Tuesday, January 30, 2007


Today I started to think about the link between humor and intelligence. Humor is the mind's response to what is out of place and absurd. A monkey in it's native habitat is not funny, but a monkey with a cigar on a unicycle, which is absurd, can possibly fall under funny. Yet, for the monkey on the unicycle to be funny, the viewer has to know something basic about monkeys: they do not ride unicycle. Or smoke cigars. No great leap of intelligence is required, but it is there. If the viewer had no knowledge of monkeys, where they came from, where they live, what they do naturally, a monkey on a unicycle is just an animal on a unicycle. Which can funny to someone simply if they know animals should not be on unicycles. Humor works on so many levels, and sometimes not at all (for some, monkey on unicycle (MOU) is just down right cruel).

Another component of humor though pops up when I speak about cruelty: many people have often found themselves sniggering at the misfortunes of others (deserved or undeserved). Where does that come from? The cruelty aspect of humor stretches the absurd argument a bit, but does fall perfectly under the 'out place' theory. When a tiny man stands up to the giant bully, or the person who was just rude to someone trips and falls flat on their face, people will laugh. I think people laugh because something is out place in those scenarios. The tiny are supposed to be intimidated by the large, and rude people are supposed to have an upper hand on you in the moment. Instead, the weak stand up to the strong and someone who thinks they gotten the better of you is laid low.

The natural response?

Ha! Ha! Ha!

Yet, does any of the above require a great deal of intelligence, or just common sense? In fact, larger amounts of intelligence could render a good deal of what I have mentioned unfunny. Perhaps being intelligent allows instead for different shades of humor. I could never laugh at a math joke because a lot math eludes me: I simply could not tell when something is absurd, or out of place, in math, to laugh at a mathematics joke. I have also met plenty of people who I can definitely say are intelligent, but are absolutely unfunny, and worse, can not take or understand a great deal of humor ("That's stupid." is there response to a lot things) to make me believe that intelligence is directly linked to humor.

People have more humor than other people. They laugh at more things, easier than others. I have met these people in all walks of life, high and low, smart and dumb, educated and ignorant. While intelligence allows a person to perceive more shades of absurdity, there is no guarantee that the viewer will laugh at these absurdities. What then does? I would like to think it is wisdom.

Only wisdom can make people aware of life's absurdities, its inconsistencies and hypocrisies, the unjust nature of the universe, and give them the right tool to handle it all. A good laugh. Without humor, all the pains and sufferings in life would be really intolerable. Yet, without wisdom, how could we tell the difference between those problems we can do something about, and what we can only laugh or cry about? Also, only the wise are actually capable of facing life's realities with some levity, because only the wise really get the point (ie. there is no point, your born, you live, you die. *poof* all your life's problems solved). Once you accept 'the point', life's devastation's can be born with a great deal of levity (because, really, what does your life amount to in the grand scheme of things?) Fundamentally, wisdom keeps us from taking ourselves too seriously. And that virtue, more than any intelligence quotient, is what really makes someone actually funny.

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