Mulla Nasrudin Taking Humor
S E R I O U S L Y

"Humor must not professedly teach and it must not professedly preach, but it must do both if it would live forever."
Mark Twain

     Analyzing humor is a bit like studying a flower-covered banana bike by peeling off its pedals. Before you know it, you've forgotten how to ride it.

"Mulla (Master) Nasrudin is the classical figure devised by the dervishes partly for the purpose of halting for a moment situations in which certain states of mind are made clear. . . .  A Nasrudin tale . . . bridges the gap between mundane life and a transmutation of consciousness in a manner which no other literary form yet produced has been able to attain . . . making possible the attainment of Sufic realizations and mystical experience."
Idries Shah. The Sufis

"There may be said to be two classes of people in the world; those who constantly divide the people of the world into two classes and those who do not."

Robert Benchley


Not Taking Humor Seriously By Studying Humor Scholastically

     Beginning in the late 1960s the first "serious" studies on laughter and humor began to appear in scientific journals, using psychological, physiological, sociological and psychiatric approaches to the subject. In 1969 Jacob Levine published his study, "Motivation in Humor," and in 1972 Jeffrey Goldstein and Paul McGhee edited a volume on "The Psychology of Humor." In England, Antony Chapman and Hugh Foot brought out their collection "Humour and Laughter: Theory, Research and Applications." It was published in 1976, the same year that they jointly chaired the First International Conference on Humour and Laughter under the auspices of the British Psychological Association in Cardiff.

"Your manuscript is both good and original; but the part that is good is not original, and the part that is original is not good.
Samuel Johnson

All those who believe in psychokinesis raise my hand.

42.7 percent of all statistics are made up on the spot.

I was walking down the street and all of a sudden the prescription for my eye-glasses ran out ....

What's another word for thesaurus?

Last year I went fishing with Salvador Dali. He was using a dotted line. He caught every other fish.

I got a new shadow. I had to get rid of the other one -- it wasn't doing what I was doing.

Stephen Wright

Improving One's Humors With Humor

      One of the most convincing testaments to laughter's recuperative powers is Norman Cousins's book, Anatomy of An Illness, which he delivered in an abbreviated form at the Second International Conference on Humour and Laughter in 1979 as a personal account.

      Hospitalised with ankylosing spondelitis (presumed terminal) in the early seventies, Cousins discovered that positive emotions such as "hope, laughter, love and faith" could help in stress-reduction. The Marx Brothers and the funniest programs from "Candid Camera" (courtesy of Allan Funt, the producer and a friend) gave blessed relief from pain in hospital.

      In Cousins's own words: "We made two interesting discoveries. One was that ten minutes of strong, sustained laughter had an anaesthetic effect and would provide two hours of pain-free sleep, thus enabling me to dispense with aspirin, codeine, sleeping pills, all of which were toxic in varying degrees and which impeded the body’s natural recuperative powers.

     "The second discovery was that laughter would have a positive effect on the sedimentation rate, which measures the extent of inflammation or infection in the bloodstream. The higher the "sed" rate, the more severe the illness. Hearty, joyous laughter had the effect of knocking several points off the sedimentation rate, proving that laughter could cause beneficial changes in the body chemistry.

     "I don't want to give the impression that I laughed my way out of a serious illness. There were other prime elements in the recovery which I need not go into here. But laughter and good feelings were basic elements in the total recovery. There was the hard evidence that laughter was probably more efficacious than the various medications, which were discontinued in my case because of their high toxicity."


What is a Pun?

     "In Italian, 'puntiglio' means 'a fine point,' hence a verbal quibble, and is most likely the source of the English 'punctilious.' There developed in late 17th- and early 18th- century England a short-lived, fanciful word 'pundigrion,' which indeed was a term for what we now know as a pun. Since snappy monosyllables produced by breaking off pieces of longer words were all the rage back then, it is widely thought that this is how and where the word 'pun' was created.

     "A pun is defined by Webster as 'the humorous use of a word, or of words which are formed or sounded alike but have different meanings, in such a way as to play on two or more of the possible applications; a play on words.'

     "In describing the various forms of verbal humor, The New Encyclopaedia Britannica refers to a pun as 'two disparate strings of thought tied together by an acoustic knot.' That analogy strikes a very pleasant cord!

     "In France, paronomasia is referred to as jeu de mots. That has a Nice ring to it, n'est pas?

