The Philosophy of Humor (And the Humor of Philosophy)

03 November 2014

 

A skeleton walks into a bar.  It says, “Give me a beer and a mop.”

That’s my idea of a great joke.  It’s short.  The first line creates a vivid image. Then with nothing further you get the punchline.  It takes most people a couple of seconds to get it; the clearer the initial image, the sooner one starts laughing.  Or groaning.

But some people hate this joke.  Not subtle.  Not cerebral.  No one has yet told me it is offensive to skeletons, but that’s just a matter of time.

Here is another of my favorites.

A man walks into a deserted bar.  That’s fine with him; he wants to be alone.  He asks the bar tender to give him a whiskey and leave him alone.  Things are going fine, but then he hears a voice.

“Nice Tie!”

He looks around.  He doesn’t see anyone.  Maybe he is imagining things.

“Nice Sports Jacket!”

Now the man is annoyed.  He calls the bartender. 

  “Are you some kind of ventriloquist?”  

“No, not at all.  Why do you ask?”

“I hear voices.”

“That’s strange.  What do they say?”

"Nice tie.  Nice sports jacket.”

“Oh…,” the bartender says, slapping his head…

“That’s the peanuts; they’re complimentary.”

A lot of people really hate that joke.  It’s long, almost a shaggy dog joke.  And it’s a pun, what many consider the lowest form of humor.  I love puns, and it’s one of my favorites.   If you think puns are terrible, just print them out and tear them up!  Ha Ha.

I want to see if we can get a blog going about humor.  If you contribute, you have to come up with a good joke or a deep thought or both.  Well, not  that good, and not that deep.  Just enough to keep the discussion going.  What makes a joke funny? Good? Deep? 

Edgy jokes are OK, but nothing very offensive.  

Homework assignment.  Kant tells one joke in his corpus, as far as I know.  Can you find it?  Hint: it’s related to the topic he is philosophizing about.

Comments (18)


Guest's picture

Guest

Monday, November 3, 2014 -- 4:00 PM

Knock knock.

I recently had the idea to create a series for a friend's humor blog. I start with a really bad joke, and then provide a commentary coming from a certain character--a kind of unhinged, high-brow scholarly type who takes the joke way too seriously. Here?s one?
Knock knock.
Who's there?
Dwayne.
Dwayne who?
Dwayne the bathtub, I'm dwowning!
 
Let us not pause to ask how a drowning man discovers the nimble agility to bang at a door! For we have chanced upon a keen moral quandary. Surely, if we judge the man to be upright and honest, we are duty-bound to set things aright. But, then?questions?.
 
When we demanded the visitor identify himself, we were offered a name?only to find it was not a name at all, but the garbled imperative of a rhotacistic bather! Why does this inscrutable fellow answer in riddles? Are we the targets of some dodgy subterfuge? What is to be done?
 
I leave you at the door, dear reader! It is you who must decide this man?s fate, and, with it, your own. ?Je suis condamné à être libre!?
 

Laura Maguire's picture

Laura Maguire

Monday, November 3, 2014 -- 4:00 PM

A physicist, an engineer, and

A physicist, an engineer, and a statistician go hunting. They see a stag and the physicist takes the first shot. He misses by three feet to the left. The engineer goes next. He misses by three feet to the right. The statistician shouts out, "Score!"

Laura Maguire's picture

Laura Maguire

Monday, November 3, 2014 -- 4:00 PM

Three logicians are out for

Three logicians are out for dinner. The waiter comes around and asks if everyone would like some water. The first logician says, "I don't know." The second logician says, "I don't know." And the third logician says, "Yes, thank you. We'd all like water."

ryoudelman@gmail.com's picture

ryoudelman@gmail.com

Monday, November 3, 2014 -- 4:00 PM

I posted this one on your

I posted this one on your Facebook page but it bears repeating. 
A Zen priest orders a hot dog: "Make me one with everything."
I like this joke (also simple with just 2 parts) because of the incongruous picture of a vegetarian man of the cloth ordering a hot dog, then the pun on Zen oneness with the universe and a loaded weenie. It takes about one-half a second to fully comprehend the punchline, but a sort of smug feeling overtakes you and you will laugh despite yourself. 
By the way, there is nothing worse than forgetting or blowing the punchline of a joke. Even if you remember it later, it just isn't funny.

