreover, like the Churchill reincarnation quip above, many jokes praise rather than ridicule, particularly when a joke character cleverly meets a challenge. Examples are the three-character jokes, such as those involving an Englishman, an Irishman, and a Scot, with the Scot or Irishman devising the offbeat clever solution. Though each of these theories correctly explains many aspects of humor, they are like three blindfolded persons each feeling many parts but never the whole elephant. The Superiority Theory supplies motives, for example, to mock others and revel in superiority; the Incongruity Theory helps with means, including the necessary zany juxtapositions or absurd logic; and the Repression Theory explains motives and manifestations, such as relief of tension, anxiety, and repression via laughter.

However, none fully identifies humor's overall purpose in relation to all kinds of humor. There is a fourth way, a more comprehensive theory that doesn't contradict but rather complements and subsumes the others.

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