TED Conversations

Pabitra Mukhopadhyay


This conversation is closed.

Let's talk about humor

What is humor to you? How important is it in your life? How many kinds of it you came across? And lastly, what is that 'cultural' sense of humor?
I am asking because I have seen people requiring to explain it to others.

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    Nov 21 2013: WoW so many questions about humor. I'm afraid they turn the humor into science. I personally prefer enjoying humor than studying it.

    Actually I think humor is pathless and boundless. I also think humor is one very unique thing (but not the only one) which differs humans from animals. IMO, humor is a result of self-awareness (which only humans have). Has anybody ever seen any animal laughing ??
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      Nov 21 2013: We have no way of understanding a dog's humor. But tell me, if you see a pompous man slipping on a banana peel, will you find it humorous?
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        Nov 21 2013: Instinctively it's humorous. I don't think it can be denied. As children we used to laugh seeing somebody slipping, etc. But as adults, we have tamed our minds by rational thinking that it's not ethical to do so and so we restrain the above instinctive urge of ours.

        Perhaps I should add that I think our humoristic reaction is basically instinctive in its nature. It's about grasping comprehensively, in almost timeless manner, the entire situation and observing certain oddness in it by imaging ourselves instantly in that situation..
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      Nov 21 2013: I agree with you Yubal. If there is a science to humor I don't care to know what it is. Humor is a way of imagining.

      Slipping on a banana peel I think falls into the category of "base" humor. Something that causes embarrassment
    • Nov 24 2013: yes!
  • Nov 21 2013: Once Pabitra,Juliete and Mary were in the coffee shop and were

    having a good discussion.

    Juliete : These days women are breaking the glass cielings.

    Pabitra : Now,What will men do ?

    Mary : Men will break the Tiled Floors.


    Estrino Trivio : I want a workable Idea

    Fritzie : Just Go 20 miles then turn left then again go 20 miles then turn left and then again go 20 miles and then turn left and then again go 20 miles , there you will find a man he will tell you where to find the Workable idea

    At the end of the day feeling tired Estrino Trivio noticed that he has been fooled by Fritzie.

    Estrino Trivio : Fritzie !! I asked you for a workable Idea and you made me merry go round the city.

    Fritzie : Weren't you working hard while doing merry go round the city.

    Estrino Trivio : Yeah..

    Fritzie : That was workable Idea.


    Pabitra : What is Democracy?

    Kristian Pinter : Its not democracy dude, It is democrazy. When some crazy people in a country give demo of monkey act it is called democrazy.


    Fritzie : Is there anything absolute in this world ?

    Coleen Steen : Yes, (passing the bottle of Absolut beer) here it is.
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      Nov 21 2013: Genius~!
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      Nov 21 2013: Santokh and Pabitra are in a hot debate.

      Pabitra : I bet 50% of the members of this platform failed to get my question.

      Santokh : (offended) That's a rather condescending remark.

      Pabitra : Sorry, I meant to say 50% of the members of this platform understood my question.

      Santokh : Thanks.
      • Nov 24 2013: I am happy when one of the members of this platform understand my humor...

        ... and when more than one understand it .... well I am glad others found it funny!
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      Nov 21 2013: LOL!!!

      I never heard of Absolut beer.....I only have Absolut Vodka.....PROOF.....100%...:>)
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        Nov 22 2013: And your garden is absolutely marvelous too! :)
        I like that tree with beautiful eyes and lips very much~.
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          Nov 22 2013: Thank you dear Yoka. I like to have fun, humorous things in the gardens that encourage joy and smiles:>)
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        Nov 22 2013: Thank you too. Your tree is a perfect combination of beauty and humor.I 'm fanscinated by her long eyelash.haha....very impressive.
      • Nov 24 2013: It happened so ,Julian Assange called me and said that his spy Edward Snowden has discovered in his sting operation that you have done something mischivious. You have filled beer inside the empty bottle of Absolut Vodka... :>)
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          Nov 25 2013: OH NO...... Assange and Snowden!!! I am absolutely innocent of the Absolute scam! That is absolute reality, as Harald might say:>)
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    Nov 30 2013: A state of humour is a state where fear is absent.
  • Nov 25 2013: Laughter sometimes really can be the best medicine. Patch Adams MD, uses humor as a tool for healing.He believes that laughter, joy and creativity are an integral part of the healing process and therefore, true health care must incorporate those aspects of life.Additionally, Dr. Adams adds to his training as a physician his experience as a street clown. In working with health care and mental health professionals, he explores the relationship between humor and therapy using his unique blend of knowledge, showmanship and "hands on" teaching techniques. Dr. Adams says, "I interpret my experience in life as being happy. I want, as a doctor, to say it does matter to your health to be happy. It may be the most important health factor in your life." His story was told on the big screen in a film released in 1998 titled "Patch Adams" and was played by actor Robin Williams.
    • Nov 25 2013: Laughter, joy and creativity are integral parts of living!

