Laughing At Life.


All of us enjoy a good joke at any given time of the day. Laughter is a natural phenomenon of life, employed to cheer us up, specifically as a distraction, or just in our general daily interactions; yet humour has been increasingly associated with negative aspects. It is really astonishing how such a positive phenomenon can be attributed with such darkness.

Comedians and humourists have long been lumped together with sorrow; with multiple theories spanning on the correlation between depression and comedy. Although psychological studies have proven that most people invoking humour have attributes in common with schizophrenics and manic depressives, they go on to further clarify that mental disorders like these result in pathological individuals, whereas comedians display their abilities- of thinking uniquely and being increasingly observant- creatively, productively.

Comedians present us with a paradox, simultaneously portraying extroversion-in their performances- and introversion-in their real life. A fact interpreted as a form of bipolar disorder. Characteristic of the nature of introverts, comedians are unable to openly express themselves adequately in social settings and as a rival to the fear of rejection; they use humour as a defense mechanism to appeal to people and incite their approval.


With actions like smiling, our safety sensors light up, finding comfort in the cocoon of acceptance. In this way comedians fluctuate between drastic behavioural highs and lows. Yet it takes a certain amount of self confidence to present yourself foolishly to people as comedy generally requires. Comedians also have to stand strong in the face of immediate criticism-most importantly of self judgment, as they are never sure how their humour will be interpreted, and when exactly they are being laughed at and laughed with.

Out of all the theories on humour, the Benign-Violation Theory is one of the most eye catching. Behavioural scientist, Peter McGraw states in it, ‘Humour arises from potentially negative situations.’ The criteria of the theory (involving a threat, that is benign, and recognized from both its aspects by an onlooker) draw on the previously existing beliefs of the Relief Theory, the Superiority Theory, and schadenfreude and galgenhumour among others. Comedy reduces stress factors and blunts the knife of failures/misfortunes. In this way humour exists to alleviate the pain as a coping mechanism against the negatives in a stressful situation. We can be cruel in our nature in that we find it easier to laugh at misfortunes striking others rather than us.

The initiation of humour serves to distract external parties from the actuality of a person’s situation. People get to leave behind their despair in searching for the next punch line. More often than not though, the problem is not being solved, just left behind and sometimes the mind has a way of remembering those unfortunate moments. How someone dispelling such joy could so effectively weave a veil around their agony alludes to the complexities of mental illness-a certain state of mind.

As of recently, killer clowns have been making the news (internationally at least), but even historically, fear factors have been juxtaposed with comedy. From Shakespeare to Stephen King, we come across works and experiences that set us on edge and make us uncomfortable. Humour here is portrayed as sinister; the most frightening aspect being the apparent danger in seemingly harmless everyday scenarios. Consider the act of tickling; many of us may have been perplexed when we decided to tickle our own selves and bring about no reaction, but even a slight gesture on any person’s part can have us in a fit of giggles. We trust ourselves and in the face of a perceived foreign threat, our natural reaction is to laugh in the face of danger. In plays like, ‘A Midsummer Night’s Dream,’ which is traditionally taken as a comedy, Shakespeare masterfully weaves in eerie themes such as Bottom’s animalistic transformation, the mysterious fairy Puck-whose name is synonymous with the devil, and even his play with a play on the tragedy of Pyramus and Thisbe.Behavioural scientist, Peter McGraw states in it, ‘Humour arises from potentially negative situations.’

Yet at every moment, the playwright sends forth characters like Bottom and his troupe, employing various methods of slapstick humour, irony and wit to reinforce the lighthearted undertones that life presents us with. We are presented with a choice to proceed with; people can learn to laugh at their own misfortunes and setbacks in life as a measure of moving on and handle situations effectively; but it is always good to sober down and be mindful of the uncanny turns life can take.

Life should not be taken too seriously in the sense that we should allow ourselves to move on from potentially negative experiences. Humour is a way to put our fears into perspective and to transcend emotional boundaries, into something that is positive-even if temporary. That is not say that the next time, somebody makes a joke, there is something upsetting going on behind it. Have a good laugh. Rather than raising suspicions about their emotional state, we should just be observant of the world around us and try to understand the people behind the words and actions. Everything is not always what it seems.


-Sidra Zahid.

Bio-sciences, 1st Year.



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