Dinner & dialogue around diversity: What makes something funny?

Sarah Tritt, Staff Writer

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What makes something funny? This was the question raised Tuesday night, at dinner and discussion around diversity, a weekly event put on by Union’s Campus Protestant Ministry.

George Woodzell, a member of the Schenectady community and longtime supporter and participant of these Dinners and Discussions Around Diversity, was leading the topic on Tuesday and said that he was inspired to ask the question at the end of the previous week’s discussion. That topic, “Does Empathy Only Exist as a Result of Tragedy?” brought up the point of whether or not you can empathize with another person when it comes to happy, positive feelings, or if it was only possible and necessary when they were experiencing negative emotions. Woodzell took this part of the discussion and formulated his question, trying to understand why we consider things funny and if it changes based on context.

Several different types of humor were discussed: Owen Corey and Kat Beal ’20 brought up Buster Keaton, an actor from the early twentieth century known for his stunt work and particular brand of slapstick humor. Woodzell showed several cartoons from the New Yorker and participants discussed whether or not it fit with their personal brand of humor and what could potentially make the comics ‘funnier’ to them.

The topic of laughter was brought up and it seemed to go hand-in-hand with the previous week’s discussion: many people said that they only audibly laughed in groups and if they saw something funny on their own it usually did not elicit a verbal response. There was some level of disagreement over the purpose of laugh tracks. Certain people found laugh tracks appropriate in older shows like I Love Lucy and annoying in more modern shows such as The Big Bang Theory, while other people thought they were always awkward and out of place.

At the end of the discussion, the group seemed to come to the consensus that, while humor is inherently subjective, it is something that can, be shared with others.