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HUMOR THEORIES: FEATURES VS. FUNCTIONS VS. SUBJECTS by Don L. F. Nilsen and Alleen Pace Nilsen HUMOR THEORIES THE EVOLUTION THEORIES as proposed by Charles Darwin, and by the I. A. H. B. THE HUMOR-IS-GOOD-FOR-YOU THEORIES as proposed by Norman Cousins, et. al.

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humor theories features vs functions vs subjects

HUMOR THEORIES: FEATURES VS. FUNCTIONS VS. SUBJECTS

by Don L. F. Nilsen

and Alleen Pace Nilsen

26

humor theories
HUMOR THEORIES
  • THE EVOLUTION THEORIES as proposed by Charles Darwin, and by the I. A. H. B.
  • THE HUMOR-IS-GOOD-FOR-YOU THEORIES as proposed by Norman Cousins, et. al.
  • THE SUPERIORITY THEORIES as proposed by Aristotle, Plato, Thomas Hobbes, Henri Bergson, and Charles Gruner
  • THE INCONGRUITY THEORIES as proposed by Immanuel Kant, Arthur Shopenhauer, Paul McGhee and John Morreall
  • THE SURPRISE THEORIES as proposed by René Descartes

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slide3
THE AMBIVALENCE THEORIES (FEELINGS AND EMOTIONS) as proposed by Socrates
  • THE CONFIGURATIONAL THEORIES (GESTALT RECOGNITION AND SUDDEN INSIGHT) as proposed by G. W. F. Hegel
  • THE PSYCHOANALYTIC THEORIES as proposed by Sigmund Freud
  • THE RELEASE AND RELIEF THEORIES as proposed by Harvey Mindess and William Fry

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a new way of looking at humor theories
A NEW WAY OF LOOKING AT HUMOR THEORIES:
  • FEATURES
  • FUNCTIONS
  • SUBJECTS

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features of humor surprise and tension
FEATURES OF HUMOR:SURPRISE AND TENSION
  • Surprise
    • Garden Path
    • Epiphany
  • Tension and Relief

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alleen nilsen s features of humor
ALLEEN NILSEN’S FEATURES OF HUMOR
  • Ambiguity
  • Exaggeration
  • Understatement
  • Hostility
  • Incongruity or Irony
  • Situation-Insight
  • Sudden Insight
  • Superiority
  • Surprise or Shock
  • A Trick or Twist
  • Word Play
  • (A. Nilsen Living Language 202-203)

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explain the features in the following jokes
EXPLAIN THE FEATURES IN THE FOLLOWING JOKES:
  • David Letterman’s first job in broadcasting was at Ball State University’s classical music radio station, WBST. He was a constant trial to Tom Watson, the manager, who in exasperation fired him after he introduced the song “Clair de Lune” with “You know the de Lune sisters; there was Claire; there was Mabel….”
  • Word Play
  • (A. Nilsen Living Language 204)

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slide9
Left to our own devices, we Wobegonians go straight for the small potatoes.
  • Majestic doesn’t appeal to us; we like the Grand Canyon better with Clarence and Arlene parked in front of it smiling.
  • (Nilsen & Nilsen Encyclopedia 301)

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slide10
Will Rogers solemnly declared, “They have an unwritten law in the Senate that a new member is not allowed to say anything when he first gets in, and another unwritten law that whatever he says afterward is not to amount to anything.”
  • Superiority
  • (Nilsen Living Language 205)

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slide11
A good man dies and goes to heaven. When St. Peter asks him if there’s anything he can do for him, the man explains that he would love to talk to Mary, the mother of Jesus. St. Peter is happy to set up such a meeting. After a few polite formalities, the man tells Mary the purpose of his request. He has always wanted to ask her something.
  • When she encourages him to go ahead, he says, “I’ve wondered why in all your pictures you look so sad. Please tell me what it is.” Mary sighs and then with a little wistful smile confesses, “I always wanted a daughter.
  • Incongruity and Surprise
  • (Nilsen Living Languag 205)

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slide12
In one of her routines, eleven-year-old Claire Friedman told about a classmate she calls Tiffany: “During lunch, Tiffany was staring at her carton of orange juice. I asked why. She said, “The box says concentrate.”
  • Claire said, “Tiffany is so dumb she’d get fired from an M&M factory for throwing away all the Ws.
  • Superiority, Hostility, Wordplay
  • (A. Nilsen Living Language 204)

