The Importance of Laughter in Our Lives and the Role of the Comic: Henri Bergson 

“It always implies a secret or unconscious intent, if not of each one of us, at all events of society as a whole” Henri Bergson

The best part of life has to be when we laugh so hard and uncontrollably that we can’t even speak, yet somehow we are able to sit there and clap away like a seal even though we are struggling to breathe! Laughter is undoubtedly a great part of our lives and occurs when something funny happens and/or is said in a comical way.

In Henri Bergson’s Laughter: An Essay on the Meaning of the Comic, the author wants to define the comic but not in a way that results in a rigid definition of the word, his main emphasis is to see the relevance between art and life; so he looks into the comic’s role as part of human life in order to have a better understanding of society and the individual human imagination, as well as of the collective imagination. As a result he explores why people laugh and what laughter actual means, by looking into what it is in us that makes us laugh and explores what it is in language that makes a joke funny.

Although Bergson wrote this in the 20th Century, his thoughts of work still apply in today’s world. According to Bergson one of the main functions of humour is to help us feel human in an age where mechanisation has taken over; especially now with the increase in the use of technology and that combined with the stresses and strains from working and dealing with personal responsibilities, it can make us feel robotic at times. For that reason, Bergson was concerned by the concept between an individual and mechanisation, therefore believed humour is vital to our overall wellbeing, since everyone needs a form of outlet that brings them back in touch with who they are, for the sake of humanity.

Bergson stated that “a situation is always comic” but he also made the point that it is more difficult to laugh when we are all too aware of the seriousness of a situation. Therefore, as you know if you have ever been to a comedy show where there is  more than one act, there is usually a presenter who is a comic him/herself who sets the scene at the beginning middle and end of the show to help create and maintain an atmosphere that encourages laughter, if it’s a one man/women show its all on the comic alone to loosen up the crowd which is a tricky thing to do as it requires the comic to get the audience to detach  from sensibility for a hot moment, in order for them to enjoy the show. The audience rightly want their money’s worth, and thus aren’t afraid to heckle the comic if they are not happy. They expect to be taken away from the ugliness of raw reality and have some light shine on it through comedy, therefore the comic must have this essential skill in order to win the crowd over.

Moreover, have you ever noticed that when a large portion of the audience doesn’t find the comic funny, then the rest of the audience most likely will not? It is rare for there to only be one person laughing in the crowd, Bergson believed this is due to the fact that it is difficult to laugh alone, it is much easier to laugh collectively with peers; “it seems laughter needs an echo. Our laughter is always the laughter of the group.” Henri Bergson Therefore the comic’s role has a significant social meaning which increases their task to more than someone who just provides pleasure of intellect alone, but to someone who is important to human and social lives as a whole.

We also find a lot of comedy focuses on physicality, for example Bergson uses the example of the Hunchback “Now, certain deformities undoubtedly possess over others the sorry privilege of causing some persons to laugh; some hunchbacks, for instance, will excite laughter.”  Henri Bergson For instance , where I’m from it is a common thing to call someone close to you(friends and relatives)  ‘The HunchBack of Notre-Dame’ or ‘Quasimodo’ when we might be walking in a hunched way; we tend to find this as a hilarious way to tell someone to stand up straight. This is only funny when it’s someone close to you telling you this and vice versa, if it is said to a stranger then it’s not so funny (in my opinion).  Although, this can come across rude and cruel Bergson believed comedy is intended to humiliate; “Laughter is, above all, a corrective. Being intended to humiliate, it must make a painful impression on the person against whom it is directed. By laughter, society avenges itself for the liberties taken with it. It would fail in its object if it bore the stamp of sympathy or kindness.” Henri Bergson The most obvious way to make fun out of someone is to pick on their appearance (this is probably why some people are self conscience and will go to great lengths to alter their appearance to avoid any humiliation of such kind). Consequently,  Bergson believes this sort of humiliation is important as he brings this back to the fact that although the soul and mind are flexible the body usually becomes rigid ,which ultimately produces a comic effect; “It came from the fact that the living body became rigid, like a machine.” Henri Bergson Therefore, the comic came about by how mechanical our lives can be.

Nevertheless, laughter is based on unusual situations, characters and individuals, as an unconscious purpose to basically take the mickey out of everything and everyone to make light out of life, thus it shouldn’t really be taken personally; “It always implies a secret or unconscious intent, if not of each one of us, at all events of society as a whole. In laughter we always find an unavowed intention to humiliate, and consequently to correct our neighbour, if not in his will, at least in his deed.” Henri Bergson

Therefore, laughter plays an important part of our existence and the role of the comic is essentially mechanism applied to our lives; to look at the funny side of such issues we face on a daily basis by using our imagination. For that reason the true comic remains a human phenomenon.

Sophia Alisa Ali ©

 

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