      Stuff happens and individuals interpret it one way or another way... some appreciate it for what it is and choose to do something to make it even better and so it keeps improving (yea some choose the other avenue avoid it, reject it, deny it and do nothing to make it better so it stays there till they deal with it in more effective ways)... kind of funny how denying an error is in itself and error and now there are twice of them things to deal with... Lets say that what there grows and we choose in which direction.

      Making and recognizing an error to learn something good from it may be part of the process of Learning ... of course an unnecessary diversion from the true path of learning that involves getting the right answer... by choosing to provide the right answer ideally the first time around .
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    Nov 25 2013: I think Humor brings enthusiasm and reinforces bonds between a group of people.
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    Nov 20 2013: I could not bear life without humor...

    Humor is a critical spice of life. Without it things don't taste as good as they should. It is a certain way of viewing the world and our place in it that allows us to feel comfortable with our infinitesimal part.

    There are different "brands" of humor… It is a deeply personal thing. What I find humor in is different than what you might find humor in. If we have similar senses of humor, we probably are kindred spirits.

    (I find it curious that a topic like humor is not one that everyone would relate to and have an opinion on. Everyone has one.
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      Nov 21 2013: Yes Jim and laughing at one's own self is a great coping skill. I like it best when it is witty and tickles my brain.
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    Dec 2 2013: There are many things that we laugh at and not all of them make sense. Perhaps our humour acts as the measure of our maturity. Maybe when we stop laughing at some guy getting hit in the crotch and writhing in agony, perhaps then we will finally find our humanity.
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      Dec 2 2013: Humor is the non-aggressive way to deal with the apparent inconformities. Humor will exist till the time one sees the guy getting hit in the crotch as something out of the ordinary, when the laughter continues with the realization that the guy is in obvious pain, humor has already left place and cruelty has taken over.
      Humor in humans is the remnant of the million year old evolutionary playfulness - a trait of creating higher functions of brains by non-aggressively confronting situations that are not routine.
    • Gord G 50+

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      Dec 2 2013: William - You're sending a mixed message. Your avatar is Yosemite Sam. Warner Brothers cartoons are often criticized for their level of violence. Personally I think the animators at Termite Terrace elevated the genre.

      I find it interesting you mentioned maturity...it almost seems humour has to have a puerile sensibility. I think often a good chuckle is our inner child rebelling against our encroaching social responsibility.

      (Chuck Jones was a literate man who seemed to have an intuitive understanding of our relationship to our inner child)
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      Dec 2 2013: William, Pabitra and Gord.....interesting thread you have going!

      William, I must say that when you and your avatar first appeared on TED, I wondered what your message might be with your choice of an avatar. Is that how this person communicates? With guns drawn ready to shoot? I find your comments to be intelligent and well articulated. So, I agree with Gord that there seems to be a mixed message, because your avatar and your comments do not seem to fit together for me.

      I agree Pabitra, that when the laughter continues, with the realization that someone is in pain, whatever emotion a person is experiencing does not feel at all like humor to me. There is a candid camera type show on TV, and I've only seen bits of it (can't stand to watch it), where real people are in horrible situations which can cause a LOT of damage to the body, the audience is laughing, and apparently experiencing the horrible situations as humorous.....I don't get it! I cannot imagine how a group of people see humor in accidents that can cause bodily harm, and it amazes me that it has enough support to be produced!

