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Why We Laugh at the Pandemic

The power of laughter

  • Humor, in a way, protects us from life's grim reality. We joke because if we didn't, we'd cry.
  • Humor and laughing are also a social vocalization that includes some and excludes others. Jokes establish who is inside the group and who is not. We laugh with people to belong, and at others to exclude.
  • In our current crises, humor is everywhere because fear is too. Laughter binds us together against a common enemy.


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Why We Laugh at the Pandemic

Why We Laugh at the Pandemic


Key Ideas

Humor during a crisis

For ancient Greek philosophers, humor was something that had the potential to undermine authority and the good order.

Today, in democratic societies, those in power are mocked and their power undermined, as in Saturday Night Live in the United States, and Have I Got News for You in Britain.

The power of laughter

  • Humor, in a way, protects us from life's grim reality. We joke because if we didn't, we'd cry.
  • Humor and laughing are also a social vocalization that includes some and excludes others. Jokes establish who is inside the group and who is not. We laugh with people to belong, and at others to exclude.
  • In our current crises, humor is everywhere because fear is too. Laughter binds us together against a common enemy.

When to joke

Poking fun at the ills of the world is only funny if they are considered benign. No one is making memes about child abuse that may increase during periods of enforced domestic isolation.

Observations about people's behavior can be funny if they poke fun at a social norm in a relatively inoffensive way, such as hoarding toilet paper.


Humor benefits to marketing materials
Humor benefits to marketing materials
  • Humor breaks down walls, shows personality a.k.a. shows a brand's human side.
  • Humor is attention-grabbing. It is naturally colorful and original.
  • People love ...
At its worst, humor is:
  • The wrong joke at the wrong time. It can make your brand look amateurish and unprofessional.
  • If people think you’re cracking jokes for the sole purpose of getting more attention, you’ll be seen as exploitative rather than funny.
  • Humor can cheapen certain ideas or make them be taken less seriously.
  • In some cases, humor can be outright offensive.
  • Key areas to create value with humor
    • Humorous touches can almost always improve a piece that is already valuable on its own.
    • If you’re sure a joke is going to land, it can make an effective advertisement. Test variations of the joke with a small audience first; that way, you can be sure the humor doesn’t cross a line.
    • Brand differentiation. For example, Oreo has long differentiated itself by offering a quirky, tongue-in-cheek voice across its social media platforms. This is especially effective in dry, or otherwise “boring” industries.
    • Personal branding. Elon Musk, for example, has separated himself from his companies Tesla and SpaceX by cracking jokes and roasting people on his own account.

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    Michael Kerr

    In workplaces that encourage people to be themselves--that are less hierarchical and more innovative--people tend..."

    Michael Kerr
    Why humor is a key to success at work
    • People will enjoy working with you.
    • Humor is a potent stress buster.
    • It is humanizing.
    • It puts others at ease.
    • Ha + ha = aha!  Humor is a key ingredient in creative thinking.
    • It helps build trust.
    • It boosts morale.
    • People who use humor tend to be more approachable.
    • Humor can allow your company to stand out.
    • It can increase productivity.
    Humour in philosophy
    Humour in philosophy
    • Henri Bergson, a Fresh philosopher of the late 19th century, was also an author of a famous essay that focused on laughter. Before Bergson, few philosophers had given laughter much t...
    Humour and respect

    Everyone who ever had to explain their own joke knows that comedy cannot survive analysis. Once you take humour apart, it loses its effect and dies in the process.

    Henri Bergson published his essay on laughter in 1900. He believed that laughter should be studied as 'a living thing' and treated with 'the respect due to life.'

    Conditions for laughter to thrive

    Henri Bergson's general observations related to when laughter is most likely to appear and thrive:

    • The comic is strictly human. When laughter is directed at non-humans, we may laugh, but only because we have detected some human attitude or expression.
    • Laughter has no greater foe than emotion. Emotional states like pity, melancholy, rage, etc. make it difficult for us to find humour in the things we might otherwise have laughed at. But humour also appears to serve as a coping mechanism in the face of tragedy or misfortune.
    • Laughter seems to require an echo. It is used in the context of social bonding.

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    Humor at work
    Humor at work

    Being funny can have both positive and negative consequences, in your personal as well as your professional life. And context is always important: when making a joke, for instance, you should defin...

