The Evolution of Humour

Joke INTRO: An MIT linguistics professor was lecturing his class the other day. “In English,” he said, “a double negative forms a positive. However, in some languages, such as Russian, a double negative remains a negative. But there isn’t a single language, not one, in which a double positive can express a negative.”

A voice from the back of the room piped up, “Yeah, right.”

Well, since this blog is going to be about the deconstruction of humour, let’s start off like how almost every blog post starts off. With a cliche. The Oxford Definition of Humour. The Oxford Dictionary defines humour as ‘the quality of being amusing or comic, especially as expressed in literature or speech’

eg: his tales are full of humour.

 Now what makes a good blog post? I feel a great way to start a post is by opposing each and every thing possible in the definition. Unless, of course, you have some good content. Well, I am not sure of what content to put in when I am analyzing some thing as abstract as humour.

funny memes of owls


Should I be sarcastic? Should I be serious yet treat several grey areas facetiously? Should I be totally unreadable and use complex words in order to try inveigling potential readers into thinking that by virtue of being unreadable I am therefore, intellectual?  Eh, no it sounds like too much effort. Lets just get right down into it.

                    Contrary to popular belief, Man is not the only animal with a sense of humour. Dolphins, monkeys, dogs and amazingly, even rats have a sense of humour. There are studies which show that when tickled, rats tend to chirp and bond more with their human owners. The chirping is their equivalent to human giggling. When chimps play and chase each other, they pant in a way very much like human laughter. And dogs, well, dogs just seem happy all the time.

dogs who laugh

People, lots of people, have been trying to explain why we laugh since around 400 B.C. Plato, philosophical dude, thought we laugh when we can appreciate the ridiculousness of a situation. That is so generic that it is almost useless. If I had to choose someone to explain humour to me, I would choose one of the most quintessential people in this ‘field’. Rowan Atkinson of ‘Mr.Bean’ fame.

Rowan Atkinson

Now he was one of the writers of a show called ‘Funny Business‘. In a lecture, he says that the three things needed for an object/person to become funny is

1.By behaving in an unusual way. (Sheldon Cooper from the Big Bang Theory)

2.By being in an unusual place.(A guy enters a ladies washroom by mistake)

3. By being the wrong size. (Short People/being extra tall)

The big bang theory

The incongruity theory states that humor is perceived at the moment of realization of incongruity between a concept involved in a certain situation and the real objects thought to be in some relation to the concept.(yeah, got that off  Wikipedia, so sue me).   Maybe that’s true. But, hell, I find a lot of things funny which don’t fit into these categories. But coming back to why we find things funny. There are many theories to why this could be. One of them is the ‘Superiority Theory‘. It basically means that we laugh at other people’s misfortunes just so we can feel superior to them. This was from,again, Aristotle and Plato’s time.(Depressing people, right?).

Now here is a very interesting concept. ‘Sexual Selection‘. Proposed by this psychologist, Geoffrey Miller   the theory states that initially, during neanderthal times, humour wasn’t really considered as an important criteria for survival. But slowly over time, as we honed our language skills and social cultures, we evolved humour by sexual selection. Bit by bit,one of the reasons behind selecting a mate became concerned with said mate’s sense of humour. Why? Because having a sense of humour is usually associated with intelligence.

cavemen evolving into computer geek

This is astounding. If we can assume that something as general as humour was an evolved reaction, could it be that people earlier had no sense of humour? No laughing cavemen? Could it mean that other forms like condescension, sarcasm or even comebacks were just evolved and we had nothing before that?

Ah well, who cares? There’s this new cat video on Youtube I have to check out….(I’m kidding. I hate cats. Smug bastards)



Frustrated individual in a world with lots and lots of other similarly frustrated individuals.

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Posted in Deconstructed
One comment on “The Evolution of Humour
  1. Avik Niyogi says:

    cat video.. LOLzzz

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