      Perhaps as Gord says, humor can be caused by our inner child rebelling against our social responsibility? Perhaps at times, laughter is a release of tension in a situation where we don't feel we can do anything?
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    Nov 30 2013: Humor is a very subtle thing,one act you considered humorous,in other disposition your reaction would contempt it for its frivolity.
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      Nov 30 2013: but there are still some wise humor, too. It makes you think and smile at the same time :P
  • Nov 30 2013: To try to explain jokes and humor is so D R Y At least the essays I have seem including Sir Arthur Koestler's article.
    I guess one knows it upon seeing it.
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    Nov 30 2013: As this conversation is drawing close, I shall offer my take on the questions.
    Humor is a great coping skill to me. It is a very important element of how I see life, world and my position in it. I have come across various kinds of it, which I can broadly specify under three categories, namely, crude, fine and personal. In my experience, the degree of ease with which humor can be shared decreases from crude to fine range, personal humor being almost impossible to share - it is a communication between me and myself enabling an unmindful smile hanging at the corner of my lips and perhaps making this 'ugly mug' bearable to others..
    A cultural sense of humor is most important when someone tries to understand a culture. It gives one a kind, positive and friendly sense of belonging to one's culture.
    Yes, it is frustrating when humor fails and someone needs to explain it. But there is a certain humor in that desperation too. We are nothing but connectomes. :)
    • Nov 30 2013: Pabitra,

      Your post reminded me of the triplet of dyslexic humor...
      first one laughs at the joke on thinks of
      Second one laughs when one gets the joke as intended
      Third one laughs at the correspondence (or lack there of) between the two...

      The same may happen when watching a movie with subtitles in a different language
      One laughs at the joke one hears
      one laughs at the joke one reads
      One laughs at the correspondence between the two (wondering how did the translator get the job).

      It probably has to do with someone thinking the translator can translate ... we all laughed at such contrived scenes in the movies... and it does happen in real life too!
  • Nov 28 2013: Indeed. I have bean laughing at it :D
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    Nov 27 2013: Humour seems to me to be one of the true ineffable human capacities. I'm going out on a limb here by specifying it as a uniquely human capacity; if for no other reason than the fact that, while I love my dog, and he demonstrates something which could be identified as affection for me, we're never really going to share a joke.

    Should the zombie invasion begin, one way to tell if your best mate has been "zombified" would be to try and make him/her laugh. I believe there is no real way to convincingly manufacture that shared experience, that shared recognition of the other's humanity.

    I accept that everyone doesn't share the same sense of humour, in that I may find something funny when you do not. I do however think that we always recognise the authenticity of another human being's laughter, even if we don't share in it.

    One of the truest things I ever heard about humour (sorry, no idea of the source), was that it represented an "affectionate communication of insight". A communication which seems lies at the very root of our humanity.
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      Nov 28 2013: Thank you Stephen.
      It is interesting to check how humor figures in all important areas of human communication like intrapersonal, interpersonal, group dynamics or organizational. Science, Economics, Politics are supposed to make use of it. It may also be very interesting to examine how so many commenters here use it as an effective basis of communication.
      While interacting with someone, humor is necessary to make us realize that we are just not Turing machines.
    • Nov 28 2013: Stephen

      I must disagree with your claim to uniqueness of human humor. Studies have shown that dogs, rats, monkeys, apes... all have both laughter and humor. The areas of the brain activated by humor are very deep, which also means very old... as the brain evolved in layers. language centers are comparatively young.

      Personally I think dogs get a good fart joke, probably better than we do. And more often.

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        Nov 28 2013: Hi Ian,

        This is a very interesting train of thought, and one which I'd considered but obviously only superficially. After a quick google search, I could find studies linking animal "laughter" mechanisms to play, physical stimulation (tickling) and as a social bonding mechanism; I couldn't find anything which linked this response to something we would recognise as "humour".

        I guess the distinction I'm making is that a physical response to play and physical stimulation, "laughter" if you will, does not imply an appreciation of what we recognise/define as humour.

        I did find a study by a Robert R. Provine, professor of psychology at the University of Maryland, who studied laughter across the species. He noted that outside of humanity It is actually a social behavior unrelated to jokes or wit. It serves different purposes. It can be friendly or submissive, hostile or dominant. Witness the old distinction between laughing with and laughing at someone.

        It may be that from an evolutionary perspective the facilities/behaviours are linked, but I still feel that "laughter" in animals can't really be attributed to humour per se.

        I've no axe to grind though, and am happy to be persuaded otherwise. Do you have specific sources I could look up?

