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The Irony of Jokes

Serena Mao

Making friends and having a sense of humor are people’s common desires. As with anything that people want, there are strategies and techniques to accomplishing them. Too often, however, instead of being truly social or hilarious, they involve methods that downplay or ridicule others.

How often have you heard a joke, or “roast,” about someone else that insulted them in some way? Probably pretty often. In fact, those that are the “funniest” and thus gain the most friends usually make these kind of jokes or insults. People laugh at the clever comment, thus believing that that person is intelligent or smart for coming up with such a joke. And since we tend to befriend those that make us laugh and make us happy, those are the kinds of people that ironically end up being the most popular or liked. In fact, we can become stuck in situations where a witty joke regarding someone else forms in our heads, and we must choose in a win-lose situation. Either the one joked about is exposed and hurt, or we gain influence and liking. Scarily often, human nature pushes us to choose the latter.

Someone has probably sent you humorous videos before, likely on some kind of social media. Much of the time, these videos are of someone embarrassing or hurting themselves. For example, funny videos might include people pulling out others’ chairs, cats jumping on infants’ faces, people falling off of skateboards. The list goes on forever. Yet a common theme is often apparent within some of these videos: we find humor in others’ failures or shortcomings. It’s usually the unexpected fall or mistake that gets us to laugh.

Taking a step back, it seems that all who giggle remotely at this kind of humor are bad people. However, that is simply not the case. Even the best of people often laugh at jokes about others or videos of someone getting pied in the face. But why is it funny? Why do laugh at the failures and weaknesses of others? It might be clear that decent people would sympathize with the people in those videos instead of bursting into laughter, but it’s simply untrue. We can’t help but laugh. People aren’t trying to be bad people or ill-willed. They don’t consciously believe that they are superior to others, and don’t purposely try to hurt others’ feelings just because it’s fun. Sometimes, people don’t think that those targeted by jokes are hurt, because after all, “it’s just a joke.” But most of the time, those that feel hurt choose not to show it. At that point, it becomes much harder to prevent those damaging comments that might have innocent intentions.

Most people aren’t bad people, but they still find it natural to laugh at those common roasts or fail compilations. It seems counterintuitive to find humor out of it rather than sympathize, but even when looking closer at the matter, it is still impossible to pinpoint the root cause of our laughter. If that’s not possible, it’s even more important to keep other’s feelings in mind and enjoy ourselves, but not go too far.

 

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