In Melvin Helitzer’s Comedy Writing Secrets, he said nearly all humor is based upon feelings of superiority from the one who is laughing. Having never studied comedy writing before, the superiority reaction surprised me.
From chortles to guffaws, humor is an emotional response that is extremely subjective. If a comic pokes fun at something we revere, we tend to not laugh. However, when watching reruns of comedian Lucille Ball stomping grapes or stuffing candy in her mouth, most get tickled because we feel superior to her antics, knowing we would never fall prey in similar situations.
Humor aimed at fears allows release. Tell a joke about low wages, poor crops, or life-fumbles, and moods can ratchet up from wretched to barely miserable. Steve Allen said that good mental and physical health often depends on the ability to laugh at self.
Helitzer says, “Humor is criticism, cloaked as entertainment, directed at a specific target.” Bill Mauldin, wrote, “Humor is really laughing off a hurt, grinning at misery.” Both of these men echo a common saying, “It’s better to laugh than cry.”
To warm up an audience, speakers often begin presentations with a bit of self-deprecating humor, allowing the audience the chance to feel a wee bit superior. After an audience hears a speaker’s story about land-sliding mountainous oranges at Wal-Mart, they are more likely to sense that the speaker is just a normal person like them. They are more open to listen, friend to friend.
Wholesome, quick wit is also fun and engaging. Newsweek said Ronald Reagan sealed his election with a clever comeback. Reagan debated the younger Mondale and the subject of age came up. Seventy-six year old Reagan said: “I will not make age an issue in this campaign. I am not going to exploit, for political purposes, my opponent’s youth and inexperience.”
God created very capable hearts, ones that can even experience humor in the middle of misery. Wise King Solomon said, “A cheerful heart is good medicine, but a broken spirit saps a person's strength” (Proverbs 17:22 NLT). Our supreme God’s gift of wholesome humor is a blessed outlet from the grim side of life.
Go ahead, giggle, snigger, snort, chuckle a bunch this week. Who knows, a few belly laughs might lower your medical bills.
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