Like the dark spots on the sun hidden by its brilliance, every laugh and every smile has hidden under it a sinister ness, sadness. The cause of every joke can be traced back to a reason, a cause.
When was the last time you laughed? I am sure it was not very long ago. When was the last time you made someone laugh? That too I’m sure was in the near past. Now try and remember the joke, or the fact. It was about someone you know wasn’t it?
Jokes are cracked about people whom we feel we are superior to. Or even about those whom we cannot stand…because they are superior. It is human nature to be uncomfortable if we know that someone is better than us. We cannot stand the embarrassment of being beaten in anything. This is the main reason that we admire winners. They are the ones who can prove themselves better than others. But let us look deep into our hearts. It is not all admiration there. We would like to be them. We would like to be the better ones and if the winner is a winner in something that we ourselves are good at, don’t we feel that slight twinge of jealousy or even of contempt “I could have easily done that if I would have paid attention to the field as much as he has”. This feeling so distinctly mirrors us. We are guilty of feeling an inferiority complex and so we have to prove to ourselves how good we are. This is satisfied by jokes. They make us feel so much better. They are the tonics which tell us-you are the better one. There is always someone who is not as good as you.
Laughter is the method by which we claim our superiority. The more we laugh the more is our ego boosted and the happier we feel. This topic can be discussed ad infinitum but as I go along I shall try and strengthen my point with a few examples.
Let us meet Sam. Why is he so popular? He has a great gift…the gift of enactment. He can impersonate anyone he knows. Every social gathering he is asked to impersonate someone. And let us guess whom he is asked to impersonate. The boy who is the brightest in the class, the teacher who is brilliant, the boy who has a speech defect, the girl who did something embarrassing in front of many people. Does there not seem a common thread in all the requests?
The phrase “made a fool of her/himself” so aptly describes the mentality of most of us. We do not like anyone to be better than us. We feel so safe and secure when we can prove ourselves to be superior to others. It may be because we want to prove ourselves to be the “fittest”. After all, the fittest are the ones who survive. In an attempt to gain superiority, we try to make the other person feel inferior and what else does a practical joke do?
The standard practices of ambushing a person about to turn around a corner, of asking someone guess whom you are when you cover their eyes from behind are all eventually indirect means of showing your supremacy. You laugh at the person when he jumps at your sight and call him ‘jumpy’. You feel wonderful when that person is unable to recognize you as then you have the momentary feeling of having a piece of information unknown to him. But then again, if that person is unable to recognize you, you do feel a slight feeling of sadness at the thought that you are not identifiable so easily. After all that is what our ego demands. We want to be known to all and if not all, then at least people we know. We want to be individuals.
The famous “blonde jokes” are very simple and obvious ways of making ourselves feel better. We are talking about a person who is incapable of doing what we can do. She is incapable of thinking of using her “common sense”. These jokes are made to satisfy the hunger of people to feel superior and what better way to make them popular than to make the incidents so simple and everyday that every living person can do them. Take the following for example:
A blonde went to a hairdresser for a haircut. She was wearing headphones which she did not remove even on repeated requests by the hairdresser. “I have been told to wear them always and also that I will die if I do remove them”. After much difficulty the hairdresser realizes that she cannot cut her clients hair unless the blonde removes the headphones. At last the blonde gets persuaded. After the hairdresser finishes her job she notices that the blonde is actually dead. Curiosity overcoming her, she picks up the headphones and wears them. This is what she hears: “breathe in, breathe out; breathe in, breathe out...”
Such a joke highlights the sentiments of all people. They laugh on hearing the joke. “The blonde is so stupid” they say. But then again, think of it. How can a person be given commands on breathing? It is something we all can do. However, this impossibility is not realized by any of us and we feel better because somewhere in the world (even if it is the world of imagination) there is a person who cannot do this basic function without help.
This is further illustrated by the following obvious joke:
Do you know how you can tell the really stupid guy at the airport? He's the one throwing bread to the planes.
Here the joke itself states that the man is stupid. We feel wonderful because stupidity here is defined as something which any normal person won’t be found doing.
Let us now look at the other subtle but undeniable point in the blonde joke.
During the course of events the person on whom this joke is based on dies. Now none of us seem to notice this. Is it because we think that it is an imaginary story or is it really because in the subconscious we think that a person with such low IQ should not live?
How common are the jokes on drunks! What are they but people who lose control over themselves. And why does this make us laugh? This is again because we feel wonderful to know that “here is someone who cannot keep control. I can.”- An undeniable feeling of superiority.
