Foundations of Humor and Relations in Society. What is Humor Essay Example

  • Category: Society, Sociology,
  • Words: 1166 Pages: 5
  • Published: 14 April 2021
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During the year 1900, Henri Bergson, a savant Frenchman, constructed Le Rire about the structures, style, and general humor principles.  Although Le Rire is the 1900 precedent, the 1924 modernistic title for these three acts of articles bound in collections framed through the French language is known as the Essai Sur la signification du Comique. Moreover, in English, Essai sur la signification du Comique translates to Essay on the comic's meaning, yet we shorten Bergson's literary work down to Laughter. On March 20, 1992, Noises Off was released worldwide on the silver screen as an American film. Essentially, Noises Off originally started as a farce play in 1982 under the production, direction, and writing of British man Michael Frayn. Nevertheless, Noises Off plot centers around Llyod Fellowes (the director of Nothing On) and his group of traveling performers and their stagehands working together to advance to Broadway as a success with American audiences just like back in England. In Laughter by Henri Bergson and 1992's Noises Off, a comparison gets drawn between both arts through repetition, farce, echoes, forgetfulness, and societal behavior with humor as the front man.

At the beginning of Henri Bergson's memoir, Laughter's Essay on the comic's meaning emphasizes human attributes or similarities as the foundation of defining hilarity. For example, Bergson characterizes "human" by stating, "you may laugh at an animal" (Bergson, Chapter I); in this regard, we can reference Looney Tunes characters Bugs Bunny (varmint) and Daffy Duck (waterfowls) in their identifications (physically) as animals but find amusement in their humanistic banisters.  However, Peter Bogdanovich's 1992 film adaption of the hit British play of the same title 10 years its predecessor parallels the three principles building Bergson's theories in the critiques of defining humor. Specifically, the opening of Act I in Noises Off (film) correlates to a quote from Bergson which states," absence of feeling accompanies laughter" (Bergson, Chapter I); in this case, he proposes that hilarity ceases when individuals detach themselves from fervor, mental constructs, and of course, sociological perspectives derived from society.  Furthermore, we trace Bergson's conjecture back to the theatrical adaptation of 1992's Noises Off based on the repetitious dialogue of Dotty Otley (Carol Burnett) saying, "I leave the sardines" (Bogdanovich, 1992) naturally, this is supposed to be hilarious.

However, it falls flat because Llyod Fellowes (Michael Caine) continually reminds her to take the plate of sardines with her. Moreover, this "absence of feeling" (Bergson, Chapter I) succumbs from the audience (viewers watching the film because there is no real crowd until Act II). Even so, Fellowes’s temper of annoyance from his cast (too emotionally) hinders the rehearsal, thus souring every scene's humor. Due to this fact, Fellowes, and Dotty Otley argumentative about script directions correctly references the quote, "disposition or temperament" (Pavia, pg.77). In this case, Pavia's quote from her periodical Good Humor and the illusion of control accumulates touches of humor' previous meaning and how famous 16th-century lawyer Thomas More prays to the Lord asking him for patience with every joke he hears without taking offense (Pavia, pg.77).

Nevertheless, our next topic of discussion with Bergson revolves around his thesis "lack of elasticity" (Bergson, Chapter II), making it coherently that laughter must always be able to adapt with revisions, including "absentmindedness" (Bergson, Chapter II). For instance, Llyod Fellowes (Michael Caine) states the question, "We have a problem" (Bogdanovich, 1992) asking the cast specifically Brooke Ashton (Nicolette Sheridan) the issue on set which Brooke states, "left"(Bogdanovich) because she has misplaced her left eye contact. Although Brooke loses her left lens after Garry Lejeune (John Ritter) pushes her back now, this causes the entire cast to stop rehearsal looking for a missing lens. Moreover, this scene early foreshadows Act II during the live performance, when Brooke loses the lens again, showing her "absentmindedness."  The academic journal The Complexity of Jokes Is Limited mentions a spectrum of "absentmindedness" (coded slapstick) stating, "slapstick gains spontaneity" (Dunbar, pg. 138), implying that Brooke's forgetfulness is only humorous because of the generic stereotypical sexy, bimbo, blonde white chick archetype.  

