What Makes Funny Funny

Topics: Comedy, Ancient Greek comedy, Aristophanes Pages: 7 (2123 words) Published: May 10, 2012
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"Funny Stories and Plays: What Makes Them Funny?"
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By: David Zakheim
12/21/2011
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David Zakheim

Funny Stories and Plays: What Makes Them Funny?

“Analyzing humor is like dissecting a frog. Few people are interested and the frog dies of it” (White). One shouldn’t question comedy and what is funny to people. As soon as that happens all of the funniness disappears. There is no easy answer to why people laugh at things, and why things are funny. Something is funny because it captures a moment whether it’s expected or unexpected, familiar or not.

There are four theories as to what humor is and what makes people laugh. The first theory is the “incongruity theory”. From this theory we learn that the explanation for finding things funny comes from the idea that people laugh when they are surprised. The second theory of humor includes the "superiority theory," which claims people laugh in the face of other people's misfortune, mistakes, or even stupidity. Examples of this theory would be “blonde jokes” and modern day prank shows like “Jackass”. The third theory of humor is called the “relief theory”, which asserts that "funny' comes from fear. One study purposely startled test subjects with a convincing fake rat, ending with a lot of relieved laughter. Finally, a recent theory called the "benign violation theory" hypothesizes that people laugh when they are harmlessly violated. This could mean anything from tickling, which most people hate but still laugh at, to vulgar stereotype-based humor.

Comedy origins began in Ancient Greece and were one of the final three principal dramatic forms of classic Greek theater the others tragedy and satyr plays. “Comedy first took shape in Megaris and Sicyon, whose people were noted for their coarse humor and sense of the ludicrous, while Susarion, the earliest comic poet, was a native of a Megarian town. Comedy arose from the Phallic processions of the Greeks, as did tragedy from the dithyramb” (Bates). During ancient Greek times it was customary that after an evening banquet, young men would roam around the streets with torches in their hands, headed by a lyre or flute-player. Such a band of revellers was called a comus, and a member of the band a comoedus or comus-singer, the song itself being termed a comoedia, or comedy, just as a song of satyrs was named a tragoedia, or tragedy. The greatest comedian of this time and perhaps of all ages was Aristophanes. “It was under the mighty genius of Aristophanes that the old Attic comedy received its fullest development. Dignified by the acquisition of a chorus of masked actors, of scenery and machinery, and by a corresponding literary elaboration and elegance of style, comedy nevertheless remained true both to its origin and to the purposes of its introduction into the free imperial city” (Bates). Starting from 425BCE, Aristophanes wrote forty comedies, eleven of which are still being performed today. Aristophanes developed his type of comedy from the earlier satyr plays which were shameless and out of control. Comedy Theater was born through “tragedy” theater. During festivals there would be five “tragedy” plays in a row and to finish off the day on a good note the last play would be of comedy. Comedy was also first used through politics. Both candidates would make fun of one and other in front of a large audience. As years progress comedy is defined as the basic name for all plays or theater which has a tendency to make people laugh. “Though its development was mainly due to the political and social conditions of Athens, it finally held up the mirror to all that was characteristic of Athenian life” (Bates). Comedy has been arranged in three divisions, the old, the middle, and the new.

Old Comedy otherwise known as Aristophanic comedy is the first chapter of ancient Greek comedy educated by the works of Aristophanes. The plays were first performed in Athens for the religious...
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