What Makes Things Funny?

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  • This is very cool and interesting! And yet it makes perfect sense! I'm always interested in the evolutionary theories behind why we do what we do. Dissecting the humor only made it the more funny! Dare I say it? I even googled "man marries pillow"!
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What Makes Things Funny?

  1. 1. Funny?
  2. 2. Funny?
  3. 3. Funny?
  4. 4. @PeterMcGraw & @CalebWarren question: What makes things funny? answer: Benign violations
  5. 5. Who are these guys? Peter McGraw is an associate professor of marketing and psychology at the University of Colorado Boulder. He directs the Humor Research Lab (aka HuRL) and co-authored The Humor Code. Caleb Warren is an assistant professor of marketing at Texas A&M, where he studies what makes things funny and what makes things cool.
  6. 6. Definition Humor is a psychological response characterized by: •  an emotion - amusement •  a judgment – that is funny •  a behavior - laughter
  7. 7. Rewards Humor is: - attractive - pleasurable - entertaining " Humor benefits: - relationships (Wanted: Good Sense of Humor ) - coping - creativity - eases criticism
  8. 8. Humor can hurt people (e.g., bullying) Failed humor attempts can create negative emotions And Gilbert Gottfried loses his job as the Aflac duck. Risks
  9. 9. Are you a nerd? Read a few of our papers: #1, #2, and #3, 
 and check out the paper by Thomas Veatch that inspired us. The Benign Violation Theory
  10. 10. Violations threatens a person’s well-being, identity, or normative belief structure They likely originated as threats to physical well-being, but because of evolution, now include violations of culture, language, and logic. Violation condition
  11. 11. Humorists see violations in comedy “Comedy is a man in trouble.” " - Jerry Lewis “The secret source of humor is not joy but sorrow; there  is no humor in heaven.”" - Mark Twain “Humor  is reason gone mad.” - Groucho Marx
  12. 12. Threats to physical well-being are a nearly universal source of humor. Even babies and non-human animals laugh when physically threatened in a safe and playful manner. Physical violations
  13. 13. Threats to a person or a group of people’s pride, dignity, or sense of self. Identity violations
  14. 14. Thing that breaks a social or cultural norm (given the person generally accepts the norm as valid) “Man marries pillow” Cultural violations
  15. 15. Breaking a communication or linguistic norm (e.g., sarcasm, unusual accents, grammar errors, etc.) Communication violations
  16. 16. Anything that seems illogical or doesn’t make sense Logic violations
  17. 17. In order to be humorous, a violation needs to seem acceptable, okay, or sensible. Benign condition
  18. 18. m It is easier to see a violation as benign if there are no harmful consequences (yet). Benign: Harmless
  19. 19. m It is easier to see a violation as benign if it happened a long time ago, afflicts someone else, or isn’t real. Hypothetical violation Benign: Distance
  20. 20. m It is easier to see a violation as benign if the behavior follows another norm, custom, or rule. More benign Benign: Alternative norm Less benign
  21. 21. m It is easier to see a violation as benign if you personally don’t care about the person or the norm that the violation threatens. More benign (for Americans) Benign: Commitment Less benign (for Americans)
  22. 22. In order to experience humor, people have to see both the violation and benign interpretations simultaneously. Simultaneity
  23. 23. Why this is funny (to some people) Punching your mom is a violation, but it is benign because it is coming from a place of love (plus a kid wrote it).
  24. 24. Wrong use of “best pick up line,” but okay because it is technically correct. Why this is funny (to some people)
  25. 25. Why this is funny (to some people) It’s wrong to clean your mother’s vagina, but it’s okay because the phone said it by accident.
  26. 26. Is a benign violation when done by someone you trust. Is purely benign when you try to tickle yourself. Is purely a violation when a creepy stranger tickles you. Case: Tickling
  27. 27. Sarcasm involves saying one thing but meaning the opposite, thus violating a common conversational norm. When successful, the person making the comment is able to communicate a benign intention through other cues like an obviously exaggerated tone. Case: Sarcasm
  28. 28. Slapstick creates painful circumstances (violation) that are not painful(benign), at least for the observer. The victim is not actually hurt (it is often just an act) or the viewer does not care about the victim’s well-being (or both). Case: Slapstick
  29. 29. Realizing that something that seems threatening is actually okay transforms a potentially negative experience into a positive one (akin to relief). Why humor is a positive experience
  30. 30. Why we laugh Laughter likely originated as a primitive form of communication signaling that an apparent threat is benign.
  31. 31. Even rats seem to “laugh”
  32. 32. m Situations that fail to be funny either depict a violation that is not benign, or depict a benign situation that has no violation. Purely benign (not funny – boring) Purely a violation (not funny – offensive) How humor attempts fail
  33. 33. Benign violations depend on physical vulnerabilities, identity, values, culture, language, and understanding of logic. A baby farting at a fancy dinner is normal to the baby, hilarious to the rambunctious older brother, and embarrassing to the mother who wants to make a good impression on others. Individual & cultural differences
  34. 34. “Humor is tragedy plus time.” - Mark Twain The importance of timing
  35. 35. JudgedMoreHumorous(%) Greater distance reduces the threat of a severe violation helping make it a benign violation. But greater distance also removes the threat of a mild violation, making it purely benign. Time doesn’t make everything funnier
  36. 36. Funnier Same for physical distance
  37. 37. Funnier Same for physical distance
  38. 38. Because violations underlie humor, it can be used to bully and exclude people. “Comedy is a man in trouble. – Jerry Lewis The dark side of comedy
  39. 39. People facing great suffering, from Holocaust victims to prisoners of war, found humor to be an important way to cope. Finding a way to laugh at your troubles by transforming violations into benign violations can help you feel better. "Humor does not diminish the pain - it makes the space around it get bigger.“ - Allen Klein The coping benefits of comedy
  40. 40. Visit the Humor Research Lab’s benign violation theory page. Watch a video - or two - or three Check out: The Humor Code: A Global Search for What Makes Things Funny Want to learn more?
  41. 41. •  Sales" •  Social media" •  Customer service" •  Training" •  Innovation" •  Negotiations" •  Employee engagement" •  Change management" Coming soon: Applications to business
  42. 42. @PeterMcGraw @CalebWarren Thank you! Slide design: Fermentable Sugar LLC

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