What is Humour? Let’s Entertain You…

8 min read


8 min read


What is Humour? Humour can be defined as the quality of something being amusing that provokes laughter and emotive response. It’s an appraisal of something funny. For something to be humorous, it entertains us and more importantly causes us to laugh. If someone’s got a great sense of humour, you’re guaranteed to enjoy their company; it spans across all cultures and all ages, is universal, but what exactly is it that makes something funny? 


What makes people laugh? 

This is a question that has baffled scientists for years. Even after numerous studies, scientists are not able to precisely define and explain what makes us laugh, and why. Humour is a subjective thing; something one person may find funny, another person may not find funny in the slightest. Everybody intuitively understands what humour is, and pretty much everyone finds some things amusing in one way or another. 


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What makes something funny?

Defining what is ‘amusing’ is near impossible, as it encompasses so many aspects and is dependant on so many factors. However, studies over the years have proved fruitful in generalising the main aspects of what makes something funny. 


For something to be funny, it’s usually due to one of the following reasons:

The misfortunes of others (Or, the benign violation theory- more on that later) 

Expression of forbidden emotions 

The juxtaposition of incompatible concepts (i.e. something that would never happen!)

Unexpected situations 


What are the types of humour?

There are 8 different types of humour: 


  • Dry humour
  • Physical
  • Self-deprecating
  • Surreal / Absurd
  • Improvisational
  • Wit/wordplay
  • Observational
  • Potty / Bodily
  • Dark


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What is a sense of humour?

If somebody has a good sense of humour, they have a strong understanding of what makes people laugh, and are usually good at either making people laugh or finding something funny. The gift of humour is not necessarily something that can be taught, as some people are simply ‘naturally funny’. 

Studies have shown that these kinds of people are fun to be around; understandably, so, as laughter is something that brings people together and was originally seen as ‘social glue’ enhancing a feeling of connection. Laughter can relieve stress, strengthen relationships and improve somebodies mood to such an extent that they are more productive. It’s no wonder people with a good sense of humour can often be found at the centre of things, simply because they make others feel good. 


How important is a sense of humour?

Having a sense of humour can be a real benefit to your personal and professional life. We have mentioned previously how laughter can release stress and has the power to connect people and immediately ‘break the ice’ and ease the mood. Those who can go about their lives with a sense of humour will find life easier than those that don’t. Being able to laugh at one’s self, see the funny side of things, and make others feel at ease with a funny story not only improves your mood but improves the mood of others around you. Appreciating humour can correlate with other strengths, such as wisdom and a love for learning. Humour requires open-mindedness and can teach us a lot about how we view the world and tackle our own problems based on how we decide to face them.


What is laughter?

Laughter is a physiological response to humour. Often involuntary, it is a physical and emotional reaction to something, causing our muscles to react, as well as causing a rhythmic sound.  The human race is one of the only known mammals to laugh, along with our predecessors, the apes, as well as rats, dogs and dolphins. Laughter is often completely spontaneous, impulsive and involuntary, and is a truly wonderful thing. When we laugh, we release endorphins, serotonin and dopamine, which calms you down, reduces pain perception, and in general, can help you see things far clearly. Studies have shown that laughter can make people more productive, as the release of pent up, nervous energy reduces our stress levels. Laughter and humour give us a mental break, makes us feel good, and can brighten even the darkest days. 


Blackpool comedy Ed Byrne If Im Honest


Why do we laugh?

The psychology of humour

So, what makes humour, and what lies behind something funny? Although scientists have failed to create a clear scientific explanation, several theories have emerged over time which is generally seen as plausible explanations as to why we find certain things funny. 


The superiority theory

This theory first proposed by Plato and the Ancient Greeks suggests that the philosophies of humour centre around people taking pleasure from the misfortunes of others. Dating back to the first appearances of comedy on stage, early philosophers correlated finding something humorous with feeling superior.  Indeed, the earliest comedy shows capitalised on this ‘superiority theory’ with plays that taunted the high and mighty, much to the joy of the lower classes. The superiority theory can also be applied to comedy genres such as slapstick humour, or any comedic situations where we feel better about ourselves thanks to the hilarious mistakes or tumultuous experiences of others. 


The relief theory

The relief theory first mused by Freud proposed that humour is a relief mechanism, allowing us to let off steam, and release our pent up energy. The energy expenses from suppressing emotions are no longer needed in the release of laughter, particularly when we laugh about ‘taboo’ subjects that are not the norm in conventional society. In particular, risque or sexual themes that are not normally explored can be done so with frivolity through humour. This release of physiological tension forms the basis of the relief theory.


In particular, this theory is explored in his work; The Joke and Its Relation to the Unconcious.


“The Joke and Its Relation to the Unconscious explains how jokes provide immense pleasure by releasing us from our inhibitions and allowing us to express sexual, aggressive, playful, or cynical instincts that would otherwise remain hidden.” – Penguin Random House 


The incongruity theory

The incongruity theory proposes that what makes something funny all relates to discrepancies. When there is incongruity or inconsistency between what people expect to happen and what actually happens, it leads to unexpected results that are often against the norm, be that social, moral, linguistic or personal. This ‘violation’ of the norm is often referred to as ‘benign violation’.


What is the Benign violation theory?

The benign violation theory states that we can enjoy the misfortune of others, as long as the violation is ‘benign’. It states that when we enjoy the misfortune of others, the situation the subject is put in will not cause genuine harm or be a significant threat. The situation can be taken in a light-hearted manner and is not dangerous or too distressing. For example, when we watch characters endue painful scenarios enjoyed in farcical comedies such as Home Alone, we know it is not real – they are actors, so we can enjoy their discomfort knowing no real pain was caused. 


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Jokes to make people laugh

Looking for ways to make people laugh? Check out our collection of the best one-liner jokes of all time! Featuring some of the greats, you’re sure to find a joke that tickles you. 


What is comedy?

Comedy is the name given to a creative genre with origins in literature with an aim to entertain, amuse, and, essentially, make people laugh. Comedy can encompass various artistic interpretations, from wordplay to physical comedy, to visual comedy. Comedians use wit, wordplay and storytelling to delight audiences with tales of misfortune, misadventure and observation. From the early plays of Ancient Greece to comedy films we enjoy today, to cabaret and comedy shows, it plays a vital role in our society. 


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Want to know more?  Explore our upcoming comedy shows at The Grand here or read our comedy blog for more insight into all things funny.


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