the Subtle sense of humor

Many who have met me have supposed that I lack a sense of humor.
Indeed the usual ‘humorous’ fare tends to do little for me, but my lifelong critics have failed to reallize that I enjoy another sort of humor.

I’ll sometimes pretend to laugh for the sake of sociability when someone tells a joke in a group situation.

I have no interest at all in sitcoms.  They are after all exaggerated portrayals of a social life I’ve never really been a part of.  I find that style of acting with the nasal speaking voice, overdone hand gestures, and laugh track in the background to be particularly obnoxious.

Light comedy films are entertaining on a basic level, but tend to leave the mind almost as soon as they are finished.  Such films tend to be formulaic.  I could be amused by one Sandler movie, but just wouldn’t have any need to see more.

Standup comedy usually doesn’t accomplish much for me.   The person up on stage usually identifies with some ethnic group or category(i.e. rednecks) and uses his membership of said group to lampoon it endlessly.  I shake my head as entire careers are built on mining out a single simple premise to exhaustion.

What then have I found to be truly humorous for myself and other introverted personalities I have come into contact with?
In short, humor that isn’t spoonfed.  Jokes that exist in the subtext rather than on the surface.  Irony and satire as opposed to slapstick.

I’ve sat taciturn through lots of ‘funny’ shows yet I’ve burst out into laughter while reading Jonathan Swift’s A Modest Proposal.
I’ve been completely unmoved at jokes in social situations yet I still grin at the thought of a character in Dr. Strangelove saying “You’ll have to answer to the Coca-Cola company” with an intensely straight face.   There is nothing particularly funny about the line itself, but the context is everything:
There is a man who is desperately trying to make a phone call that could save the world from nuclear destruction.   He asks a soldier to break into a vending machine to get the change he needs to make the call.  The soldier, hilariously unclear on the concept utters the line.
In this sort of situation, one doesn’t sit passively waiting for a punchline but must actively read meaning into the content.   There is no one telling you when a joke is told or when to laugh.  The jokes are not separate from, but rather embedded seamlessly in the content itself.

The defining trait of Loud humor is that you are laughing principally because everyone else is laughing.   Humor is before all else a social tool used to promote group bonding.
Consider standup comedy.  If enough people laugh at a joke, everyone laughs.  Anyone who chose not to laugh would end up looking very awkward in a public place.  Thus, standup is as much about reinforcing the audience’s sense of social belonging as it is about enjoying any actual humor.
Sitcoms typically have a laugh track that tells you exactly what moments you should find humorous.  It even tells you by means of intensity just how humorous you should find them.  Once again, it is a means viewers can bring their personal sense of humor into congruency with that which is promoted as being Correct for the whole.  Since the humor itself is just an incidental packaging for a social experience, it leaves the mind as soon as one leaves.

The defining trait of Subtle humor is implicit personal respect for the audience.  It is up to each individual to decide for themselves what is funny according to their personal taste.  The medium rarely involves group situations and all the pressure that comes with them.  The humor is not clearly demarcated in a series of structured jokes, but must be discovered by each individual.  Oftentimes, one does not find certain things humorous until reflecting about them afterwards.  One reflects on such humor because it is usually a means of illuminating an underlying point and inviting serious thought about human nature.

When exposed to group humor, one who doesn’t quite belong must always be under pressure to dissimulate and hide behind a smile.  Not only is there nothing to laugh at, it is just another potential source of social censure in one’s life.
Subtle humor is more than just funny, it is an escape from the typical expectations.  It makes no judgments of its audience.  It is courteous invitation while its Loud counterpart is forced attendance.

Zygmunt blogs at Kingdom of Introversion (and elsewhere).

the Subtle sense of humor appears here by permission.

[image via Flickr/Creative Commons]

on 05/30/11 in Art/Play/Myth, featured | No Comments | Read More

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