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slide13
During the 1960s, there was talk of nominating Senator Margaret Chase Smith for President of the United States. One reporter stuck a microphone in her face and asked, “Mrs. Smith, what would you do if you should wake up some morning and find yourself in the White House?”
  • Without batting an eye she responded, “I would go to the president’s wife, apologize, and leave immediately.”
  • Situation, Surprise,etc.
  • (A. Nilsen Living Language 204)

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slide14
A four-year-old was brought to the emergency room of a hospital with a bad cough.
  • The child kept up a nonstop conversation while the nurse was trying to assess her lung sounds. Finally, the nurse said, “Shhh, I have to see if Barney is in there.” The child looked at her and calmly stated, “I have Jesus in my heart. Barney is on my underwear.”
  • Surprise, Incongruity, etc.
  • (A. Nilsen Living Language 204)

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slide15
At the opening of a new play, George Bernard Shaw sent two tickets to Winston Churchill. Shaw wrote on the letter, “Here is a ticket for you and your friend—if you have one.”
  • Churchill sent back the tickets with a message for Shaw. “I can’t attend on the opening night, but I would love to go to the second performance—if you have one.”
  • Hostility, Exaggeration, Word Play, etc.
  • (A. Nilsen Living Language 204)

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slide16
In Alice in Wonderland, the Mock Turtle explains to Alice that he “only took the regular course.” “What was that?” inquired Alice. “Reeling and Writhing, of course, to begin with, and then the different branches of Arithmetic—Ambition, Distraction, Uglification, and Derision.”
  • Word Play, etc.
  • (A. Nilsen Living Language 205)

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psychological functions of humor
PSYCHOLOGICAL FUNCTIONS OF HUMOR
  • Arousal
  • Social Control
  • Establishment of Superiority
  • Relief, and Release
  • Ego Defense, Coping, and Saving Face
  • Gaining Status
  • Healing
  • Testing Limits

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self disparagement
SELF-DISPARAGEMENT
  • Self-disparagement humor is actually intended to empower the user. Here are some effective ads using self-disparagement:
  • Terminix Pest Control: “When you think of pests, think of us.
  • Twist Lemon-Menthol Cigarettes: “Our new menthol is a lemon.”

26

slide19
Champion International Trend Carpet: “Eight million people walked all over us. And they don’t even know our name.”
  • Quaker Oats as a diet food: “Quaker Oats: Breakfast of losers.”
  • Simmons bunk beds: “Simmons beds are a lot of bunk.”
  • (Nilsen & Nilsen 273)

26

educational functions of humor
EDUCATIONAL FUNCTIONS OF HUMOR
  • Teaching and Learning
  • Arguing and Persuading

26

social functions of humor
SOCIAL FUNCTIONS OF HUMOR
  • In-Bonding and Out-Bonding
  • Promoting Social Stability and Control
  • Promoting Social Change

26

superiority vs incongruity
SUPERIORITY VS. INCONGRUITY
  • In Reflections upon Laughter, Frances Hutcheson argued against Thomas Hobbes’s century-old superiority theory.
  • He pointed out that people don’t go to asylums to laugh at the “inferior” beings, nor do we laugh at animals unless they resemble human beings.
  • We laugh at someone who slips on a banana peel not because we feel superior, but because of the incongruity between our expectations and the sudden insight.
  • (Nilsen & Nilsen 163)

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subjects of humor
!SUBJECTS OF HUMOR
  • Ethnic Identification
  • Politics
  • Sexual Roles and Scatology
  • Occupations
  • Religion and Belief Systems

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slide24
!!OLD TABOOS AND CENSORSHIP
  • These are the taboo areas in American English. They’re the subjects that we can’t talk about, but we must talk about.
  • But these taboos are changing. Most of our censorship used to come from the right, but now our censorship is coming from both the right and the left. Censorship from the left is called “political correctness.”