        • Dec 1 2013: Stephen

          I recall a reference to Koko playing jokes on her trainers, both physical and verbal... though I suppose that you could contend that these were learned rather than innate behaviors. I wonder at that though, you could teach someone a joke, even train a parrot to tell one, but Koko would create her own funny situations, play tricks and laugh at her human caretakers. That seems to say the method was learned, while the motivation was innate.

          My friends lab would hid the ball and then beg to play fetch. When the ball was found it was apparent the pup was having us on all along.

          Dr. Johnathan Balcombe has some interesting observations you should be able to research easily, but I must grant that he comes to no firm conclusion on the subject. Simply put, it is impossible to know the inner life of an animal. You can always evade the humor conclusion by asserting that the observer is anthropomorphizing to some extent.

          That being said, Dolphins have been recorded stealthily approaching pelicans so they can nip away a few tail feathers, or repeatedly rolling turtles over and over, which seems like pranks to me. Similarly, elephants have been recorded by researchers as playing jokes on one another, and on the researchers themselves.

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        Nov 28 2013: Interesting claim Ian. But don't you think humor (and jokes too) fails much more frequently than sexual innuendos? If what you are saying is correct, how would you explain that?
        Also, do you think all laughter is humor?
        • Dec 1 2013: Pabitra,

          I am not sure that I understand your question... But I think you are asking that if humor is so deep seated in the brain why does it so often, ( more so than sexual innuendo), fall on deaf ears. Is this correct?

          I would say that humor is an inbuilt response to simple stimuli, common to all humanity, that has been co-opted and adapted to our changing brain-scape as we have evolved. All babies think peek-a-boo is just hilarious, which shows that humor is not taught, it is innate. Exactly what we find funny may be trained by culture and environment, even influenced by character, but it starts from a common base. When my daughter heard winnie-the-pooh's name for the first time she could not stop laughing.

          Thus I would say the simpler the joke, (man slips on banana), the more likely we are all to find it funny, (had we not been jaded by the media storm of the most recent generation anyway). The more complex the concept, or culturally specific, the less likely the joke will be well received by all who hear it.

          Also, a certain mood, and mind set is necessary to both tell, and to hear, a joke. What I may find funny alone with my wife may not be funny at the movie theater, or in company with strangers. This is true of sexual innuendo as well, it is better received in the proper context.

          As to laughter. I believe all laughter is humor as much as I believe that all smiles are happy. No, to often laughing is a social escape or other coping behavior.

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        Dec 1 2013: Thanks Ian,

        You've opened a whole new can of worms in my head. I'll have a look for the references you cite and see where that takes me.

        Best Wishes
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    Nov 25 2013: Laughter is a gift. When ever you are told anything you can go one of three ways; get angry about it, shrug it off and allow it or laugh about it! Humour or not, being able to laugh over the stupidest or simple of things is nothing but a GIFT.
  • Nov 25 2013: From a spiritual standing I feel humour is the essence of life. Regardless of what type of humour you have it is always comforting sharing your sense of humour with another person - with the same or similar sense as you.

    It simply brings endless joy to life and that is what makes it important. Arguably it's what make life important itself hence the essence of life.I cannot imagine greater like like human beings without humour. Wouldn't chickens gain vast respect if they could genuinely laugh? Would we then not even kill them for their food qualities?

    I've come across vastly different humours, from the regular content based humour that most people share to wild humours that only a specific few may understand. I believe it's important to accept all kinds of humour as it keeps you open-minded towards others, regardless of who they are.

    I'm not too sure of cultural senses of humour even though I have traveled frequently across the globe. Although I will say regardless of your background, ethnicity, some people do share the same humour across entire continents.
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      Nov 26 2013: Do you think humor is an antidote for depression?
      • Nov 26 2013: I am not sure, although I can say that humour can definitely take your mind off things, although I believe it is always better to accept your depression and face it head on.

        On the other hand depending on how each person thinks about it humour could suppress the depression at least.

