What is humor?

March 10, 2023
by Ivan Raconteur

Recently, I have been exposed to the work of a variety of comedians, and this led me to think about the nature of humor.

There are countless examples of different types of humor. I think I have become more selective about the kinds of humor I am willing to absorb with each passing year. The humor that I appreciate the most generally involves fresh observations about human nature, or the clever use of language.

Comedians can take whatever path they want, and I don’t think we should restrict their material. I have, however, become much quicker about avoiding material I don’t like.

One trend I have noticed is comedians who resort to profanity every other word. I don’t think this kind of humor is particularly clever, nor do I find it especially funny. It just makes me tired.

I’m not afraid of profanity, but I do think it is more effective when it is used for emphasis, rather than every other word.

Another trend I have noticed is comedians who resort to vulgar material. This seems especially popular among female comedians. I concede that this may simply be my perception because it stands out more, or it may be that a large number of female comedians are resorting to vulgarity to score cheap laughs in a previously male-dominated field.

Whatever the cause, I don’t need to hear about lurid sexual exploits, nor do I need to hear graphic descriptions about comedians’ anatomy.

I have become much more aware of the type of material to which I am exposed, and I actively work to avoid things that I consider negative. I don’t want to become so desensitized to offensive material that it becomes normal or acceptable.

There are some kinds of “humor” that I have never liked. I have a strong aversion to any material that is mean-spirited or derogatory. I don’t see anything funny about material that is malicious or belittling to any person or group, especially those with disabilities.

If a comedian can’t get a laugh without disparaging another person, perhaps he should seek another line of work.

I also don’t have any interest in drug humor. This is an area that has changed over time. I grew up in an era when this kind of humor was gaining popularity, and I laughed along with many others.

Now, however, I’m more aware of how drugs have torn apart families and destroyed lives, and there’s nothing funny about that. Glorifying drug use or making a joke of it just doesn’t seem like a good idea.

In the same way we might pay attention to the food we eat, or the beverages we drink, we should be aware of the kind of information we are absorbing.

When it comes to comedy, it might be useful to ask ourselves if we would be comfortable listening to the material with our parents, or in-laws, or grandparents, or children, or nieces or nephews. If the answer is no, we might want to ask ourselves why that is.

Fortunately, there are countless comedians who present material that is suitable for a wide audience. These people don’t need to be cruel or vulgar to get a laugh. And these are some of the funniest people there are.

Advertise in over
250+ MN newspapers