The Psychology Of A Joke

In his book Rhetoric, Aristotle has analyzed what a joke is: Creating an expectation and then breaking it.

“What’s the best thing about Switzerland?”
“I don’t know, but the flag’s a big plus.”

This joke builds an expectation in the first sentence (Chocolates? Watches?) but breaks it in the second, and after a confusing pause, we see that the answer does make sense: The Swiss flag has a big plus sign.

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Comedians As Master Psychologists

When inquired about an occupation that has the most insight on human behaviour and human nature, one would assume it would be teaching, as it requires shaping and developing a lot of young minds.

However, it is a comedian who has a much deeper insight into human behaviour, as he(or she) has to make the audience laugh and yet ensure that the comfort barrier isn’t broken. It requires a great deal of insight into the immediate reaction that a live audience is going to have.

Psychologists and comedians are working in a similar fashion: They observe the world and test a new hypothesis (raw joke matter) on how people see it. They run experiments on individuals and groups that confirm or deny their new theories or jokes.

Both rely on the feedback of the colleagues, scholars or the audience to shape their experimental jokes or theories.

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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 definitely make sure the moment is appropriate for such a behavior.

Making the good jokes at the proper moment can help you become everybody's favorite at the workplace. However, making a bad joke can lead even to being fired: so make sure to choose your attitude appropriately.

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The Origins Of Stand-Up Comedy

In the late 19th and early 20th centuries, America pioneered the concept of stand-up comedy, an art form that was an odd kind of basic, no-frills entertainment. A person facing a crowd, with a mic in hand, has to make them laugh.

The origins of stand-up comedy are traced to burlesque shows at New York City’s vaudeville theaters, mostly catering to people familiar with modern city life. The initial shows by the earliest ‘stand-up’ comedians were short and full of slapstick humor, as if racing to please the audience in the least amount of time.

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 thought.
  • Other major thinkers who have offered humourless reflections about humour include Thomas Hobbes and René Descartes, who believed we laugh because we feel superior.
  • Immanuel Kant and Arthur Schopenhauer argued that comedy stems from a sense of incongruity.
  • Herbert Spencer and Sigmund Freud suggested comedians give relief from nervous energy and repressed emotions.

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