        I am a person that loves to laugh, but regardless of how much I laugh I will always have problems that will cause depression. I guess there's a time and place for both.
      • Nov 28 2013: Most assuredly yes, and there is good science to back up that thesis, much of it recent. Humor stimulates brain regions that depression atrophies if given free reign. Humor is a beneficial adaptation. laughter most certainly is a fine medicine.
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    Nov 25 2013: It's the essential spice in life to me.....(as grown up with spicy food , can't stand long with spice less food)
  • Nov 25 2013: Bernard Shaw, Shakespeare, and fart jokes.
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    Nov 24 2013: Humour is spontaneity without analysis.
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    Nov 24 2013: Humour is the subtle art of calling a spade a spade and not hurting anyone and getting your message through.
  • Nov 23 2013: April Fools' Day pranks were never allowed in my family because of a family tragedy that happened on that day, eight years before I was born. Now, one of the new forties, I have published a book called 'Jerusha's Tricks' detailing an elaborate April Fools' Joke. I can now live and, most important, laugh!!
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    Nov 21 2013: Your avatar is kind of humor.:)
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    Nov 20 2013: What makes a dead beat dad?
    lack of money

    What makes a dead beat mom?
    No such thing!

    Why does the single mom in America suck in math?
    because 2 kids = 5 dads.
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      Nov 20 2013: Don't give up your day job!
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        Nov 21 2013: I'm a dead beat dad, Mike. I don't have a day j-o-b! I appreciate your support in my tiny efforts.

        Dating a single mother is like continuing from somebody else's saved game.
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    Nov 20 2013: Why did the single mother cross the road?
    To get to admiration, power, and a pay check.

    So a girl and her dad go to the store to get a new barbie doll. The dad looks at all the barbie dolls and they are all $10. The dad keeps looking and sees one barbie that is $100. The dad asks the man at the store why this particular barbie is so expensive. The man responds, "oh, this is divorce Barbie she comes with Kens house boat car and the other half of his belongings".
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    Nov 20 2013: I also think that humor is highly subjective and highly cultural and depends on the level of communication; it is in the eye of the beholder; it's a 'light' way of looking at the unusual, nonconforming and surprising things or points of view in life in a social context .
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      Nov 21 2013: Right. My wife found the scene in 'Bruce Almighty' where the monkey comes out from you know where of the neighborhood bully, absolutely gross and unfunny.
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    Nov 20 2013: What ever it is, it's needed for survival just after food and shelter.
  • Nov 18 2013: Charlie Chaplin said comedy is tragedy pushed to the ultimate and all you can do is laugh. Think Dilbert is an example of that.
  • Nov 18 2013: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Humor

    I like parodies like Office Space, Dilbert, and Animal House.

    I like good jokes.

    I like watching irony unfold in government.
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      Nov 18 2013: Your last line is intriguing. Parodies, stand up comedies, jokes or some cartoons are intended humors. A politicians stupidity is not. So, do you mean that humor can be found in things not intended as humors?
      • Nov 18 2013: Yes. I think humor is subjective. Those that make a living at it appeal to things the masses might find funny, but different people will see different types of humor in different events, perhaps the humor is born from a different perspective, perhaps from a different observation, perhaps a unique set of knowledge and experience.
  • Dec 2 2013: On a very literal level, humour is a means of making people laugh.

    On the subconscious level however, humour is a remarkably accessible form of social commentary. You can tell a lot about a nation by its comedians. For example, to be funny in America, you have to be quick-witted, able to joke your way out of any situation, where as in the UK, the majority of comedy icons are, essentially, failures (Basil Fawlty, David Brent etc.)

    One particular form on comedy that I have recently taken an interest in is 'satire', particularly political satire. Some people argue it's a way to disarm those who take themselves too seriously, whilst others see it as a chance to expose the farcical nature of some (not all) governmental policies).

    In terms of types of comedy, I have observed the following: slapstick, satire, observational, improvised & surreal. There are various mediums that these can be presented through, for example, stand up, sketch or double act.
  • Dec 2 2013: Having good personal relationships is the most important thing to me. Humor helps people to make relationships and helps to break the ice.
    Why do we like people who have a sterling sense of humor? I am not sure why it's so.
    But In my opinion Humor is the most important asset of our life.
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    . . 100+

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    Dec 1 2013: Humor is the fastest way to inspire and uplift people. Its the best gift to have. Humor saves lives.

    ~ Have a spectafabular day:o)
  • Dec 1 2013: Gord

    I laughed loud and long. Thanks for the Python reference, and the clarification. I understand and agree.