I greatly enjoyed “Anatomy of the funny bone” (feature, Jan. 19); it reminded me fondly of my senior thesis, which analyzed the nature and uses of humor in the works of satirist Jonathan Swift and humorist Mark Twain.
Despite the value in the “Benign Violation Theory” of humor, I feel that it only tangentially recognizes the core truth: that every joke exposes something about life — usually, about human behavior — that isn’t “right.” The chaos, unfairness, unpredictability, etc., of events and the pretensions, hypocrisies, shortcomings, etc., of humans are the stuff of which all jokes are made — from slapstick to the most subtle, arcane anecdote. BVT notes this, but goes on to say that to be funny, the situation also must seem to be benign: Laughter signals that “this could be bad, but it’s not . ... [it’s] actually OK or acceptable ... .”
In fact, as illustrated by “gallows humor,” the situation may be truly atrocious, and (therefore) also especially funny. BVT actually diminishes the gravity of the role of humor in human life by failing to recognize this.
The purpose of humor is to signal that we are not defeated or incapacitated by the things that beset us in our lives. The ugliest, most affecting problems are the ones that most desperately need to be made fun of, difficult though that may be.
There’s at least one downside to all of this. “No jokes will ever be told in heaven, because in heaven, everything works the way it ought to” (I wish I could remember who said that).