Humor By Joslyn Jenkins

An exploration of the virtue humor, which is a form of human perception. While the origin of humor is unknown, many believe that it is a primal instinct with some philosophers buying into "the theory that humor evolved from mock-aggressive play in apes." Humor is commonly utilized to make comments about society or everyday life. The virtue of humor even evolved into a full on career and comedy is even offered as a major in some colleges. A prominent idea in comedy is something known as "the line." Crossing the line can mean straying from humor and drifting into offensive or rude material. On the other side of that line is being boring. Either of these extremes can result in an uncomfortable environment for those surrounding you, so it is essential to get humor right by achieving the golden mean.

Humor in Religion

Laughter and comedy are often condemned in ancient philosophies as seen in Plato's remark, "no composer of comedy, iambic or lyric verse shall be permitted to hold any citizen up to laughter, by word or gesture, with passion or otherwise" (Laws, 7: 816e; 11: 935e). The idea of comedy being wrong rings throughout the bible as well. When God laughs, it is with malice, as seen in Psalm 2:2–5, "The kings of the earth stand ready, and the rulers conspire together against the Lord and his anointed king… . The Lord who sits enthroned in heaven laughs them to scorn; then he rebukes them in anger, he threatens them in his wrath." In addition, any sort of mockery, (something that comedy is largely based on), is met with death. This is exemplified in 2 Kings 2:23 when "(Elisha) went up from there to Bethel and, as he was on his way, some small boys came out of the city and jeered at him, saying, “Get along with you, bald head, get along.” He turned round and looked at them and he cursed then in the name of the Lord; and two she-bears came out of a wood and mauled forty-two of them."

Over time comedy has evolved from this forbidden action that was so frequently referenced in the past to an occupation and an endearing quality. Now, humor is a part of every day life and the ability to laugh at yourself and to make others laugh is regularly referenced as valued character traits in today's society.

The Golden Means

DULL - this is total lack of humor whether it is intentional...

Or unintentional...

Lacking humor can ruin things from a first date, to a play, to a career. Without banter and comedic relief throughout the day, your personal relationship to the things you love can dwindle. Dr. Samantha Rodman suggests that "when couples get out of the habit of laughing together, their relationship is at risk of losing its joy and spirit." Dwight D. Eisenhower states that "a sense of humor is part of the art of leadership, of getting along with people, of getting things done." Forbes magazine published an article in 2013 citing humor as a key virtue in a successful workplace.

“Ah, Signor Halt,' he said uncertainly, 'you are making a joke, yes?' 'He is making a joke, no,' Will said. 'But he likes to think he is making a joke, yes.” ― John Flanagan, The Emperor of Nihon-Ja


Achieving humor can be hard because it is so easy to fall short and deliver a dull punchline, or shoot to far and offend someone. Lynn Taylor, author of "Tame Your Terrible Office Tyrant," says that some reasons workers might hold back from making a joke include, being fearful of offending someone and being fearful of not being funny.

Where do you come up with these zingers, Clint? Do you own some kind of joke factory in Indonesia where you've got eight-year-olds working ninety hours a week to deliver you that kind of top-quality witticism? There are boy bands with more original material.” - John Green, Will Grayson, Will Grayson

Bo Burnham - stand up comedian

However, achieving this perfect balance and finding the sweet spot of comedy can lead to far more than a few laughs, but can actually develop into a medium in which one is able to deliver cultural insight to an audience.

The Squares

The Squares lived happily,

in their square houses,

in their square yards,

in their square town.

One day, a family of Circles

moved in from the west.

"Get out of here, roundies!" shouted one of the Squares.

"Why?" asked one of the Circles.

"Because this is a metaphor for racism!"


Offensive material is a result of comedy going too far and crossing the aforementioned "line."

"Real racist jokes or sexist jokes aren't funny - not because they're offensive, but because they're not true. As soon as a joke is based on an untruth, it's not funny." - Ricky Gervais

When a joke reaches this extreme, it loses all remnants of humor and has the complete opposite effect of a well-delivered joke as it induces sadness and even anger and leaves the listeners in an uncomfortable environment.

Buster Keaton, shown in the above video, was a stunt man famous in the early 1900's and a key example of comedy throughout the ages, especially when compared to the slapstick comedy present today as well.

Audience reactions at stand-up comedy performances throughout the years

Personal Statement

Humor is a virtue, it is something valued within an individual and one can possess either too much or too little of it. My understanding of this virtue has evolved through this process, especially when learning of the condemnation of humor in Plato's philosophy and in the bible. I tried to use bits of the value of comedy within the presentation (as seen in the repetition of pictures of former president Obama). I appreciated the ability to explore the medium of comedy within its role as a virtue because it was a different perspective from what I had previously explored.

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