A Discussion of Humor by Leroy Kent

Today, jokes have almost entirely disappeared from public contexts, and have become a discreet affair, reserved for trusted friends. This is a huge loss to society as a whole.

The dispute about the propriety of certain jokes is regularly rehashed. One side says that humor insidiously molds our attitudes and that we must vigilantly censor jokes that might offend in order to reduce prejudice and protect the powerless.

The other side wonders what has happened to our collective sense of humor. Possibly the shift to giving everyone participation trophies has made people too fragile to hear ideas that they may not agree with.

A number of people have taken exception with my attempts at humor. Those people espouse personal attacks and state with certainty their own moral and ethical superiority. But their rantings all suffer from one fatal flaw. Those persons have confused the target of the joke with the subject of the joke.

Humor is not achieved by advancing personal attacks on people or groups. Rather humor is achieved by the incongruity of the situation that people find themselves in. Incongruity theory proposes that humor occurs when a contradiction violates our expectations. When identified, it alters our perspective and produces laughter. In the language of standup comedy, the set-up creates the expectation and the punchline violates it.

As a recent example, I made a statement regarding a vegan in a BBQ restaurant. While vegans were the target of the joke, they were not the subject of the humor. Rather the subject of the humor is the incongruity of a vegan going to eat in a place that is unabashedly carnivorous. No one is saying or even implying that vegans are inferior. One of the best vegan chefs in the world currently resides in Cuenca, but I doubt if he would cook a steak for me if I went into his restaurant. In fact, I have huge admiration for his craft and freely admit he has far more talent than me in the creation of flavors.

Humor is both complicated and demanding. It relies on ambiguity, insists on a nuanced understanding, can be exclusive, and requires forgiveness when it doesn’t land. Although these are difficult needs to satisfy, jokes offer much in return. Good jokes allow us to alter our perceptions, and by doing so often reveal our fundamental similarities by reminding us of one of the great spiritual principles—”There is no they!”

For those that wish to continue to engage in public attacks of a personal nature, feel free to carry on. I have big shoulders and thick skin. I can carry that load.

I write today only to make clear that I believe that humor is medicine for the soul. I will continue to publish remarks that I deem to be humorous. My humor may identify certain persons by group, but there is never any intent to berate or minimalize any of those persons or groups.

Research shows that even chimpanzees can laugh. I pity those that cannot laugh.

Leroy Kent

City: Cuenca

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