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Wednesday, 1 June 2011

How does pain relate to humor?




I’m a funny bunny. I always try to bring humor into my writing. I do it because I’m like that in life, and I have my dad to thank for it. He cracks me up and everybody else who knows him, and I appear to have inherited the ‘funny gene’, thank God. After all, humor is not only the best medicine but also one of the best ways to hook them readers.


Don’t believe me? Think Terry Pratchett and Douglas Adams.

I also think that Harry Potter was such a raging success because it wasn’t only brilliant, convoluted, and wonderfully real. It’s also because of Jo’s fabulous sense of humor. I have laughed while reading and laughed while re-reading, and sometimes even laughed at the movies if they did them right. Same goes for Friends. Both pieces of art in my book, timeless at that.

Humor has this subtle way of pulling you in whether you want to or not. It’s natural, too. It’s a universal trait, as it appears the same in every culture. Basically, it’s some kind of universal language, a genetic code, or anomaly as I’d sometimes like to think.

Who knows if God created us to be funny? Who knows if the monkeys were cracking up jokes back in the old times? If the caveman discovered fire, who told the first joke? It couldn’t have been a ‘knock knock’ one for sure, though, because they probably didn’t have doors back then.

Of course, humor has its shades, just like everything else that’s good out there. There’s sarcasm, which I try to tone down because apparently it annoys people, and some don’t even get it; there’s also parody, comedy, satire, farce, puns (o, how I overuse thee!), etc. And there’s my favorite: self-irony. Some people don’t get that. They’re like: ‘Why would I make fun of myself? That’s like spoon-feeding my greatest weaknesses to my enemies, and worse: bullies. That’s like downright giving myself up for being mocked.’

I disagree. Plus I didn’t have a choice in the matter because I’ve been mocked more times than you have been breastfed. Yes, that many times. However, with the wonderful development that self-irony was in my life, people now only mock me because I mock me. Ha! I got there first so there’s nothing they could say to upset me. It’s the ultimate jinx-back… or something like that.

Don’t get me wrong. I’m not that funny-looking now. I’m not too stupid or crazy (just a tad) to be mocked too often. BUT I was funny-looking and quiet when I was a child, which translated to being bullied. A lot.

Yet another universal law.

And finally, I’d like to share an excellent definition of the concept of humor, which I ran across in one of my Psychology lectures. I’ll have to paraphrase it though because the scientist –poor guy- couldn’t express it very well and kept adding ‘OK’ at the end of every thought he presented. Adorable, really. I think he was just caught up in the moment of explaining things that fascinated him. It’s a bit like me when I get all wound up about talent shows, abortion, gay rights, and religion. Hmm.

So you can read the transcript here if you so choose, but I have to warn you, it’s very long. Click: http://bbc.in/lPfu0H (Reith Lecture 1 @BBC).

Basically, Prof. Ramachandran explains that “the common denominator of all jokes and humour… is that you take a person along a garden path of expectation and at the very end you suddenly introduce an unexpected twist that entails a complete re-interpretation of all the previous facts.. which is called the punch-line of the joke.”

More curiously though, he provides the elusive key ingredient to good humor, and that’s inconsequential aftermath. I have to admit, this surprised me, being said like that. Professor R. illustrates his point by providing an example of a ‘portly gentleman’ walking down the street and slipping on a banana peel. Kudos for using such a classic cliché in a Psychology lecture. On the other hand, it may just prove that scientists don’t really have the wildest imaginations.

In one case, the gentleman slips and breaks his neck. Nobody’s going to laugh then of course, but if the gentleman shakes it off, gets up, and looks around, somebody is going to laugh. I’ve never asked myself why this is funny, though. After all, what’s funny about someone falling on his ass? I mean what exactly.

Professor R. explains that if the fall is inconsequential, then laughter is Nature’s way of saying: phew, no danger there. Like he puts it, laughter is the ‘OK signal’. What is more, he found a relation between pain and laughter in a patient’s CT scan. I do not mean he found it on the screen and said, ‘oh, there are the two little buggers and they seem to be getting along’.

No. He actually had a patient who laughed when someone was hurting him. Talk about twisted humor, huh? The Professor found that it was due to the damage to a certain part of the brain (the insular cortex) that receives pain signals. And since the patient could not feel the pain, his automatic reaction was to laugh it off.

Real brain food, isn’t it? I snacked on it, then I chewed for a very long time, and now it’s fully digested, and puked on the page.

Having lunch? Tough luck. 

3 comments:

Anne-Mhairi Simpson said...

I put humour in almost every story I write. I love to laugh and can't stand stories with no levity in them, so everything I write, unless it's for a challenge, has some moment of humour. I hope. I mean, humour is almost more subjective than writing so I'm not sure, but in general it seems to work. Making other people laugh makes me happy. And reassures me that I'm not the only freak who finds something like that funny.

Julie Musil said...

I love reading humor, but there's no way I could write it. I'm amazed by people who are able to transfer humor to the page.

Lyn Midnight said...

@Anne: Yes, yes. When I make someone laugh I definitely feel all-powerful, lol, or at least I feel as if I have some kind of weapon, and that's about the only one in my writing kit. :P And I've definitely noticed your funny tendencies in your blog posts, too. ;)

@Julie: Ahaha. Like Anne said, humour is subjective. Everyone is funny their own way. And sometimes funny things do not translate well across people...

Thank you both for your inputs!