    Humor and its effects on the status

    Humor and status have always been tightly linked: good leaders seem to often use humor in order to motivate their team members' actions. As individuals, we tend to prefer, researchers claim, jokes that make us laugh while feeling slightly uncomfortable.

    Furthermore, we perceive the joke teller as a self-confident person, who could easily become a leader due to his or her courage to make such a joke. The key point here is that the joke should be appropriate and match the context.

    Inside jokes

    Making inside jokes usually shows how bounded a team or a group is: their jokes can understood the best by themselves.

    However, the moment an outsider integrates the group, it is better to avoid the inside jokes, as this will most probably make him or her feel out of place.

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    The skilled use of humor ...
    • gets a point across, 
    • lightens a mood,
    • is better than therapy for brightening the workplace and energizing all who may come your way.

    The ...

    Good and bad humor
    • Good Humor is Inclusive.
    • Good Humor Promotes Bonding.

    • Bosses and managers who use self-deprecating humor are considered more approachable and human.
    • Bad Humor Is Poison and can affect an employee’s performance or future.
    • Clumsy Humor is a Risk. Your audience might take offence instead of laugh.

    The humor effect defined
    The humor effect is a psychological phenomenon that causes people to remember information better when that information is perceived as funny or humorous.

    The use of humor enhances people’s

    Benefits of incorporating humor into learning
    • Humorous information receives increased attention during the perception stage.
    • Improved encoding. Our brain gives preferential treatment to humorous information when it comes to storing it in our memory.
    • The use of humor serves as a distraction from negative emotions, such as anger or anxiety, that people might experience when processing certain information.
    • Reading or viewing something humorous has a positive and energizing effect.
    • Adding humor to the information that you are presenting can make it more interesting to others.
    Different types of humor lead to different outcomes

    The use of positive, nonaggressive humor is associated with 

    • improved learning outcomes, 
    • a relaxed learning environment, 
    • better student evaluations, 
    • an increased motivation to learn, 
    • improved information recall, 
    • an increased degree of student satisfaction throughout the learning process.

    The use of negative or aggressive humor, especially if aimed at particular students, will produce the opposite effect.

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    The "kindness pandemic"

    Viruses aren’t the only things that spread through networks of people. Attitudes and behaviors do too. And we should take advantage of it. 
    Spreading happiness and kindness right now is ...

    Spreading connection

    70% of our happiness comes from your relationships with other people. And the social distancing situation has left some with zero people around them. 
    So reach out. Extended time without social contact is bad: Send a text, make that phone/video call, anything you want to let people know you care and are thinking about them.

    Spreading help

    Ask people if they need anything.  There are people out there in need of a little more than well wishes right now. And when people see others helping, they’re more likely to help. 

    Also, if you need help, don’t be afraid to ask for it.

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    Limiting Mistakes With Humor

    Humor is a great psychological tool to get and keeping people on your side. Use it wisely, and use it often—especially when you screw up.

    The next time you find yours...

    The Tom Brokaw Method

    ... to recover from a mistake with humor:

    • Acknowledge the mistake. There’s no hiding it now. Everyone saw!
    • Correct the mistake. If it’s necessary, make whatever correction you need to get things back on track.
    • Make a joke. Make fun of yourself. Get everyone laughing and they won’t care anymore.
    • Move on! And don’t bring up your flub again until you’re totally in the clear.
    The old Victorian picture style
    The old Victorian picture style

    If you have a look at Victorian pictures dating from the 19th century, you will soon enough realize that back then people did not really smile. The reason for this involves two elements:

    The picture called 'A playful smile' (mid-1850s)

    This picture is one of the earliest proofs that Victorians could also smile in photos.

    The model is a young lady who poses typically for the period, however, letting a smile be seen on her face.

    The 'Giggling gent' picture (c1889)

    The picture shows a family who is captured a bit earlier than expected, fact that allows us to see everybody's natural laughter. This is what used to be known as 'Gigglemug' or 'habitually smiling face'.

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    The Superiority Theory

    It suggest that our humor is derived from the misfortune of others, which makes us feel superior.

    That explains for example why a lot of us find it funny when people fall down. 

    The Relief Theory

    The perception of humor is directly related to the release of built up tension. We are set up through tension to get to a release point of humor. And that release has been shown to actually be good for our health.

    The Incongruity Theory

    We find humor when something happens that doesn't fit with what we expected to happen. It's about the unexpected.

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