ryoudelman@gmail.com's picture

ryoudelman@gmail.com

Tuesday, November 4, 2014 -- 4:00 PM

This presentation by Bob

This presentation by Bob Mankoff, cartoon editor of the New Yorker, is funny, and he gives an astute analysis of what is funny and why:
http://youtu.be/FKxaL8Iau8Q

MJA's picture

MJA

Tuesday, November 4, 2014 -- 4:00 PM

There were two peanuts

There were two peanuts walking through Central Park, One was assaulted. =

John Perry's picture

John Perry

Thursday, November 6, 2014 -- 4:00 PM

I think you have invented a

I think you have invented a new and exciting literwawy genwe.   JP

John Perry's picture

John Perry

Thursday, November 6, 2014 -- 4:00 PM

Nice joke, and you are

Nice joke, and you are absolutely right about forgetting punch lines.  Sometimes I remember the punchlines but forget the set-up.  That's no fun either.  JP

John Perry's picture

John Perry

Sunday, November 9, 2014 -- 4:00 PM

Good joke.  But what's your

Good joke.  But what's your analysis?  Exercise:  write a goes-into-a-bar joke, with the same three characters.  JP

John Perry's picture

John Perry

Sunday, November 9, 2014 -- 4:00 PM

This is a terrific talk!

This is a terrific talk!  Thanks.  Everyone should watch the video.  Several theories of humor are brought up, which we should dissect.

John Perry's picture

John Perry

Sunday, November 9, 2014 -- 4:00 PM

My kind of humor.  

My kind of humor.  

John Perry's picture

John Perry

Sunday, November 9, 2014 -- 4:00 PM

 

This is from Kant's Critique of Judgement.  There are actually three jokes, which I have highlighted for those who might not want to wade through the theory..
 
§ 54.: Remark?
. . . . . All changing free play of sensations (that have no design at their basis) gratifies, because it promotes the feeling of health. In the judgement of Reason we may or may not have any satisfaction in its object or even in this gratification; and this latter may rise to the height of an affection, although we take no interest in the object, at least none that is proportionate to the degree of the affection. We [222] may subdivide this free play of sensations into the play of fortune [games of chance], the play of tone [music], and the play of thought [wit]. The first requires an interest, whether of vanity or of selfishness; which, however, is not nearly so great as the interest that attaches to the way in which we are striving to procure it. The second requires merely the change of sensations, all of which have a relation to affection, though they have not the degree of affection, and excite aesthetical Ideas. The third springs merely from the change of representations in the Judgement; by it, indeed, no thought that brings an interest with it is produced, but yet the mind is animated thereby.
. . . . In music this play proceeds from bodily sensations to aesthetical Ideas (the Objects of our affections), and then from these back again to the body with redoubled force. In the case of jokes (the art of which, just like music, should rather be reckoned as pleasant than beautiful) the play begins with the thoughts which together occupy the body, so far as they admit of sensible expression; and as the Understanding stops suddenly short at this presentment, in which it does not find what it expected, we feel the effect of this slackening in the body by the oscillation of the organs, which promotes the restoration of equilibrium and has a favourable influence upon health.
In everything that is to excite a lively convulsive laugh there must be something absurd (in which the Understanding, therefore, can find no satisfaction). Laughter is an affection arising from the sudden transformation of a strained expectation into nothing.1 This transformation, which is certainly not enjoyable [224] by the Understanding, yet indirectly gives it very active enjoyment for a moment. Therefore its cause must consist in the influence of the representation upon the body, and the reflex effect of this upon the mind; not, indeed, through the representation being objectively an object of gratification1 (for how could a delusive expectation gratify?), but simply through it as a mere play of representations bringing about an equilibrium of the vital powers in the body.
Suppose this story to be told: An Indian at the table of an Englishman in Surat, when he saw a bottle of ale opened and all the beer turned into froth and overflowing, testified his great astonishment with many exclamations. When the Englishman asked him, ?What is there in this to astonish you so much?? he answered, ?I am not at all astonished that it should flow out, but I do wonder how you ever got it in.? At this story we laugh, and it gives us hearty pleasure; not because we deem ourselves cleverer than this ignorant man, or because of anything else in it that we note as satisfactory to the Understanding, but because our expectation was strained [for a time] and then was suddenly dissipated into nothing. Again: The heir of a rich relative wished to arrange for an imposing funeral, but he lamented that he could not properly succeed; ?for? (said he) ?the more money I give my mourners to look sad, the more cheerful they look!?2 When we hear this story we laugh loud, and the reason is that an expectation is suddenly [225] transformed into nothing. We must note well that it does not transform itself into the positive opposite of an expected object?for then there would still be something, which might even be a cause of grief?but it must be transformed into nothing. For if a man arouses great expectations in us when telling a story, and at the end we see its falsehood immediately, it displeases us; e.g. the story of the people whose hair in consequence of great grief turned gray in one night. But if a wag, to repair the effect of this story, describes very circumstantially the grief of the merchant returning from India to Europe with all his wealth in merchandise who was forced to throw it overboard in a heavy storm, and who grieved thereat so much that his wig turned gray the same night?we laugh and it gives us gratification. For we treat our own mistake in the case of an object otherwise indifferent to us, or rather the Idea which we are following out, as we treat a ball which we knock to and fro for a time, though our only serious intention is to seize it and hold it fast. It is not the mere rebuff of a liar or a simpleton that arouses our gratification; for the latter story told with assumed seriousness would set a whole company in a roar of laughter, while the former would ordinarily not be regarded as worth attending to.
It is remarkable that in all such cases the jest must contain something that is capable of deceiving for a moment. Hence, when the illusion is dissipated, the mind turns back to try it once again, and thus through a rapidly alternating tension and relaxation it is jerked back and put into a state of oscillation. This, because the strain on the cord as it were is suddenly (and not gradually) relaxed, must [226] occasion a mental movement, and an inner bodily movement harmonising therewith, which continues involuntarily and fatigues, even while cheering us (the effects of a motion conducive to health).
For if we admit that with all our thoughts is harmonically combined a movement in the organs of the body, we shall easily comprehend how to this sudden transposition of the mind, now to one now to another standpoint in order to contemplate its object, may correspond an alternating tension and relaxation of the elastic portions of our intestines, which communicates itself to the diaphragm (like that which ticklish people feel). In connexion with this the lungs expel the air at rapidly succeeding intervals, and thus bring about a movement beneficial to health; which alone, and not what precedes it in the mind, is the proper cause of the gratification in a thought that at bottom represents nothing.? Voltaire said that heaven had given us two things to counterbalance the many miseries of life, hope and sleep.1 He could have added laughter, if the means of exciting it in reasonable men were only as easily attainable, and the requisite wit or originality of humour were not so rare, as the talent is common of imagining things which break one?s head, as mystic dreamers do, or which break one?s neck, as your genius does, or which break one?s heart, as sentimental romance-writers (and even moralists of the same kidney) do.??

