Written by Radhika

Not once has there been an account of, in all the bygone times, a man living in isolation – in the absence of a society, of a system with a functional requirement of every individual. Since man has always depended on a society, it is safe to assume that he will continue to live the same way. This characteristic of man, which is taken as a given, can be translated into contemporary terms as the need for every individual to fit in. I am sure there is a more comprehensive reason behind this, but that is besides the point of this article.

Before this, let me seek agreement with the impression, based on various observations, of course, that humor is a very desired characteristic in a person. But let me point out that what is desired is not any sense of humor, but a sense of humor that you find acceptable. This is why humor varies across countries and across different social groups. All those who find the same things funny, get along better. Humor is often used as a tool by individuals to try and fit in with a group of people. Generally, to make people feel more comfortable in a rather new setting, humor is used. This is the reason why jokes are used to “break the ice”. Analytically, breaking the ice really means that you now feel like less of an outsider. When your joke works on a group of people it is a sign of a common understanding of what is funny.

This is the impact of a political conscience.

Political views are time and again the butt of a joke. When you know what your audience’s political views are, you can elicit laughter by cracking the appropriate jokes. This is how politics is used for the sake of humor, which is in turn used for the sake of fitting in. On the flip side, when one does not agree with a popular political opinion, how does one fit in? Deriving from this question, it is only seemly that those who belong to a political minority fail to be funny because of the inappropriateness of the joke right?

But I want to point out that it has been statistically proven that those who are funny, more often than not, are ‘outsiders’ – people who belong to any category of minority in the society. When such a person cracks a joke in order to fit in, not knowing that the only way he would elicit laughter is to make an audience appropriate joke, it so happens that he/she does evoke laughter. Confused?

Laughter is mistakenly taken to be a signal of approval and not just appreciation of the quality of humor. One can arrive at this conclusion if they notice how “unlaughter” is also a response to humor. Unlaughter does not imply that one fails to see the funniness but that they fail to approve of the usage of the subject of the joke. Therefore, it can be said that when one laughs it makes them feel involved just as much as the one cracking the joke. It creates a feeling of community among the laughers and the comedians.

The fact that we do laugh at the jokes that the ‘outsiders’ make, proves that humor works very differently from what it has come to mean. The corollary of this is that, the pressure of trying to fit in falls both, on the comedian, as well as the ones who laugh. This is why sometimes, jokes that aren’t funny at all still evoke a lot of laughter. This is also why laughter is contagious.

Like I said before, humor creates a sense of community among the laughers and the comedian. Rephrasing this, it can be said that humor highlights and heightens social boundaries. Seem like contradictory sentences? They are.

But those with political stakes fail to see this. In the opinion of those with political stakes, any sense of community that arises from laughing at something simultaneously creates a social boundary between them and another group of people/individuals. The insecurity of the people with political stakes forces them to “unlaugh” and manipulate the possibilities of there being a threat to their power, through the coming together of people with views that oppose theirs. Once again here, laughter is taken to mean approval. This is not to say that humor always comes from an unpolitical intention. Of course, the intention can never be clear, but when those who laugh, laugh for reasons that are less political and more humane, why must the intention matter? Laughter does not arise out of political views, but with a sense of humor and furthermore from being able to see that humor is a tool that is being used for a basic human need – community.


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