Sunday, May 31, 2015

Reducing comedy to an equation

Came across this recently from my Chicago friend, Lyle Dean.   No one has been able to accurately define just why something is funny.  Up until now!  Funny man Alastair Clarke has broken the code.  Throw away that seltzer bottle.  Grab a probability calculator!  Here, for the first time ever, is THE SECRET OF COMEDY.

A new theory suggests an equation for identifying the cause and level of our responses to any humorous stimuli: h = m x s.

The theory argues that human beings are more reliant for their behavioural instruction on culturally inherited information than any other species, and that the accuracy of that information is therefore of unparalleled importance. Yet the individual is exposed to the continual threats of error and deception, which can seriously affect their chances of survival and success.

To compensate, humour rewards us for seeing through misinformation that has come close to taking us in. The pleasure we get (h) is calculated by multiplying the degree of misinformation perceived (m) by the extent to which the individual is susceptible to taking it seriously (s).

Humour therefore exists to encourage us to take information apart and to reject that which is unsound and could potentially harm our prospects. Every time we laugh, we have successfully achieved this, resolving inconsistencies in the fabric of our knowledge as we do so.

"I am not attempting to claim that we each engage in an algebraic equation before we find something funny," says the author, Alastair Clarke, "but that this schematic description reflects the instantaneous reactions of the brain to potentially dangerous misinformation."

I'm sorry, that still doesn't explain Gallagher.  (This was a re-post)


Ralph C. said...

I thought the equation was Comedy = Tragedy + Time.

Johnny Walker said...

I think the book by Dan O'Shannon (producer of Cheers, Frasier and Modern Family), "What Are You Laughing At?", deserves some mention here! For a start, it quickly and easily debunks simplistic explanations like this (for some of the same reasons Ken did -- it doesn't explain Gallagher for one thing).

So while there is probably some truth in this explanation as to why we find resolving incongruity pleasurable, it doesn't solve the whole equation of what makes us laugh. Dan's book zooms right out and takes into account ALL the variables. I found it very compelling.

Ken himself has the book on the reading list of his USC comedy writing class, so if you're interested in an anthropological angle on the mysteries of laughter, I think he'd agree that it's a great place to start.

Oat Willie said...

"Always tell the audience what you're going to do. Then do the thing. Then tell the audience the thing has been done."
Jerry Lewis' secret to comedy, according to an anecdote I heard on a Simpsons commentary track.

Dodgerdawg said...

A little song, a little dance, a little seltzer in the pants. Comedy gold.

Eric J said...

@Johnny Walker

Since you've read O'Shannon's book, wouldn't it be fair to read Clarke's book and make the comparison. Instead, you are comparing your interpretation of O'Shannon's entire book to Ken's synopsis of a book. Of course, it is going to seem simplistic in comparison.

I have read neither, but now I'm going to read both. Thanks to both of you for the recommendations.

Canda said...

In England, that may be an explanation of "humour", but not humor. The only funny thing is the way the Brits spell it.

DBenson said...

It's probably addressed in one of those books, but surprise (an abrupt Buster Keaton sight gag) and lack of surprise (Laurel and Hardy blithely cruising towards a specific disaster) can both make me laugh out loud. Likewise reaction and lack of reaction.

Jayce said...

Too many big words. I skipped this one.

VP81955 said...

From the "reducing comedy to an equation," I thought this was going to be along the lines of breaking down recent pop music to formula, as producers of late have done ad nauseum. The result is pre-packaged pablum that makes the worst "American Bandstand" acts of 1959 sound good by comparison. (Which reminds me: When I lived in Philadelphia in the mid-'80s and Philly lost out to Cleveland as the home of the Rock 'n' Roll Hall of Fame, perplexed locals did not understand why. I provided them the answer in one word: Fabian.)