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What is Humour?
By:Ganeshan Ramachandran

WE ALL laugh when we are amused or tickled. The capacity to smile and laugh is hardwired in us. A person who doesn't smile or laugh had better consult his or her doctor. Now the question is what makes us laugh? I mean what is the nature of that cognitive experience that draws a smile on our face or drives us to a burst of uproarious laughter? It is irony, inconsistency and the absurd in a harmless way around us that makes us laugh. Not able to understand?

Let me illustrate:

Why did Brooke Shields refuse to marry James Bond?

She didn't want to be called Mrs Brooke Bond!

You see, the question takes you on a serious mode but tickles your sense of humour with an absurd answer.

We laugh when we find others in an embarrassing situation. That is what all slapstick comedy is about. Most comedians put themselves in such situations to make others laugh. Rowan Atkinson -- yeah, Mr Bean, you are right-says in his lecture in the documentary Funny Business that a person can be funny by behaving in an unusual way, by being in an unusual place or by being the wrong size. A short Major leading a company of tall soldiers can indeed present a funny spectacle.

Look at the comedians. Most of them look unusual-tall or short, skinny or fat, face with asymmetrical features. If they are regular, they adopt unusual body postures or gait. Remember Charlie Chaplin?

So the unusual, the weird, the unexpected, the embarrassment of others-all these go to make one laugh. The unexpected can come in unexpected garb, in unexpected situations and in unexpected ways.

Here's a piece of dialogue from a movie that made me laugh--yes, from the 1976 movie The Outlaw Josey Wales: Senator, don't piss down on my back and say it's raining.

Look at this one that is coming and see how the punch line hits you to see the matter in a different way:

A notorious whore throws a challenge to the presidents of three countries: If you can gratify me, you are the president of the world. The challenge is accepted by the president of Russia, the president of the US and the President of India.

The President of Russia goes in, but returns within a minute saying 'impossible'.

The President of the US goes in, but comes back crying 'difficult'.

The Indian premier goes in but the whore rushes out crying out "My God!"

The other two ask the Indian: What did you do?

Use your head! Replies the Indian president.

Next time when you laugh, ask yourself what made you laugh. Do that after you have laughed.

Ganeshan Ramachandran

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