Introduction to the Science of Humor

 

When I was four I witnessed a joke at a family gathering that caused great laughter. Later when that joke was told it fell flat. The last time the joke was told it was met with disdain and scorn.  I wanted to know why.

 

Forty years later I went to a very large library where I found three books on the "how to" of humor. They looked new, and like no had ever read them. I tried reading them, and quickly learned why they looked so new. They would start by saying how subjective humor was, and how the best and brightest minds have been trying for years to apply scientific formula to humor and could not. Then they went on to prove it couldn’t be done.

 

In 1995 I asked a saleslady in a large bookstore for a "How to Write Humor" book. She took me to a section on Humor. There were over 1000 books on Humor, but not one book on the “How to” of humor.

 

The lady at the desk said that she would keep her eyes open, and let me know if she found anything that would apply. Six months later I received a note that said "Mel Helitzer wrote on Book called "Comedy Writers Secrets"”  Helitzer not only told the how to of humor ( less than 1%), he was also teaching comedy classes at a college on comedy writing. It covered less than 1% of how to make humor work., and even less about why it works. Even still applying science to even 1% gave me proof it could be done.

 

As I kept after my quest to find the holy grail of humor, I noticed a spike in humor, both in application and in scientific research six months after 9/11.   After six months of little or no humor  information about humor seemed to have gone from doubling every twenty years, to doubling every twenty minutes. But most of the research about humor was incomplete or outright wrong. One of the many things I found was they covered only one side of humor. For example there are thousands of pages about laughter being the best medicine, but not one word about it also being the deadliest poison. This is an example of taking a vast subject, and doing only a half vast research on it.

 

Now I have done over 20 years of research and study of what makes humor work, and how to create it. I have worked with authors, comedy writers, playwrights, students, and helped them to understand the science behind humor.

There are some terms and definitions I will be using in the book. When using certain words, communication always works better when we understand what the true meaning of each word is. The terms that we are going to be defining are:

 

1.     Humor

2.     Comedy

3.     Funny

4.     Tragedy

5.     Mirth

6.     Laughter

7.     Shtick

8.     Persona

9.     Witt

10.   The Science of Humor

Humor

 

The ancient Greeks had it right; humors are body fluids which bring fast, strong and short lived emotions. There are many chemicals which cause many different emotions that can take you from the highest high to the lowest suicidal low.

 

Comedy

The ancient Greeks defined comedy as tragedy from a different point of view. The Greeks used the happy and sad faces back to back so that the person in charge of the mask could flip the masks back and forth to keep the audience entertained and riveted. This also contrasted how comedy works. Comedy is always tragedy from a different point of view.

Funny

Funny means something that is odd, weird, or unusual. Every person is the final authority what is funny to them. Humor is objective with a formula, funny is something that is subjective.

                  

 Tragedy

Tragedy is a branch of drama that treats in a serious and dignified style the sorrowful or terrible events encountered or caused by a heroic individual. Within the drama there is an event causing great suffering, destruction, and distress, such as a critical accident, crime, or natural catastrophe. (See Comedy). Tragedy is something that happens to me. Comedy is something that happens to someone else.

 

Mirth

Unbridled joy expressed with childlike laughter. Mirth is a state of mind, There is no one thing that is mirthful. A mirthagen is something that creates mirth in your mind. Mirth is a happy and joyful state of mind. Mirth is where the best laughs happens. Mirth is associated with joy, pleasure, festivity, happiness, delight, or gladness. Shown by or accompanied with laughter merrymaking, joyous entertainment, or sport.

 

Laughter

There are over five hundred different emotions, and all of these give a different laugh. Some laughs are out of awe and wonder like a baby chuckling every time a piece of paper gets torn. Other laughs come from despair like a gambler who bursts out after losing all of his money. Learn to read laughs and you will be able to read feelings. This is more valuable than reading minds.

 

In an interview with the comedian Andy Dick, the interviewer asked him what would happen if he messed up and had to go back to rehab. He laughed, the laughter, was his genuine concern to not mess up. Andy Dick knew that if he messed up again he would lose everything, and his laugh reflected this. The interviewer responded “I guess you are not taking your rehab very seriously!” And Andy Dick broke into tears in despair.  Had she known how to read people’s laughter, she would have been more aware.

 

Shtick

One's special trait, interest, or activity. It is the routine, act, or mannerisms of a person that is used in a performance or delivery. An example: sports are just not my shtick, but tailgating is! We apply shtick to comedy by picking a shtick like a clown or a stand up.

Persona

 

A personality trait. In latin persona translates into masks. There are three personas in comedy they are the aggressor, defender, and the rebel. Persona is your unchanging point of view.

 

Wit

Wit is wisdom with a twist. There is really nothing humorous in wit. Example, drink is the curse of working class.  Twist; work is the curse of the drinking class. Wit does not necessarily cause laughter. The purpose of wit is to show superiority over others with puns, puzzles and riddles.

The Science of Humor

With music, there are hundred openings per year, but with Comedy there is a need for millions of bits of humor per year, maybe more.  Most comedians have spent years perfecting it. Keeping what works and throwing out that which does not. You look at what the most successful professional comedian does. Some seem to get their bag of tricks overnight others take years. If you get past the smoke and mirrors, the most successful comedians have the exact same bag of tricks. Everyone from the comedian in a biker bar, to a mother making a baby laugh, they all use the same formula. And each will say “I don’t know how I got it.” Or “It’s a gift, it's just lucky I guess.”, or “Years and years of hard work!” Most will say it’s not something you can teach someone else. You either have or you don’t. It’s not a science you can teach. Yet each will have the exact same bag of stuff.

 

My objective was to make the world's most subjective subject, humor, into a scientific formula. Science can only be called thus when it can be mathematically synthesized or quantified. It needs to be able to be replicated. My object was to use the Science for Humor like you would use math for rocket science. I found humor is not rocket science. It is much more complex.

 

The laws of humor like the laws of gravity are used by all. Only when you understand the laws of gravity can you fly a plane or send a rocket to the moon. When you know the laws that govern humor you can: a) Create 1000 original jokes an hour, forever. b) Predict how much money a movie or anything will make. c) Help people with autism predict humor with pinpoint accuracy.