Guest's picture

Guest

Tuesday, November 11, 2014 -- 4:00 PM

I wrote another one of these

I wrote another one of these bad joke commentaries. It starts with very bad joke, followed by a commentary by an professor-type who's not all there. I've decided that the character who is providing these interpretations will be named "Professor Snodgrass"...
 
What did the fisherman say to the card magician? Pick a cod, any cod!
Ah! See how the tables are turned! One sympathizes with our practiced card magician. He is accustomed to astonishing his audience?who has bested you, magician? A simple fisherman?
How canny is this man of the sea? (A man so long at sea becomes like the crannied shores he navigates?see how his face is drawn and hardened!) Still, an excellent humor issues forth from his salty tongue.
Magician, you cannot escape the tight knots of the fisherman?s troubling logic; nor conjure a trick so fine as to wriggle free from his finely-woven net of wordplay.

Guest's picture

Guest

Tuesday, November 11, 2014 -- 4:00 PM

Nice! It's probably most

Nice! It's probably most often the case with jokes that "our expectation was strained [for a time] and then was suddenly dissipated into nothing."
This is taken to an extreme--or to a kind of "meta" level--in the case of so-called "Anti-Jokes".
For example...
http://www.tickld.com/funny/t/866186
(Although, they're not all winners.)

John Perry's picture

John Perry

Thursday, December 4, 2014 -- 4:00 PM

Great joke and good analysis!

Great joke and good analysis!

jan's picture

jan

Sunday, February 8, 2015 -- 4:00 PM

That first joke was right up

That first joke was right up my alley. Short and sweet :) Best regards - Jan

IshikaAgarwal's picture

IshikaAgarwal

Wednesday, September 30, 2015 -- 5:00 PM

Haha second one is hilarious!

Haha second one is hilarious! I love to write my thoughts out on a paper and i follow UK coursework writers to find out many interesting write ups.

 

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