That’s a funny lookin’ apple, Bergson.Posted: May 1, 2014
In some of our recent lectures, we’ve been told that suspending compassion is vital to humour. “Theo wrote that One must empathise, but not care.” The second that we laugh, is the second that we exist without compassion. This fits snugly within the superiority theory and suits the famous Mel Brooks joke:
Tragedy is when I cut my finger, Comedy is were you fall down an open sewer and die
This notion of humour coming from a suspension of empathy doesn’t contradict the theory of Berger in his Essay/Book ‘Laughter, an essay on the Meaning of the Comic’, but is an interesting comparison, none the less:
‘It is strange that so important a fact, and such a simple one too, has not attracted to a greater degree the attention of philosophers. Several have defined man as “an animal which laughs.”
They might equally well have defined him as an animal which is laughed at; for if any other animal, or some lifeless object, produces the same effect, it is always because of some resemblance to man, of the stamp he gives it or the use he puts it to.”
Bearing Bergson’s theory in mind our Lecturer, Theo, gave us an hour break and set us the task of attempting to disprove this on our return.
All examples of comedy that I could think of, after some consideration were connected to recognising human behaviour.
Applied to animals; When a dog makes circles before sitting down in the same spot he/she always chooses, the humour derived is from their lack of inefficiency, by human standards.
Youtube videos of chimpanzees playing scratch-n’-sniff on their own bodies are humorous to watch, but it is difficult trying to disprove the humour we derive from them comes from mentally dressing the animal in human characteristics. But there is such a small difference between some animal behaviours and human behaviours that it is entirely possible that we are laughing at the animal because it’s an animal, not because it’s a human.
Objects seem only to be of comedic value when they interfere with humans or animals, or animals/humans interfere with them. A comment such as ‘that’s a funny looking table’, is made when an the table looks unlikely to serve it’s purpose to a person. And it’s more difficult to make sense of the same comment being made about objects which aren’t man made.
Hallucinogenics have been known to make people laugh at inanimate, character-less objects. I have experienced this myself and the best description I can give as to why, is that I found the mere existence of the objects to be funny. In these cases it could be said that the humour lies in laughing at one’s self, at finding such everyday objects unfamiliar.
In response to the challenge set (which I didn’t think was possible to without making at least an animal connection) I recalled a day from the previous summer that i’d spent in a pub in my hometown . At the entrance of the pub myself and a friend had placed a Butternut squash, drawn on to look like he was clutching a large belly, uncomfortably. At the Butternut Squash’s feet we placed a hat with some coins in.
We had created a fat, uncomfortably full Butternut-Squash Beggar. “what’s he need more food for? he’s full of veg!” (the people that entered the pub glanced at it straight-faced for not more than a millisecond before ignoring it completely, so i suppose it’s not funny).
With this in mind, and admitting that I couldn’t realistically challenge Berger’s theory, I turned groups of fruit into characters pointing and laughing hysterically at a character-less aplle.
In summary; the fruit characters were only laughing at the apple because they recognised their own behaviour in the apple. They were not laughing at the apple because the apple itself was inherently humorous and so Berger’s statement stands tall.