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Interview With Zach Weiner
Excerpt from interview:
Please do not ever tell that joke again. If not for me, for the children.
I've learned that humor is relative to belief. There is no absolute funny, because there is no single belief shared by all. The most commonly held belief is probably that living and avoiding dangerous obstacles is good, which is why people (especially children) respond so well to physical humor. I think a lot of great jokes slip under the radar simply because of perspective issues.
Because my beliefs are so different than most people, jokes that I find hilarious tend to send most people in search of the nearest cliff to jump off of. I agree that inside jokes and puns are usually lame, but my grandma cracks up at puns and one of my favorite webcomics (and possibly the most popular webcomic on the Internet), xkcd, is half inside jokes. Do you really believe there's an "actual funny" or is it all random subjective contextual madness?
You're correct to a degree, but I don't think you're entirely right. The logical extension of your view would be that you could culturally condition an individual to find anything funny if you got them early enough. However, we can even today look at very old jokes, or jokes from different cultures (say, Japanese Rakugo) and still find the humor. Whether we laugh out loud may be culturally dependent, but we still see the same joke structure.
From a more scientific perspective, laugh-like behavior has been observed in a number of mammals under certain conditions that seem to relate to the passing away of perceived danger. So, there may in fact be a more innate quality to humor.
Lastly, I think we can probably pick out a general case that describes all or most humor, and it is this: humor nearly always takes the form of something reasonable paired with something unreasonable. Pretty much any joke, from longform story jokes, to cheesy puns follows this formula. Present the audience with something sensible that turns out to be silly. Why did the chicken cross the road (reasonable question) To get to the other side (absurd response). I think you could argue parody is basically the synthesis of sensible and absurd. If I do a President Bush impression, I'm combining a real person with an absurd stereotype. If it's pure absurd or pure reality, it's not funny.
So, yes, humor of course has a cultural component. But, I think you'd be wrong to take a postmodernist approach to it. Humor is a real thing that has at least a few non-contextual real qualities.
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