     "What is paronomasia?      The act or practice of punning. And as every ecclesiastical dean knows so well, 'practice makes prefect.'"




Take my wife jokes, please.

A Tribute to Henny Youngman  


How to Watch a Chess Match

     "The first problem confronting the chess spectator is to find some people who are playing.  . . .   At first you may think that they are both dead, but a mirror held to the lips of the nearest contestant will probably show moisture (unless, of course, they really should be dead, which would be a horrible ending for a little lark like this. I once heard of a murderer who propped his two victims up against a chess board in sporting attitudes and was able to get as far as Seattle before his crime was discovered)."


Idries Shah

     "The Nasrudin story . . . is designed to add to the mind of the hearer something of the flavor which is needed to build up the consciousness for experiences which cannot be reached until a bridge has been created."

     "This gradual building up of inner consciousness is characteristic of the Nasrudin Sufic method. The flash of intuitive illumination which comes as a result of the stories is partly a minor enlightenment in itself, not an intellectual experience. It is also a steppingstone toward the reestablishing of mystical perception in a captive mind, relentlessly conditioned by the training systems of material life."

Idries Shah. The Sufis


TIME

"It's a sobering thought that by the time Mozart was my age, he'd been dead for five years."
Tom Lehrer

"The future ain't what it used to be." Yogi Berra


     The Mulla walked into a shop one day.
     The owner came forward to serve him.
     "First things first," said Nasrudin; "did you see me walk into your shop?"
     "Of course."
     "Have you ever seen me before?"
"Never in my life."
"Then how do you know it is me?"

Idries Shah, The Sufis


Fool, n. A person who pervades the domain of intellectual speculation and diffuses himself through the channels of moral activity. He is omnific, omniform, omnipercipient, omniscient, omnipotent. He it was who invented letters, printing, the railroad, the steamboat, the telegraph, the platitude, and the circle of the sciences. He created patriotism and taught nations war--founded theology, philosophy, law, medicine, and Chicago. He established monarchical and republican government. He is from everlasting to everlasting--such as creation's dawn beheld he fooleth now. In the morning of time he sang upon primitive hills, and in the noonday of existence headed the procession of being. His grandmotherly hand has warmly tucked-in the set sun of civilization, and in the twilight he prepares Man's evening meal of milk-and-morality and turns down the covers of the universal grave. And after the rest of us shall have retired for the night of eternal oblivion he will sit up to write a history of human civilization.

Ambrose Bierce, The Devil's Dictionary

     Theories of Humor:

  • Superiority: laughter is an expression of a person's feelings of superiority over other people

  • Incongruity: amusement is an intellectual reaction to something that is unexpected, illogical, or inappropriate in some other way

  • Relief: laughter is a venting of nervous energy

Fool:
  1. One who is regarded as deficient in judgment, sense, or understanding.
  2. One who acts unwisely on a given occasion: I was a fool to have refused the job.
  3. One who has been tricked or made to appear ridiculous; a dupe: They made a fool of me by pretending I won the award.
  4. Informal. A person with a talent or an enthusiasm for a certain activity: a dancing fool; a fool for skiing.
  5. A member of a royal or noble household who provided entertainment, as with jokes or antics; a jester.
  6. A dessert made of stewed or puréed fruit mixed with cream or custard and served cold.
  7. Archaic. A mentally deficient person; an idiot.


"Experiments with laboratory rats have shown that, if one psychologist in the room laughs at something a rat does, all of the other psychologists in the room will laugh equally."

Garrison Keillor


Tom Swifty

     "Tom Swifty is a play on words that derives its humor on a punning relationship between the way an adverb describes a speaker, and at the same time refers significantly to the context of the speaker's statement. Huh? Here's an example: "Take the prisoner downstairs," Tom said condescendingly. The adverb 'condescendingly' makes a double pun on the related words 'con' (prisoner) and 'descending' (downstairs).

     "The original Tom Swift was a fictional title character in a series of childrens books written by Edward L. Stratemeyer (1862-1930). The adventure stories depicted young Tom as an ingenious man whose amazing inventions took him to unusual places around the world. In these books, Stratemeyer always avoided using the word 'said' alone in describing Tom's utterances; Tom asserted, averred, chortled, declared, expostulated, grimaced, grinned, groaned, quipped, smiled, etc. Or if he was ever reported to have 'said' something, Stratemeyer would add an adverb to provide a more colorful impact.

