You feel humor when you learn that somebody made a rank-reducing mistake that you could make.
You feel humor, for example, when you:
- hear a joke or see a comedy
- hear a putdown, witness a prank
- hear gossip, read tabloid news
- hear criticism, criticize others
- see a favorite upset
Laughter is different than humor.
Humor is a positive effect in your head. Laughter is a vocal expression that usually follows humor.
Laughter is a voluntary expression. People can laugh when they don't feel humor - laughing at the boss's bad jokes, for example. And people don't always laugh when they do feel humor - when seeing something funny at a funeral, for example. Laughing seems to be an involuntary expression because it's a deeply ingrained habit, like walking or talking.
Because laughter is a voluntary expression, it's an unreliable signal that you or other people are feeling humor.
Humor is more than jokes or comedy.
You also feel humor when you hear a putdown, hear gossip, criticize others or see a favorite upset. In each of these situations, you are learning about somebody making a rank-reducing mistake. If you hear a putdown, you might hear that somebody is a liar. If you hear gossip, you may hear that somebody was caught cheating. If you criticize somebody, you learn from yourself that somebody is doing something wrong like always being late. If you see a favorite upset, you may see champions defeated by basement dwellers.
Gossip is probably a bigger source of humor than jokes or comedy combined.
People spend a few hours a day in non-work conversations and gossip dominates those conversations. By comparison, people spend less than an hour a day listening to jokes or watching comedies.
Criticism - hearing it or giving it - is a surprising source of humor.
Pointing out errors does not feel like fun. It doesn't feel like fun because criticizers maintain a humorless exterior while criticizing others. If criticizers showed enjoyment while criticizing others, they would reveal their real motive for criticizing others - they feel humor. If others realize that a criticizer is criticizing for his enjoyment, others would not bother listening to it.
The need to maintain an humorless exterior extends to everyone involved in criticism - the person being criticised and any witnesses. Behind their humorless exteriors, the criticizer and witness feel humor and the criticized person feels humiliation.
Unsolicited criticism is done for the criticizer's enjoyment. Solicited and professional criticism is also done for the criticized person's benefit. Solicited criticism also helps the recipient improve or fix a problem. If I ask you how my breath is and you tell me it reeks of garlic, you enjoy humor and I stop eating garlic. Professional criticism includes unsolicited criticism from from teachers, coaches, bosses, lawyers or doctors. If a teacher tells me I'm mispronouncing a word, the teacher feels humor and I learn to pronounce the word correctly.
Humor has the following four requirements:
- a mistake by another person is described
- which lowers the other person's rank
- which you could also make
- which is news to you
1. You feel humor when you learn about mistakes, but not misfortune.
You feel humor if you see a man slip on banana. He made the mistake of not looking where he is walking. You do not feel humor if you see man knocked down by a falling tree branch. He suffered the misfortune of being under the tree at the wrong time. While a mistake makes people feel humor, misfortune makes people feel compassion.
It's important to note the subtle difference between mistakes and misfortune. Jokes about mistakes are liked. Jokes about misfortune are disliked - often intensely. Jokes about being a drunkard, for example, are liked, but jokes about being mentally challenged are not.
Being fat is considered a mistake by some and misfortune by others. If your audience believes that weight is not something people can control, jokes about being fat will not be funny.
Being short is not a mistake, but many people make short jokes anyways. Short jokes do not really make people feel humor. Being short is misfortune. If you laugh at a short joke you are just being mean.
2. You only feel humor when it lowers the other person's rank.
You don't feel humor if somebody's rank does not fall. It's funny to learn about a normally sober person making an ass of themselves by getting drunk at a party. It's not funny when they you learn about a habitual drunkard doing the same.
3. You only feel humor if you can make the same mistake.
Said alternatively, you do not feel humor if you cannot make the same mistake. Men find erectile dysfunction jokes funny, but not menstrual cramping jokes. Women find jokes about bras funny, but not about jock itch.
