two types of laughers

November 14th, 2007

Laughter is a delicate mechanism. It's hard to determine what makes us laugh and what makes us laugh more or less, depending on the particular context. In other words, if you take some group of strangers, it's hard to predict if they are going to laugh, and if so "how much". Not only because every person has a different sensibility, but also because laughter has a strong social influence.

When you react to something funny, you are affected by the reactions of people around you. Some people will burst out laughing even if they are the only person who thought it was funny. But a lot of people are a bit reluctant to be that exposed, so even if they are overcome they try to tone it down as much as possible.

Of course, when you are the recipient of something funny, you can't predict how it will affect you, there's no way to prepare yourself. It's like someone were to say "I want to try something on you, close your eyes". And you don't know what's coming.

But if *you* are the one making the utterance, with the expectation that it's going to be funny, it's like a controlled experiment. You can sort of plan it, what to say, how to say it, in what tone, in what expression etc. And when I say controlled experiment, what I mean is that you can examine how people's responses to your utterance affect you. For instance, if you say something that makes people laugh (intentionally), it often makes you laugh also, doesn't it? Or even if you were already laughing about it, it makes you laugh more. I'm surprised that it even works in cases where you wouldn't necessarily expect it to work. Like say if I send an email that is supposed to be funny, and hence the communication isn't continuous in time, I might get a response after 3 minutes, at which point I've moved on to something else, and getting a positive response to the joke makes me laugh again. Knowing that someone was laughing without even seeing or hearing it still triggers that reaction.

But back to saying funny things. People have different styles for this. Usually the funniest people are the ones who don't laugh (at least not initially) at their own jokes. They just say it, and sort of "put it out there", they *offer* the joke to anyone who will take it. And if it's obvious that it was a joke, and no one laughs, then it's awkward. But otherwise it could just be dismissed as an off the cuff remark. In fact, trying to disguise a joke so that either it's funny or it's not figured out as a bad joke is quite a skill in itself, some people do it really well.

Have you ever seen people who can't even get through the joke because they start laughing while telling it? I would still include them in this category, because if you can't help laughing you can't help it, plain and simple. So before you can even express what makes you laugh you're already laughing. Of course, if you do this then someone can't really determine whether you meant to laugh or not, if you hadn't been overcome, so it's a bit sketchy.

But then there's the other category of people, who utter something, pause and then start laughing hysterically. This is pretty strange, because you made it through telling it before it made you laugh, but then it seemed to have kicked in. So either you are saying something not (yet) realizing the joke in it, or you are purposely delaying your laughter to afterwards. Of course, the former can happen from time to time, but for people who always do this it makes me wonder what is happening. The thing is, if you laugh hysterically at your own jokes, and no one else does, this makes you look like a mental patient. This is why it's a lot more important for these people that you laugh with them, because they've already committed themselves with respect to the joke.

Typically, it's the people who laugh at their own jokes who put pressure on you to laugh also. This can give different results depending mostly on who the person is. If it's a person you are *used to* laughing with, it's almost like you laugh anyway even though this particular case isn't actually all that funny. However, if it's a person who is either never funny or just someone you don't know, most likely you won't laugh and you either make yourself laugh (which feels so uncomfortable and phony), or you stand your ground and don't laugh. At which point certain conceited people will accuse you of not having a sense of humor, to which you can respond "I do have one, and you just killed it."

However, there is also another angle to the self-laugher. Some people laugh very outwardly, like they care that other people should laugh too, this is important to them. There are also those who laugh more discretely. I would say semi-discretely, in the sense that they are not actually suppressing, but they are nevertheless laughing to themselves and not laying claims on other people's laughter. But I think that when they laugh in response to their own jokes, this is actually because they only then realize the joke in what they said, so this would place them closer to the first category, those who laugh because they can't help it, except the reaction comes late.

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2 Responses to "two types of laughers"

  1. erik says:

    Hm I'm not sure which type I am :D

  2. [...] numerodix added an interesting post today on two types of laughersHere’s a small readingUsually the funniest people are the ones who don’t laugh (at least not initially) at their own jokes. They just say it, and sort of “put it out there”, they *offer* the joke to anyone who will take it. And if it’s obvious that it was a … [...]