They’re in Japan now.
Apparently, if you go up to strangers in Osaka and point your finger at them, they’ll pretend to be shot without missing a beat. (Later, we ask Reilly if we should try this. “No,” he says. “You might point your finger at a yakuza””a member of Japan’s mafia”””and they might freak the [heck] out.”) Osaka’s brimming with hilarity, says Inoue, because it’s long been “the belly of Japan,” the country’s trade and commercial hub, so the samurai left the city alone, realizing strict hierarchies and customs weren’t good for business. That left Osaka’s merchants free to haggle and barter and banter as much as they pleased””and a lot of jokes lubricated those transactions.
Now, I really, REALLY, want to go to Osaka.
First, they posited, at a point sometime between 2 and 4 million years ago came Duchenne laughter, the kind triggered by something funny. An outgrowth of the breathy panting emitted by primates during play fighting, it likely appeared before the emergence of language. This sort of laughter was a signal that things at the moment were okay, that danger was low and basic needs were met, and now was as good a time as any to explore, to play, to start laying the social groundwork that would lead to civilization….”What the humor is indexing and the laughter is signaling is, ‘this is an opportunity for learning.’ It signals this is a non-serious novelty, and recruits others to play with and explore cognitively, emotionally, and socially the implications of this novelty.
This, to me, makes perfect sense because we always learn better when there’s even the teensiest smidge of humor in the teaching. Think for a moment about your favorite teacher or class and see if you agree.
These guys traveled the world in search of what makes things funny.
It doesn’t help that the term “humor” has had all sorts of different connotations. It wasn’t until the early nineteenth century that humor became widely used in its modern sense, as a virtue. Before that, “humour,” from the Latin word for “fluid,” referred to bile, phlegm, and other bodily fluids believed to wreak havoc on people’s moods. A “humourist” was someone whose body fluids were so imbalanced they acted mentally ill. A “man of humour” was someone skilled at impersonating an insane person.
Their working theory is illustrated as a Venn diagram. One circle represents something benign (“Grandpa”), the other circle is a violation of some sort (“erection”), the intersection is the funny (“Grandpa’s erection”).
As a side note, they made reference to a website I’m happy to report is absolutely real, Animals Being Dicks, which makes the authors my new besties.