Tabloid newspapers focus on famous women who are overweight or cheating because those are the mistakes tabloid readers are most likely to make.
4. You only feel humor when a mistake is news to you.
You feel humor when you learn about a mistake the first time. You don't feel humor the second time - you are not learning something new. A joke is not funny if you've already heard it.
Jokes don't need the element of surprise or a punch line. Jokes only seem to work if you surprise somebody or take an unexpected turn in the storytelling. However, it's not a surprise that is required - it's news. You could make a loud noise at the end of a joke, which would surprise people but it would not humor them. Instead, quietly telling people news about somebody mistaking their vitamin and viagra pills will humor them. Surprises and punch lines are the news that makes people feel humor.
The more likely you are to make the same mistake, the stronger the humor you feel.
If you could never make the mistake described in a joke, you will feel no humor. If there is a slight possibility, you will feel slight humor. If there is a good possibility, you feel strong humor. And if you could very easily make the mistake, you will feel very strong humor.
People who have recently stopped smoking or drinking are usually the first to criticize others for smoking or drinking - because they feel strong humor when they do. Similarly, people on diets are the first to joke about others being fat.
Tell jokes and gossip about mistakes your audience could make.
Do not use your gut to evaluate a joke. Your humor is strongest for mistakes you could make. Your audience's humor is strongest for mistakes they could make - which are often different than yours.
Don't tell your elderly parents jokes about sending a mistyped text message. Instead, tell them jokes about not being able to hear what somebody said or peeing your pants. Don't tell your children gossip about your adult friends who cheated on their taxes. Instead, tell them gossip about the children of your adult friends who cheated on their boyfriends.
Seek comedy that focuses on mistakes that you or your date could make.
Comedic entertainment, such as movies or books, that focuses on mistakes you could make will make you feel the strongest humor. The Hangover was focused on mistakes men could make. Bridesmaids was focused on mistakes women could make.
Comedy businesses should explicitly market the mistakes they focus on.
The more explicit a comedy business describes which mistakes will be focused on, the easier it is for consumers to evaluate how humorous it will be for them. If the focus is on mistakes they could make, they will be happy patrons. If the focus is not on mistakes they could make, they will avoid being unhappy patrons.
Comedy should be explicitly marketed to particular segments of mistake-makers. The Blue Collar Tour and Larry The Cable Guy did particularly well because they explicitly targeted the largest segment - white middle class people worried about being low class.
Your fears are revealed by the subjects you find funny, gossip about or criticize.
The humor you feel is strongest for mistakes you are most likely to make. So you are subconsciously attracted to towards jokes, gossip and criticism that involves mistakes you are most likely to make.
As you look back on interactions with others where you really enjoyed yourself, you can learn what mistakes you fear making. If you enjoyed gossiping about a co-worker caught shopping online at work, you are probably worried about being caught doing the same.
A particularly good moment to see the subconscious effect of humor is when you change the subject of a social or casual conversation. You usually change the conversation to a subject that makes you feel humor - a particularly good bit of gossip, for example. If it made you feel such strong humor that you wanted to change the subject, you must have a strong fear of making the same mistake as the person you are gossiping about.
You can learn what other people fear by what they find funny, like to gossip about or like to criticize.
Like you, the humor that others feel is strongest for mistakes they are most likely to make. So they are also subconsciously attracted to jokes, gossip and criticism that involves mistakes they are most likely to make.
As with you, a particularly good moment to see the subconscious effect of humor on others is when they change the subject. Their subject choices reflect their fears. If a straight person often makes jokes about homosexuals they are probably gay or considering it. If somebody frequently gossips about alcoholics, they are probably worried about being the same. Humor is subconsciously revealing this to others.
Writers and editors have a bias towards mistakes they could make.
Writers and editors use their gut to decide how good a joke or story is. They assume their reaction will be the same as their audience's reaction. This is a mistake. Jokes and stories that are the most appealing to writers and editors are about mistakes they could make - which is often different than the mistakes their audience could make.
