HUMOUR: a presentation of ruptured expectations which is not subject to retribution

Humour is the ingenuity of breaking rules without having a significant decline in health inflicted. It is the disruption of the rules or expectations of an existential model... usually in circumstances of surprise and absence of warning... where there is no expectation of retribution. A rhinoceros is a dangerous animal. It has huge inertia, great strength and surprising agility. It has a very thick skin and is equipped with a large weapon capable of inflicting serious damage. The general expectations, when goading or teasing such a creature, is that it will eventually attempt to exact retribution. The skilful caricaturing of such an animal, perhaps by portraying it in absurd clown make-up or performing exaggerated circus postures on the tip of its horn, will break these expectations and will be seen by some secure observers as comic. However, if the rhinoceros doesn't appreciate the antics, or the animal rights groups object to the exploitation, any laughter invoked begins to sound increasingly nervous.

To understand the comic and be able to respond to the situation with genuine amusement one must understand the appropriate expectations. Humour depends upon intelligence. One must understand the 'rules' or the 'expectation patterns' abstracted from the memories of experience in order to appreciate the ruptures. When expectations are broken, whether they be conventions or traditions or habits or rules or logics or physical 'laws', and one arena of expectations is suddenly dropped into an incongruous arena, a sense of the absurd can be induced. Such an appreciation of the absurd may invoke an amusement or laughter response in any observers who consider themselves safe from retribution. If you don't understand the expectations within a particular arena... be it verbal, visual, musical, tactile or whatever... then you won't get the joke. To have a sense of humour you have to appreciate the rules and not mind them being broken. Individuals without a sense of humour, either don't appreciate the rules or are very insecure and disturbed when they are transgressed.

There are several general options available for creating humorous scenarios. Verbally for example, if a word is established in one context with one of its meanings and then another meaning is introduced in another context, it may come as a surprise and be appreciated as humour. This is not usually a dangerous exercise but ingenious scenarios could be devised where it certainly would be. Our model of the normal behaviour of the physical world is disrupted by banana skins, farts, open manhole covers, explosions, and falling grand pianos. Such disruptions are only ever funny in the absence of serious harm and injury. The cartoon imagination can portray virtual explosive events with virtual characters that are disintegrated and reassembled. Any comedy inherent in the scenario depends upon being amused by a shattered reality. A real explosion, when the forces of nature exact real consequences, has very little comic content.

Social groups have progressively evolved with more sophisticated and complex rules and conventions, many of which have extremely dire consequences if broken. Impersonating a celebrity on stage may evoke gales of laughter but impersonating an enemy officer gets you the firing squad if the military hierarchy don't see the funny side of it. In many serious disruptions of convention and culture, a strategy of trying 'to laugh it off' is often attempted when the situation seems to be getting out of hand. Perhaps the laughter response in humans has evolved socially... both as a signal and a release of tension... for deflecting attention and impetus away from the possible dire consequences of a rule-breaking. The fundamental rule for comedy then, is to only break the rules for a laugh if you are sure the consequences are benign. Humour in general, like dancing in a clown suit on the horn of a rhinoceros, can be funny...or dangerous...or even both.

A clown on the horn of a rhino
is certain to get up its nose
and dancing up there
with inadequate care
will upturn a bucket of woes