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slide25
!!!NEW TABOOS AND CENSORSHIP
  • TABOO AND CENSORSHIP FROM THE RIGHT INCLUDES:
    • Sex, Religion, Body Parts, Swear Words, Obscenities and Vulgarities
  • TABOO AND CENSORSHIP FROM THE LEFT (POLITICAL CORRECTNESS) INCLUDES:
    • Women, Gays, Disabled People, Ethnic Minorities and Old People

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humor web sites i
!HUMOR WEB SITES I

AMERICAN COMEDY ARCHIVES (JENNI MATZ):

www.emerson.edu/comedy

ART GLINER HUMOR CENTER (LARRY MINTZ):

www.humorcenter.umd.edu

COMEDY ARCHIVES (JENNI MATZ):

http://www.greaterboston.tv/features/gb_20060509_comedy.html

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slide27
!!COMEDY USA (BARRY WEINTRAUB):

www.comedyusa.com

THE HUMOR COLLECTION (RUTH HAMILTON):

www.thehumorcollection.org

HUMOR MATTERS (STEVE SULTANOFF):

http://www.humormatters.com

THE HUMOR PROJECT (JOEL GOODMAN):

www.HumorProject.com

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slide28
!!! HUMOR STUDIES AT ARIZONA STATE UNIVERSITY:

http://researchmag.asu.edu/stories/humor.html

LAUGHING JAPAN (TILL WEINGAERTNER):

http://www.tillchan.typepad.com/laughing

MIRTH: HUMOR AND LAUGHTER IN TEACHING (RON BERK):

www.mirthium.com

PARENTING HUMOR (TIM BETE):

http://www.TimBete.com

A PLAYFUL PATH TO WHOLENESS (BERNIE DEKOVEN):

http://www.deepfun.com

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slide29
References # 1:

Berger, Arthur Asa. An Anatomy of Humor. New Brunswick, NJ: Transaction Publishers, 1993.

Berger, Arthur Asa. Blind Men and Elephants: Perspectives on Humor. New Brunswick, NJ: Transaction Publishers, 1995.

Boskin, Joseph. Humor and Social Change in 20th Century America. Boston, MA: Boston Public Library, 1979.

Boskin, Joeph, ed. The Humor Prism in 20th-Century America. Detroit, MI: Wayne State University Press, 1997.

Doloff, Steven. “Racism and the Risks of Ethnic Humor” (Eschholz 273-275).

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slide30
References # 2:

Eschholz, Paul, Alfred Rosa, and Virginia Clark. “The Power of the Mass Media.” Language Awareness: Readings for College Writers, Ninth Edition. Boston, MA: Bedford/St. Martin’s, 2005, 349-420.

Fry, William F. Sweet Madness: A Study of Humor. Palo Alto, CA: Pacific Books, 1963.

Fry, William F., and Waleed Salameh, eds. Advances in Humor and Psychotherapy. Sarasota, FL: Professional Resource Press, 1993.

Fry, William F., and Waleed Salameh. Handbook of Humor and Psychotherapy. Sarasota, FL: Professional Resources Exchange, 1987.

McGhee, Paul E., and Jeffrey Goldstein, eds. Handbook of Humor Research. New York, NY: Springer-Verlag, 1983.

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slide31
References # 5:

Martin, Rod A. The Psychology of Humor: An Integrative Approach. London, England: Elsevier, 2007.

Nilsen, Alleen Pace. Living Language. Boston, MA: Allyn and Bacon, 1999.

Nilsen, Alleen Pace, and Don L. F. Encyclopedia of 20th Century American Humor. Phoenix, AZ: Oryx, 2000.

Nilsen, Alleen Pace, and Don L. F. Nilsen. “Humor.” The New Dictionary of the History of Ideas: Volume 3. Ed. Maryanne Cline Horowitz. New York, NY: Charles Scribner’s Sons, 2005, 1061-1064.

Nilsen, Don L. F. Humor Scholarship: A Research Bibliography. Westport, CT: Greenwood, 1993, 175-185.

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slide32
References # 6:

Nilsen, Don L. F. Humor in British Literature from the Middle Ages to the Restoration: A Reference Guide. Westport, CT: Greenwood, 1997.

Nilsen, Don L. F. "Humor in the Earliest English Literature." Kansas English 79-1 (1993): 36-47.

Nilsen, Don L. F. Humor in Eighteenth- and Nineteenth-Century British Literature: A Reference Guide. Westport, CT: Greenwood, 1998.

Nilsen, Don L. F., and Alleen Pace Nilsen. Language Play. Rowley, MA: Newbury House, 1978.

Raskin, Victor. Semantic Mechanisms of Humor. Dordrecht, Netherlands: D. Reidel, 1985.

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