When I was younger the following song that my mother created during bath time was the funniest thing I had ever heard; “ I see your hiney all bright and shiny, you better hide it…before I BITE IT!” Shortly thereafter I realized that my family harped on a sort of familial insulting humor, joking about my Grandmother’s eggplant Parmesan, and my Uncle Tony’s lethal martinis. After reading these essays something occurred to me; one’s personal humor is not based solely on what he or she thinks is funny but rather it is based on how your immediate kinship circle at the time gages humor.
We all probably realize that the fart jokes in 5th grade were no longer funny when “yo momma” jokes appeared in the 8th grade, and we were not surprised to see those disappear when sarcasm took over in high school and college. The development of our “funny bones” as children does invoke the use of jokes as rites of passage. Think of the first time you heard a knock-knock joke, and then how proud you were the first time you told it on your own. Our cultural upbringing, our social circles, and time are 3 major factors that affect our funny bone and attest why we switch up Spongebob Squarepants for Sex and the City.
In Turner’s essay, “Images of Anti-Temporality: An Essay in the Anthropology of Experience” he does not directly analyze humor or laughter, but instead provides a basis for how we experience life. He claims that life is punctuated by “social dramas”, or rather “tensional irruptions.” What is a joke, if it is not a dramatic social exchange or explosion that releases or causes tension?
Turner drives home the point that no matter how far detached we are from the bonds we have formed with others throughout our lives, those relationships are responsible for how we deal with our emotions. He writes, “Do we not, even freed from the constraints of kinship…feel deeply…or aggressively committed to some group, whose values and norms frame our own sense of self, our feeling of identity?” (Turner)
This is incredibly similar to what Millman puts forth in Last Places. He says that we “are what [we] inhabit.” Wherever we are at in our lives is responsible for who we are in that moment. For example, in my family I’m considered the “witty” child, my sister the “outrageous” child, and my brother the “silly” child. My humor within my family is based on how we interact with each other.
At Loyola my friends would most likely categorize my humor as being outrageous and extreme, this is only because within our kinship circle as “jokers” we all take on different roles. In Douglas’ essay “The Joke” he describes the role of the joker as “a mundane and borderline type, he is one of those people who pass beyond the bounds of reason and society and give glimpses of truth which escapes through the mesh of structured concepts.” (Douglas)
This role of the joker is somewhat fairly obvious and we have seen this type of character in our real life experiences as well as throughout literature. Consider this, Shakespeare’s fool is the only character in all of his plays that is allowed to speak truth to nature and most, if not all, end up alive in the end. Joking is a safe haven for those who wish to speak their mind, and insult without injuring. Usually this type of joke does not provoke laughter. This is okay, according to Douglas, who believes that the test of a joke is not whether or not it can provoke laughter. A joke can be appreciated on many levels other than our physiological instinct to laugh.
As much as we try to individualize our humor and stand out, when it comes down to it the reasons we are funny are not that unique to a single person. This is not a negative analysis of humor, if anything it’s positive, it shows the growth and expansion of humor and the appreciation of our relationships with others.