Learning to be Funny

A friend once asked me what comedy was. That floored me. What is comedy? I don`t know. Does anybody? Can you define it? All I know is that I learned how to get laughs, and that`s all I know about it. You have to learn what people will laugh at, then proceed accordingly.  Stan Laurel

Is there a psychology of humour?  And is it even possible to develop a scientific understanding of what is “funny”?   Much like Stan Laurel’s famous quote above, humour is often seen as purely intuitive with comics “feeling out” their audience to see what will make them laugh.   Those brave academics who dared study humour serious are typically accused of missing the point completely.   According to E.B. White in his 1941 book, “humor can be dissected as a frog can, but the thing dies in the process and the innards are discouraging to any but the pure scientific mind.”    Essays on the psychology of humour tend to be long and serious with no trace of the humour they are supposedly explaining.   You’re certainly not likely to see Stephen Colbert or Jerry Seinfeld consulting then for helpful tips on entertaining people (then again, who knows?).  

Bridging the gap between comedy and psychology takes a very special sort of psychologist.   One much like Mitch Earlywine, in fact.     Not only is he an associate professor of psychology at the State University of New York at Albany with specialties in addictions and drug use, but he is also a successful stand-up comedian which makes him a unique sort of ambassador between serious science and the not-so-serious world of comedy.   In his recent book, Humour 101, released in 2011 by Springer Publishing Company, Earlywine carefully counterbalances existing research with his own experiences as a stand-up comedian.

To read more, check out my new Psychology Today blog post.

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