News editors, for example, give too much prominence to scandals involving other new organizations. The telephone hacking scandal involving Rupert Murdoch's UK newspapers, for example, was a top news story throughout the world in 2011. It was particularly enjoyable for news editors, but it was not gossip that readers would enjoy - they are not likely to be caught hacking telephones.
Jewish writers, for example, write jokes about jewish religious events that are not funny to their primarily gentile audience. The jokes are funny to the writers, but not to the audience - gentiles are not likely to make a mistake with a dreidel.
Humor causes the mistake of criticizing others.
Unless you are paid or asked for it, criticizing others is a mistake. When you criticize somebody you are lowering their rank by pointing out a mistake they made. This makes them feel the negative emotion of humiliation. Unless they paid or asked for the criticism, they will then feel the negative emotion of revenge. That person will always feel that revenge towards you unless they get you back. The criticism has created an enemy - and for what benefit?
Why do people make the mistake of criticizing others? Because it makes them feel humor. As you state the criticism you are learning about somebody making a rank-reducing mistake, just like you do for jokes. People don't recognize that criticizing others makes them feel humor. Instead, they think it feels good because they are helping the other person. Parents are good examples of this. They frequently criticize their children using the rationale they are just trying to help by sharing their experience. What they are really doing is enjoying particularly strong humor - their criticism is focused on mistakes they could make.
The best policy is to never provide unsolicited criticism. Only provide criticism if asked or paid for it.
Expect others to criticize you.
If you realize that we are all programmed to enjoy criticizing each other, you won't take it personally when you become the target of somebody's unsolicited criticism.
The worst reaction is to get into an argument defending yourself. It creates bad feelings, reveals your insecurities and robs you of an opportunity to learn about yourself from another person. Don't start criticizing the other person - as you will be inclined to do by revenge. That will cause the other person to feel humiliation and revenge which guarantees the escalation of the discussion to a confrontation.
The best reaction is to just listen and let the conversation move on to a new subject. And replace friends who cannot resist the urge to criticize others with friends who can.
The safest humor targets yourself.
To be funny, humor must highlight somebody's fall in rank. If humor highlights others, it creates enemies by making them feel humiliation and then revenge. Humor that targets you avoids creating enemies. It only makes you feel humiliation, but still makes others feel humor.
The Three Stooges and Rodney Dangerfield targeted themselves. ~ As a child, I got no respect. When I played in the sandbox, the cat kept covering me up.
Witty jokes and putdowns make you feel humor and pride.
Witty jokes and putdowns differ from regular jokes and putdowns because they include insights. ~ President Bush is waging war for the sake of the environment. He hopes to drive the price of oil so high that we stop driving cars. ~ You’re a waste of carbon.
We prefer witty jokes and putdowns because they make us feel two emotions - humor and pride. The joke or putdown makes us feel humor. The insight makes us feel pride. Recognizing the insight elevates our rank to the comedian's rank.
Puns make you feel pride, but not humor.
Puns make you feel pride because their play on words requires insight to identify. However, they do not make you feel humor because they do not describe a mistake that lowers someone’s rank. ~ I used to be a gold prospector, but it didn’t pan out.
Humor seems stronger when it also stops envy.
If you envy somebody, it is more enjoyable to see them make a rank-reducing mistake. Their mistake simultaneously makes you feel humor and stops you feeling envy. The tall-poppy syndrome is an example. People prefer to criticize tall-poppies because it makes them feel humor and stops their envy. The most vocal critics of tall-poppies are their former peers, who feel the strongest envy.
Humor seems stronger when it also stops revenge.
If you hold a grudge against someone, it is more enjoyable to see them make a rank-reducing mistake. Their mistake simultaneously makes you feel humor and stops you feeling revenge. Spreading gossip about somebody, for example, is more enjoyable when the other person has spread gossip about you.
For more about emotions, visit: Happiness Dissected