A guy's on the electric chair. The warden's just about to pull the switch when the guy gets the hiccups. The warden says, "Do you have any last requests?" The guy says, "(hic) Yeah... (hic) could you please do (hic) could you please do something to scare me?"
Here again we come across death and stupidity. This person is about to die and we are laughing at him. Now here of course the relation to death is a different one. This is our way to jest about something that we are all afraid of-Death.
Shall I say that herein comes our feeling of inferiority? This person is going to die but that does not scare him. He wants to ward off hiccups by being “scared” by something else… a surprise. The joke is not on the man. The joke is on Death. Our feeling that Death is invincible and sudden. Our feeling that Death is unavoidable and inevitable. By laughing at such a joke we are laughing at our own deaths. We are saying “look! It is not Death that he is thinking of, but of dyeing with hiccups that worries him”
A guy is going on an ocean cruise, and he tells his doctor that he's worried about getting seasick. The doctor says, "Just eat two pounds of stewed tomatoes before you leave the dock." The guy says, "Will that keep me from getting sick, Doc?" The doctor says, "No, but it'll look real pretty in the water."
This joke falls under another classic type. Here the joke is a joke because it mirrors our feelings which are suppressed by society. In this joke the doctor says what any other doctor in real life won’t say. He is sarcastic and least bothered about the patient. This is what we feel in real life too. Who in this fast paced world is bothered about others? Haven’t you heard?
‘If we are here to help others… what are others here for?”
Two guys are out hiking. All of a sudden, a bear starts chasing them. They climb a tree, but the bear starts climbing up the tree after them. The first guy gets his sneakers out of his knapsack and starts putting them on. The second guy says, "What are you doing? He says, "I figure when the bear gets close to us, we'll jump down and make a run for it." The second guy says, "Are you crazy? You can't outrun a bear." The first guy says, "I don't have to outrun the bear... I only have to outrun you"
Here surfaces the innate selfishness of every one. We can do anything to be better than others, to survive. To be the one chosen over another. Again, here we are laughing at the selfish person, at his selfishness a feeling which is inbuilt in all of us and a feeling that we all know we share. This feeling is not socially acceptable. For isn’t it said
“God helps those who help themselves”?
Jimmy and Kathy are newlyweds in the honeymoon suite on their wedding night and Kathy's in the bathroom. As Jimmy's getting undressed he says to himself, "How am I going to tell her? How am I going to tell my new wife that I have the world's smelliest feet?" Then he throws his socks under the bed. Kathy walks out of the bathroom, and, too chicken to face her, Jimmy runs past her and he goes into the bathroom. Kathy sits on the edge of the bed and says to herself, how am I going to tell him? How am I going to tell my new husband that I have the world's worst breath? I've got to tell him." Just then Jimmy walks out of the bathroom. Kathy runs up to him, gives him a huge wet kiss, pulls back and says, "Honey, I've got to tell you something." Jimmy says, "Yeah, I know. You just ate my socks."
In the joke above we see the joke helping two people much in love hide the fact about themselves which are considered “social catastrophes” which can result in a rejection by their loved ones. The laughter here is not because we are laughing at someone but because these “embarrassing” facts about them are resolved and revealed without any disastrous effect. It is the laughter of relief.
I could go on and on but then I guess you can understand what I am driving at. Laughter is something we survive on but how often is it that we see it in its actual form? How often is it that we realize that laughing is fulfilling such deep desires or ours? It is said that ‘laughter is the best medicine’, laughter is definitely the best medicine. It reveals our true feelings and satisfies our hidden needs.
Modern research proves that laughter is dependent on the person. A joke for one person may not be funny for another. This is said to so be because of our personalities. A deeper probe can help us come up with an answer. The joke is funny to a person who is satisfying our needs and not funny to one who has no need to feel superior in that field. He is comfortable and secure. He is not assailed by doubts about himself. It is the person who is laughing that is insecure and in constant need of assurance that he is the better one.
Every joke, every laugh can be identified and linked to this. All that glitters is not gold. Behind the smiling faces lies a dark and gloomy heart. Behind the laughter lies a cry for security.
This is the dark side of laughter. This is the sinister side of jokes. And then we say “Isn’t laughter wonderful?”
Written by D**** C***** an MBA aspirant in International Management Institute and a Botany graduate trying to understand the reason behind leg pulling.