     "Eventually, someone decided to satirize the mannerism by using punning adverbs, and the Tom Swifty was born! A similar satirization whereby a verb supplies the pun instead of an adverb, has been termed 'croaker' (coined by Roy Bongartz): 'I'm dying," he croaked.'"


Jester or Joker:

fool, silly fool, tomfool, madman, buffoon, clown, comic, jester, zany, merry-andrew, harlequin, entertainer, perfect fool, complete idiot, ninny, nincompoop, ass, jackass, donkey, goose, turkey, cuckoo, mooncalf, zombie, idiot, congenital idiot, born fool, natural, mongol, cretin, moron, imbecile, mental defective, half-wit, dimwit, sot, stupid, silly, silly-billy, twerp, stooge, butt, laughingstock, madcap, desperado, addlehead, fathead, pinhead, muddlehead, blunderer, incompetent, twit, clot, bungler, scatterbrains, birdbrain, featherbrain, dingbat, rattlehead, giddy-head, flibbertigibbet, trifler, sciolist, witling, wiseacre, crackpot, eccentric, odd fellow, crank, gaffer, old fogy, babbler, burbler, driveler, dotard, old man, humorist, wit, bel-esprit, epigrammatist, reparteeist, conversationalist, card, character, life and soul of the party, wag, wisecracker, japer, joker, Joe Miller, jokesmith, funny man, gagsman, gagster, punster, banterer, persifleur, leg-puller, kidder, tease, practical joker, hoaxer, deceiver, ironist, affecter, mocker, scoffer, satirist, lampooner, detracter, comedian, comedienne, comic, standup comic, slapstick comic, knockabout comic, comic writer, cartoonist, caricaturist, burlesquer, impersonator, parodist, imitator, raconteur, raconteuse


"Humor is not a mood but a way of looking at the world. So if it is correct to say that humor was stamped out in Nazi Germany, that does not mean that people were not in good spirits, or anything of that sort, but something much deeper and more important.

Ludwig Wittgenstein (1889–1951), Austrian philosopher


"Hitler was so wary of the danger of humor to the Third Reich that he had special 'joke courts' set up for, among other things, punishing people who named their dogs and horses 'Adolph.' As Hermann Goering instructed the Academy of German Law, the telling of a joke could be an act against the Fuehrer, against the state, or even against the whole Nazi Weltanschaung."

Taking Laughter Seriously
by John Morreall


     "Every American, to the last man, lays claim to a 'sense' of humor and guards it as his most significant spiritual trait, yet rejects humor as a contaminating element wherever found. America is a nation of comics and comedians; nevertheless, humor has no stature and is accepted only after the death of the perpetrator."

E. B. White, "The Humor Paradox,"
New Yorker , 27 September, 1952


Victor Hugo: "Le calembour est la fiente de l'esprit qui vole." "Puns are the feints of soaring wits."

A reader of this article, David Herz, wrote to ask if he could use the essay in "a comedy class which I will be teaching in a French (yes) Engineering (yes again) school (triple yes)." David says that "according to Le Robert Dictionnaire Historique de la Langue Française fiente in French from the popular (wildly!) 12th Century Latin femita which gives us fumier (both compost and lowlife) is animal excrement (usually birds)." So according to David, Hugo's definition should read:

"Puns are the bird droppings of soaring wits."


Spoonerisms

     "Named after Rev. W.A. Spooner (1844-1930), a distinguised Anglican clergyman and warden of New College, Oxford, England, a spoonerism is an unintential interchange of sounds, usually initial sounds, in two or more words, often with a resultant comical effect. Examples: 'hush my brat' for 'brush my hat' or 'scoop of boy trouts' for 'troop of boy scouts' or 'I have a half-warmed fish in my mind' for 'I have a half-formed wish in my mind.' Spooner was reportedly a nervous man who committed many of these verbal witticisms, albeit unintentionally."


Two of the Marx Brothers

"Time wounds all heels."


"The natural free spirits of ingenious men, if imprisoned or controlled, will find other ways of motion to relieve themselves in their constraint; and whether it be burlesque, mimicry or buffoonery, they will be glad at any rate to vent themselves, and be revenged on their constrainers . . . 'Tis the persecuting spirit has raised the bantering one."
Lord Shaftesbury

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