Sunday, September 08, 2013

Humor: It's a gas!

Wrong Script
Free Dictionary

Many, many years ago, back when I was single and even girlfriendless in a callous, cold, uncaring world, an acquaintance asked me why I didn't have a girlfriend. I explained:
"I want only a deep spiritual relationship with a woman, but I don't have that kind of money!"
My interlocutor gave me a puzzled look. He was German.

A different time, I actually had a girlfriend, a Swiss-German girlfriend, who asked me if I believed in astrology. I said:
"No, but I'm told it works even if you don't believe in it!"
She gave me a puzzled look. As I said, she was Swiss-German.

Not that Germans have no jokes. They do. But German jokes are nothing to laugh at . . .

So . . . what is humor? I recently read an article on the subject, "Laughter and the Brain," by Richard Restak (The American Scholar, Summer 2013), which said -- among other things -- the following about humor:
All humor involves playing with what linguists call scripts (also referred to as frames). Basically, scripts are hypotheses about the world and how it works based on our previous life experiences. Consider what happens when a friend suggests meeting at a restaurant. Instantaneously our brains configure a scenario involving waiters or waitresses, menus, a sequence of eatables set out in order from appetizer to dessert, followed by a bill and the computation of a tip. This process, highly compressed and applicable to almost any kind of restaurant, works largely outside conscious awareness. And because our scripts are so generalized and compressed, we tend to make unwarranted assumptions based on them. Humor takes advantage of this tendency. Consider, for example, almost any joke from stand-up comedian Steven Wright, known for his ironic, deadpan delivery:
- I saw a bank that said "24 Hour Banking," but I didn't have that much time.

- I bought some batteries, but they weren't included. So I had to buy them again.

- I washed a sock. Then I put it in the dryer. When I took it out it was gone.

- I went into a store and asked the clerk if there was anything I could put under my coasters. He asked why I wanted to do that. I told him I wanted to make sure my coasters weren't scratching my table.
In each of these examples, everyday activities are given a different spin by forcing the listener to modify standard scripts about them.
Of the four jokes, I find the first funny, but the other three merely amusing. I wonder why? Wrong scripts for the latter three?

But about Germans . . . I was only joking. They actually do have a sense of humor. Let me tell you a German joke . . . Hmmm . . . I ought to be able to come up with one . . . Well, let me do some research on that and get back to you.

Meanwhile, this meteorological report just in: Humor no longer a fluid! In fact, it's a gas! Global warming blamed!



At 7:27 PM, Blogger dhr said...

The funniest joke is yours on spiritual relationships :-D

>Let me tell you a German joke . . .

Like this one (it was told by an Italian immigrant born in Germany): There are these two sandwiches sitting on a wall. The first falls, and the second . . . is called Jim.

Or: An American soldier goes to the butcher's. The butcher finally asks him, "Must I wrap it up?" - "No, thanks, I have a tank parked just outside."

Ha ha ha ha ha, eh???

At 7:30 PM, Blogger dhr said...

I think the first joke by S. Wright is funnier because it's simpler, more direct.

At 8:21 PM, Blogger Horace Jeffery Hodges said...

Eh? Double "eh?"

Jeffery Hodges

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