Sunday, February 08, 2009

Where Does Humor Come From?

Ever have it happen where you're watching a movie, either in a theater or at home, laughing your butt off and the person sitting next to you never cracks a smile? Unfortunately, it happens to me all the time.

So why is humor so personal? What makes some of us funny, some of us seeing humor all over the place, and some of us stone-cold sober? Is it genetic or learned?

I'm going to guess that the differences between the sexes, inherent or otherwise, plays a role. My dh as well as a lot of other guys think Caddy Shack, Superbad, and the Ace Ventura movies are hilarious. I think they're silly and sophomoric. While I thought There's Something About Mary was funny, I've never seen him laugh as hard as the first time we watched that movie. He almost couldn't breathe at one point.

But there's got to be more to it than gender. How about family history?

My dad comes from a family of ten and not a one of them are particularly funny. All stoic German Catholics for the most part. One of his sisters married a very funny guy, and it just so happens that every single one of my cousins from that family is hilarious. They see humor in everything. I'm smiling and laughing constantly when I'm around them.

Genetic? Or what they learned from their dad?

What about our birth order, whether or not we were shy as kids or bullied? Does that influence or sense of humor? Our size, shape, hair color? Life experiences?

So what do you think is the biggest influence in the development of our sense of humor? Do you think it's genetic or is it learned?

Have and awesome day!
Helen

19 comments:

Keri Ford said...

I think it can be something genetic. Anytime my husband does something like step on a toy, he'll stumble a bit. It makes me giggle. I don't know why, but it does. Course, I'll have tears on my cheeks from laughing at Ace Ventura. Son picked up this trait of laughing at Hubs.

Son is learning what ouch means but even before that, anytime Hubs would trip or stump his toe, Son is the first one to be rolling with laughter in the room and I'll laughing right along with him.

Kylie said...

I think humor is genetic. Some of my brothers and sisters got a sense of humor and some didn't. The ones that didn't came by it naturally, because my dad is the stoic German you were talking about. I'm constantly cracking jokes, many of which I have to explain to him, LOL. He *gets* a play on words, satire, etc. but just isn't particularly funny himself. A totally bust the gut laugh for him is 'heh heh.' That's it!

Every year he jots down a few notes about the doings of our family then hands them to me to write his Christmas letter. My husband and I thought it would be hilarious to write one copy of the letter as a joke and have the whole thing be about me. We laid it on so thick it even made me sick! All about me and my kids and their accomplishments. Then in the last line I included a throwaway line about the rest of my five siblings, that they're still around, too.

So I'm sitting there while he's reading it, trying to keep from laughing. His brow sort of furrowed and at the end he said mildly, 'you didn't say much about your brothers and sisters. Maybe we need a second page.' I was practically rolling on the floor. Eventually he got that it was a joke and then he appreciated the humor enough to keep a copy around to show people. But at the time...he didnt get it at all!

I was attracted to my dh for his sense of humor. If you're going to spend a life time with someone, you have to be able to laugh, right?

amy*skf said...

My natural expression is a smile. So I find humour in anything, I try not to find it at other's expense though.

Kylie, I couldn't agree more--my husband is one of the funniest people I know--every day he makes me laugh...

My Dad was Irish and Norwegian--he was the smart and witty--the man could deliver a dead-pan line and leave you clutching your stomach for air.

I think we're naturally attracted to people who share our sense of humour--and I mean friends as well as significant others.

Helen Brenna said...

Keri, you like the Ace Venture movies? See, there you go, what do I know?

Kylie, my dad is exactly the same way. My mom is even constantly having to explain funny bday cards to him.

Amy, do you think the Irish/Norwegian background impacted your dad's sense of humor? Isn't the stereotypical Norwegian supposed to be fairly quiet?

Sarah Grimm said...

I think humor is both genetic and in some ways learned.

Why do I believe it is also learned? Well, when one parent finds humor in most things (that would be me) then the children can learn to see it, too. My youngest will actually ask "Why do you think that's funny?" and I explain to him what is humorous about it for me. The older he gets, the more humor he sees in the world. Which is a wonderful thing, as he's always been a bit too serious.

Betina Krahn said...

I agree that there seems to be something genetic in receptivity to humor-- probably hs to do with pattern recognition software in our brains. Anything out of the pattern is curious, interesting, and if odd enough, funny.

I honestly think birth order and role in the family have something to do with it. Younger kids often have to please others-- including making others laugh. They often become class clowns.

As to finding things funny, I think lots of that is learned. If people around you laugh, you learn to laugh too. If we see people finding humor in things or events, we learn to find it, too.

There is brain research that says we humans have a "mirroring neuron" in our brains that makes us copy behavior/feelings that we see. (Yawning when we see someone else yawn.) (Crying when we see others crying or in pain or distress.) It's responsible for empathy in us-- for allowing us to feel what others are feeling. My guess is, it must also allow us to laugh and find humor in things that others find funny.

You laugh, your kids will laugh, too.
Take a lesson!

catslady said...

