Ralph Higgins

Ralph Higgins
color pencil sketch by Gayle Higgins

Quotes I Like

"If you do not take an interest in the affairs of your government, then you are doomed to live under the rule of fools."

– Plato


Thursday, August 29, 2013

What Makes You Laugh?

     An older gentleman, that is to say, a “senior citizen,” was pulled over by a frantic highway patrol officer.  Apprehensively he asked the cop what he had done wrong.  The cop was obviously very upset and said, “Don’t you know that your wife fell out of the car five miles back?”  The old guy seemed relieved and said, “Thank heavens.  I thought I was going deaf.” 

            That joke obviously plays on stereotypes and seems a little misogynistic.  My wife doesn’t think it’s funny, but humor comes in all forms.

            There’s the self-deprecating humor of Rodney Dangerfield - “I was such an ugly kid that when I played in the sandbox, the cat kept covering me up.”  This kind of humor works well, because it is not offensive.  The comic is making fun of himself.  You can laugh at him with impunity. 

            Consider the girl who brought her goldfish to the vet and frantically explained that her pet fish had epilepsy.  The vet looked at the fish swimming happily in the bowl and said, “He looks normal to me.”  The girl said, “Well, duh, I haven’t taken him out of the water yet.”  We like to laugh at stupidity in others.  This is where you find all the “blond” jokes.

            If you analyze a joke you can begin to understand why some hit your “funny bone” while others fall flat.  And not everyone finds the same humor funny. Most comics today rely less on creativity and more on profanity and shock.  If you read the humor of some of the great comedians from the past, you will find that some had very creative minds and didn’t need to be crude. 

            Aristotle said, “The secret to humor is surprise.”  A "paraprosdokian" is a figure of speech in which the latter part of a sentence or phrase is surprising or unexpected in a way that causes the listener to reframe or reinterpret the first part. It is frequently used for dramatic effect.    For example, “I want to die peacefully in my sleep, like my grandfather. Not screaming and yelling like the passengers in his car.”

            Some humor is complex and creative, requiring thought.  Profanity and bathroom humor is simplistic and usually devoid of true creativity.  I admire the creativity of comics like Jonathan Winters and others, who can spontaneously create humor out of thin air. 

            Laughter has probably been with us since human beings first noticed they were naked.  I’ve blogged on humor and how the brain processes it many moons ago, but by way of review, I’d like to go over it again for new readers.  This may only interest me because I taught psychology a long, long time ago - shortly before Freud discovered sex.  But, who knows, you may find this process interesting too. 

Here’s how the brain works when you laugh at a joke. In less than a half-second an electrical wave moves through the higher brain functions of the cerebral cortex, which is the part of the brain associated with higher cognitive functions.

We all know about the “right brain – left brain” stuff.  In the case of humor, the left hemisphere analyzes the words and the structure of a joke or humorous event.  Then the right hemisphere “gets” it, so to speak.

The right hemisphere appears to be involved in the interpretation of emotional material presented linguistically and when it “gets it” the process accelerates.  The right hemisphere actually determines if something is funny or not.

The visual sensory area of the occipital lobe creates images. The limbic or “emotional” system provides pleasure or happiness and the motor systems make you smile or laugh.  Kind of a chain reaction.  Simple, eh? 

Personally, I think the Corpus Callosum plays a major role.  That’s the thick band of nerve fibers that connect the left and right hemispheres of the Cerebrum, facilitating communications between the hemispheres. Incidentally, early music training helps develop this connection. 

All you really need to know is that humor engages the whole brain. Consequently creativity is enhanced, intelligence is exercised, and the brain is firing on all cylinders. So laugh and get smarter.   

But if you don’t enjoy humor, take the advice of W. C. Fields - “Start every day off with a smile and get it over with.”


  1. In one of Max Lucado's presentations he stated "if you look long and hard enough you will be sure to find something wrong with this week".
    Humor keeps me going. I even laugh when I go to church and look around at all those redeemed folk that look like they were baptised in vinegar. Those who should be full of joy seem to me to have less than those in the bar who can at least laugh. We had a home bible study group that seemed quite upset when I saw humor in certain passages. ( read the Humor of Christ) and observe where he made light of the religionists who didn't get it. "have you not heard" HE would say to those who had memorized the entire Old Testament.
    Ralph, I think you missed your calling. Yup, you should have been a Psychologist. You always had a way to lift others up and do it with a sense of humor.

    1. Many thanks to you from south of Canada, Rev. Warnock.

      I have to lift myself up with humor every now and then.

      Humor is a good weapon to carry for self defense.

  2. Humor, at times, or what I thought was humorous, has gotten me into trouble. But I keep on trying!

    What seems fuuny to me is that what most guys think is funny does not receive the same reaction from our wives!!!!! Sourpusses!!!!!!

    Once again, I am in trouble!

    Do you know "THE NORTH"? Good post!

    1. Our wives don't seem to share what we consider funny, but that's okay.

      Re: "the north"...This guy is an old Canadian buddy of mine. Back in the '60s I dropped out of college for awhile and went to Canada, where I made a lot of Canadian friends. We stay in contact and visit here or there when we can.

  3. I liked the first joke... you can easily transpose the husband and the wife and it still makes perfect (funny) sense... I do think men and women have different senses of humor. I will never understand what is so very very funny about farts. My husband loves the slapstick stuff... I get anxious when I see (supposedly hilarious) videos of people tripping and falling off tall objects. On the other hand, gallows humor often gets me through a long shift at the hospital. But I think the funniest and most relevent humor is that which makes fun of ones own self.

    1. Good take on humor. It does help you through the day...especially with the special responsibilities and difficult circumstances of your profession. (I think I know who "unknown" is)

      Self-deprecating humor always works, as you said.

    2. Good take on humor. It does help you through the day...especially with the special responsibilities and difficult circumstances of your profession. (I think I know who "unknown" is)

      Self-deprecating humor always works, as you said.