What is Funny?

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It is a good question, really. One that is much harder to answer than you might think. According to Merriam-Webster’s dictionary, the definition of funny is “affording light mirth and laughter.” The fact of the matter is that there is no definite definition of funny and there never will be. Humor is highly subjective; what one person finds hysterical another person may find completely unsettling. Something that is truly funny; what one person finds hysterical another person may find completely unsettling.

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Something that is truly funny is something that can actually evoke virtually any emotion in a person.Humor does far more than merely make us laugh; it can make us cry, make us analyze, make us feel strange, make us sad, make us angry. The list goes on and on. The word “funny” itself is used in a very loose manner. It is often used to describe a situation which is strange or odd, sometimes even a very depressing ironical truth. In The Importance of Being Ernest, Jack realizes that he must be truthful
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to himself and to those around him. This is very ironic because much of the play is about him being a “bunburyist,” as Algernon refers to it, which means he is being deceitful about his character by creating the alter ego “Ernest” so he can go into town as often as he likes and associate himself among the wealthier class. In the end, he realizes his name was Ernest all along and acknowledges the importance of being Ernest rather than Jack, but it is sadly ironic because he only sees the importance of being that part of him in order to fit in rather than actually being earnest, in the sense that he should be honest (Wilde).

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So, humor can obviously make us laugh and now it is clear it can represent a very sad irony. It can also point out the flaws in something which may make us laugh, but really it makes us cry. For example, the book Metamorphosis is a prime example of what is referred to as a dark comedy because of a strange or “funny” factor in a story that is tragic in nature. In the book, a traveling salesman wakes up to find himself transformed into a bug. At first, his sister takes care of him but eventually he is neglected by his family in a very long and depressing turn of events. While the plot is inherently depressing, some of the descriptions of this insect-like creature trying to roll off of its back and use its new appendages are amusing (Kafka).

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Still, some other comedy may be less meaningful and merely poke fun at the injury and mishap of others. In fact just yesterday I was walking in the hall and I was about to walk in front of a girl, but she tried to hurry in front of me and tripped on her friend in front of her. I kept myself from laughing out loud too much so as to not hurt the girl’s feelings, but nonetheless I found the incident quite funny.

As a result of the total subjective nature of comedy, there are no set definitions of what is funny or what makes something funny. Therefore, there can be no definitions or criterion of what makes something not funny.There are no “non-examples” when it comes to humor. You cannot guarantee that someone, somewhere, finds something as horrible as the genocide of the Holocaust funny or even hysterical. As much as I would love to use such an extreme case of a horrific event as a “non-example,” I simply can’t. However, I can say that what people find funny is ever changing and future generations may look back to our day and think of how simple our comedy was even though it appears to be so complex to us at this time.

The most important thing to remember about comedy is:


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Artist statement:
What I have chosen to create for this creative and insightful project is a visual essay. I have known what I wanted to say from the beginning of this unit: there is no exact definition of what is funny. Comedy is an art form, not a science and therefore it cannot be studied as such. Yes, there are certain characteristics that distinguish humor into different categories but the categories are endless, just as the genres of music are infinite. You cannot classify something so beautifully complex. Getting too caught up in the classification of comedy strips it of its purpose which is to just be as it is: an art form. Art is open for interpretation and that is how it should be. Don't let rules dictate it because rules are just meant to be broken. Art is a living thing and it needs to breathe.