It probably is both but genetics must play a part. My older sister has NO, NONE, NADA when it comes to a sense of humor. My mother's mother was the jokester in our family and pretty much was the only one. I take after her :)

Helen Brenna said...

Maybe having a sense of humor and being able to appreciate humor is different than using it? As in being the class clown?

Christie Ridgway said...

I think a lot of it is learned. You learn to look at life in a certain way from your family. My mom and her sister really influenced my sense of humor and storytelling abilities. My aunt can make me laugh until I cry telling me of the time she fell at night and couldn't get back up in the bathroom. My uncle couldn't hear her call out because he takes out his hearing aids at night.

We were taught as kids to not take ourselves too seriously and to find something funny when we can.

However, I do find all those guy movies beyond dumb. I live with all guys and they just shake their heads at me. (As I do at them!)

Cindy Gerard said...

I don't have an answer. I love to laugh but I grew up in a family where, while it was loving and warm, no one was particularly funny. To this day, i have to tell my sister jokes twice before she gets them and even then i wonder. My husband is the biggest tease in the universe and I think I've picked up much of my humor from him. I do love to laugh and he can usually make me chuckle.

Keri Ford said...

Yep, Helen. Give me an Ave Ventura movie (or Robin Hood Men in Tights-I’m chuckling just thinking about them), and I'm on the couch ready to laugh. Hubs doesn't like them at all, but he'll watch them just to watch me laugh. He finds that funny.

My grandpa LOVES the comics and so do I. My mom, grandma, and aunt (mom's sister) will barely smile at Beetle Bailey while grandpa and I will laugh out loud. Could be learned behavior, I don't know. I'm close to grandpa. I asked him to walk me down the aisle.

Debra Dixon said...

Hmmm...men are visual so I think that's one of the reasons they laugh so hard at the "guy comedies" because those use a lot of visual humor. I never did "get" the Stooges. For that matter, I never got "I LOVE LUCY."

Mostly because I thought she was stupid and should have known things wouldn't go well. LOL! I'd roll my eyes. They were in reruns and I was very young so it may have been that I just wasn't old enough and in the wrong generation to appreciate her.

Lately we've been working our way through the 2.5 Men series. What I've noticed is that we frequently laugh out loud at the same things, but just as often, we laugh at *different* things. I find that very interesting when I'm smiling but he's laughing out loud. Or I'll laugh several seconds before he does.

My personal view on humor is that it's available on a sliding scale from hammer-over-the-head to laser-guided-scalpel varieties. And I think we learn humor in that order as we evolve into people.

I'm not quite sure why some of us hate the humor that embarrasses others while people, like my husband and son, think the morning radio shows are funny. You know the kind I'm talking about. The kind where they call some poor guy and try and collect on a bill he's just spent 3 months straightening out so that he doesn't owe it? Then they broadcast his meltdown over the airwaves.

Helen Brenna said...

Christie, I do think we absolutely develop the ability to laugh at ourselves. Seeing the funny side of sad things is an amazing ability - like your aunt.

Cindy - no one was particularly funny in my family either - unless you count practical jokes - my bros were always good for those!

Keri - I've never thought the comics were very funny!

Deb - I think you nailed it with the visual humor thing. Some people are just more visual.

Oh, and I hate that radio show, practical joke stuff. Not, not, not funny at all to me.

amy*skf said...

Oh Debra--I hate that kind of humor, in fact I even hate to call it humor. It makes me want to crawl out of my skin.

Helen, I never knew my dad's parents, except for what my mom tells me, I think his dad may have been a prankster, but my dad still had the same best friend when he died (at 82, 11 years ago)as when he was in journalism school at the U, and I think the two of them learned from each other.

Estella said...

It is probably a bit of both.

Kathleen Eagle said...

Laughing when the guy next to me isn't happens to me often. Or the other way around.

I remember seeing Steve Martin's "Dead Men Don't Wear Plaid" in ND or SD (not sure which--long time ago) and being the only one in the theater laughing. Hilariously. Much to dh's amazement. (I like to see the good ones in the theater because I can laugh big or bawl my head off. It's dark.)

I think gender and culture are key. When Clyde gets on the phone with boyhood friends or family, it's usually a laugh fest.

M. said...

I'd love the figure out the answer to this question, since I try to write comedy.

My sons have figured out by now that if they're in trouble, if they succeed in making me laugh they'll be looking at much milder (or no) disciplinary measures. Humor - the ultimate tension disspeller.

Helen Brenna said...

Kathy! You liked Dead Men Don't Wear Plaid? Okay, so mood must figure into this whole equation, right?

M - my son has that figured out, too, and I'm truly happy about that. He can diffuse almost any situation.

Kathleen Eagle said...

Helen, it's been years since I saw DMDWP, so I had to look it up. 1982. And I saw it in the theater. But, yes, I laughed my head off. Carl Reiner at the helm, Steve Martin, the whole film noir send-up--and this was before Garrison Keillor's Guy Noir. Nobody else was laughing, and Clyde was ready to crawl under the chair.