2nd Global Conference Humour An Inclusive Interdisciplinary Conference
Humour seems to be an essential feature of human life – ‘the ability to be amused by things, the way in which people see that some things are amusing, or the quality of being amusing’ (Merriam-Webster). It is not just about jokes but a way of looking at the world. Individually, it is beneficial to health, relieving negative energy and invigorating the mind and the body. Socially, it is an indicator of frankness and sociability. Economically, it generates communication, improves teamwork and increases efficiency. Politically, it is an important form of protest and disobedience. Historically, it has proven to be a powerful weapon in times of crisis. And it can be wielded negatively, as a weapon or entrée into dark social arenas such as racism or hatred.
Possibly the most pervasive and accessible form of humour is comedy. In the 21st century the entertainment industry has expanded significantly in what some see as the pre-planned ‘professionalisation’ of humour. Television shows explore situation comedy, stand up comedians attract huge numbers to live shows. Humour is carefully channelled, calculated, designed to evoke or provoke laughter and in the process reveals important differences between the two. The ability to provoke laughter, provide amusement or find humour in situations is common across cultures and societies, even though humour works in different ways and on different levels: age, education, gender, ethnicity, space and place all play a part in the things people find funny.
Although humour appears in many forms and styles, it is based on the element of surprise intended to produce a reaction. It can send a message, reveal something new about an otherwise unquestioned event or situation, or about ourselves and our worldview. Through surprise and contradiction, humour can shift the ordinary into the extraordinary, break taboos, transgress boundaries, or call into question our otherwise steadfast beliefs. And while many of its functions are positive, humour can also allow individuals or cultures to elide disturbing facts about social inequality, ignore or downplay injustices and perpetuate stereotypes. Not infrequently, a form of humour more akin to aggressiveness, that incorporates malice, can be used to cause intentional harm, shame and exercise control. Essentially, it can be a technology of power, providing an avenue for expression of prejudice, bias, and bigotry.
Dealing with the complex and often unexpected situations of life, humour takes many forms and meanings. It can include absurdity, banter, buffoonery, burlesque, comedy, derision, facetiousness, farce, foolery, irony, jocularity, mimicry, mockery, parody, puns, ridicule, sarcasm, satire, scorn, slapstick, spoonerism, taunts, tease, waggishness, witticism. Sometimes it is positive, sympathetic, or constructive; other times it can hurt, harm and damage. It can be playful or serious. It can be an act of resistance or outright rebellion; it can be inappropriate and uncontrolled. It can be repressive or subversive, self-deprecating or ironic. We laugh to release tension, to feel more positive, more energised. We laugh to show our confidence or satisfaction or as in indication of excitement, delight, good spirits and happiness.