What's So Funny?

            Why are people funny? What makes something funny? These are questions that many of us never really take time to think about. It’s safe to say that almost everyone enjoys a good laugh, but different people get kicks out of different kinds of humor. Some things are funny because they’re relatable. Other things are funny because they are so random or silly, or because they make you see the absurdity in an everyday situation. Some jokes are funny because they cross the boundaries of what we’re normally comfortable talking about. But at the end of the day, when something makes you laugh, you don’t usually think too hard about why it’s funny, you just know that it is. Comedy can seem like such a strange and nonessential phenomenon that it’s easy to wonder why it even exists. But people have been telling jokes for almost all of human history, so there’s got to be some purpose behind it all, right?

Famous psychologist Sigmund Freud believed that humor is a way for humans to express unconscious thoughts or desires that might otherwise be considered taboo by society. Humor has also been studied as a coping mechanism for people who are under stress, and research has shown that people who laugh regularly are healthier and less prone to anxiety and depression. Another interesting aspect of humor to consider is its role in human evolution: Studies have found that a sense of humor is a big factor for women when considering potential mates, and that people who are considered funny by their peers tend to have more sex and more sexual partners. Why? It’s believed that humor is an indicator of intelligence, signaling that someone will be capable of being a competent provider and that they carry good genes. (So your mom wasn’t kidding when she said she married your dad because he made her laugh!)

All of this scientific talk might seem to take the fun out of laughter, but I think it’s pretty interesting to reflect on how and why such a big part of our everyday social interaction evolved into what it is today. Plus, now I can finally justify all the time I spend on Instagram browsing “dank memes”: After all, how am I supposed to find a wife someday if I don’t take the time to finely tune my sense of humor?

            Okay, maybe scrolling through pictures of SpongeBob with totally inappropriate captions isn’t going to increase my evolutionary fitness, but at the end of the day, I think that comedy has value because it allows us to squeeze a little more joy out of life. I think that funny people are attractive to others because a good sense of humor shows resilience: Everyone goes through struggles, but those of us who are able to get through the hard times and still find something to laugh about are the people who make life a little brighter for those around them.

 

-Graham Smith            

Scott MeyerComment