Monday, December 13, 2010

What is Humor?

Google that question and a gaggle of responses will appear on your screen. "Humor as a response to an incongruity” is one of my favorites.

Aristotle felt called upon to define humor or comedy —after all he had defined tragedy so eloquently. “Humor, “ he said,” is the only test of gravity, and gravity of humor; for a subject which will not bear raillery is suspicious, and a jest which will not bear serious examination is false wit.”

One day last year I sat in a movie theatre with three friends and a number of strangers. In the middle of an important scene—in terms of the movie’s progression toward a decent ending—the lights flickered, the voices of the actors and actresses cracked, stuttered and then stopped. The movie ground to a halt and the lights went out.

A voice, seemingly without a body, said, “Please stay seated. We have emergency lights that will soon be on in the lobby. We expect a short delay and then the movie will continue.”

Most of the audience had some experience with short delays and we all knew that short is subjective. Within ten minutes the voice returned and this time the message was longer: “There’s been a downpour and some localized flooding. We will not be able to resume the showing; however, the ushers will hand out passes for another movie. You may line up and move into the lobby and then out of the theatre.”

We had parked in an adjacent underground garage and headed there as soon as we left the theatre and the now unknown ending. Immediately upon entering the garage we spotted the large puddles, actually small lakes in all the low spots. Fortunately my car’s tires were only wading in a puddle.

On the way home we navigated deep water logged streets, changed our usual route several times, and attempted to figure out possible endings for the story. At some point it all became fodder for humor. You have to laugh at the three of us piloting through a maze of streets, avoiding any water that looked to be over my small sedan’s tires, and plotting the ending of a Grade B movie. Perhaps that’s “humor as a response to incongruity.”

I expect I agree with E.B.White, “Analyzing humor is like dissecting a frog. Few people are interested and the frog dies of it.”

1 comment:

  1. Loved it! Could clearly picture the three of you, and all the absurdity and humor in the situation. Loved the beginning and especially the final quote! Thanks for posting this.