As a result, Brooke Ashton, even outside of her role in the play, seems to be a real stereotype. An illustration of elasticity within Noises Off is the scene in Act II when Dotty Otley says, "I can't open sardines and answer the phone" (Bogdanovich, 1992). Initially, in Act I, Otley does not get kicked out of backstage during rehearsal, landing on her patella’s with an unopen can of sardines (slapstick). Naturally, slapstick involves physical humor, loud sound effects, and humanistic behaviors; even so, Otley's elasticity refers to "slipping on a banana is funnier than pretending to self-injure oneself" (Dunbar, pg. 139). In this case, Dunbar informs us that being unethical produces natural elemental humor (Otley falling to the ground) is humorous because it is off-script hence, the audience's reaction.

 When Act II of the film takes place, everything is a disaster, not just backstage and center stage.  For instance, Garry Lejeune picks up the phone after Dotty Otleys drops it dragging the cord into the kitchen; however, once Lejeune places the phone on the table, it falls, hitting his testicles (which gets a laugh from the audience). Likewise, Garry Lejeune does a perfect job of accidental slapstick in a farce setting referencing, "laughter appears as an echo" (Bergson, Chapter I), meaning only the crowd's reactions determine what is funny and what is not?  For this reason, The Complexity of Jokes Is limited reinforces the previous sentence stating, "laughter triggers an endorphin response" (Dunbar, pg.138), in which case causes everyone in the room to burst out in giggles.  Similarly, during Act II's conclusion, the curtain gets stuck midway, resulting in the actors, stagehands, and director struggling to bring it down to a reference to "corrective behavior" (Bergson, Chapter II); the audience is taking amusement in their failure. Truly, Act II is quite reminiscent of Putting laughter in context's quote, which states, "laughter elicits those who bear witness to it" (Kurtz, pg.575) because the performance ran off-script, which ironically saves the production in New York on Broadway during Act III.  In the end, Llyod Fellowes' production only accumulated success because of humiliation (echoes from the theatre) and ditching the original screenplay(corrective in learning from one's mistakes).

Finally, Henri Bergson's rhetoric on the fundamentals of laughter proves why we find humor in reality. Although Peter Borgadonvich's adaptation of Michael Frayn's 1982 farce Noises Off showcases how comedy succeeds but also illustrates where it fails in execution. Additionally, I would say 1992's Noises Off is a love letter to Bergson displaying his three theories, behaviors of society, echoes from an audience, elasticity through adoption, which defines humor. Moreover, both Bergson and Michael Frayn represent the flaws of intelligence (overthinking leads to absentmindedness) not fitting the mold for society (humiliation against those who do not regulate the norm) and, of course, benefitting from crowds (echoes spread like a disease). In conclusion, Essai Sur la signification du Comique by Henri Bergson and Michael Frayn's 1982 successful play transformed into an American film via 1992 Noises Off formulated the textbook and execution of perfecting humor, hence, the audience's reaction.

Works Cited

Dunbar, R., et al. “The Complexity of Jokes Is Limited by Cognitive Constraints on Mentalizing.” Human Nature, vol. 27, no. 2, June 2016, pp. 130–140. EBSCOhost, doi:10.1007/s12110-015-9251-6.

KURTZ, LAURA E., and SARA B. ALGOE. “Putting Laughter in Context: Shared Laughter as Behavioral Indicator of Relationship Well-Being.” Personal Relationships, vol. 22, no. 4, Dec. 2015, pp. 573–590. EBSCOhost, doi:10.1111/pere.12095.

Pavia, Peter. “Good Humor and the Illusion of Control.” Human Life Review, vol. 46, no. 3, Summer 2020, pp. 76–79. EBSCOhost,



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