Philosophy and Comedy
February 16, 2008 3:23 PM   Subscribe

Henri Bergson's "On Comedy"
Helene Cixous's "The Laugh of the Medusa"
David Chalmer's Philosophical Humour
Monty Python's "Philosopher's World Cup"

Inspired by this, posted previously:
Philosophy is a funny business and some philosophers are funny people. The philosopher asks you to look at the world awry, to place in question your usual habits, assumptions, prejudices and expectations. The philosopher asks you to be sceptical about all sorts of things you would ordinarily take for granted, like the reality of things in the world or whether the people around you are actually human or really robots. In this regard, the philosopher has, I think, a family resemblance with the comedian....

Simon Critchley's "Did you hear the one about the philosopher writing a book on humour?"
posted by anotherpanacea (21 comments total) 13 users marked this as a favorite
Recent review by Critchley, of Zizek's new book, starts with a joke... (He'll be giving a talk on Zizek this week in NY, continuing a little feud...)

I love the philosopher's world cup.
posted by mdn at 3:48 PM on February 16, 2008

ZOMG I am so much remembering Archimedes crying EUREKA and finally playing that friggin ball ! The Monthy never disappoint !
posted by elpapacito at 3:55 PM on February 16, 2008

Some philosophers are terrific comedians. But by and large, philosophers have terrible senses of humor. All their jokes are just quips based upon quantifier scope ambiguities and use/mention errors. For example, here's Bertrand Russell:

"I thought your yacht was larger than it is."
"No, my yacht is not larger than it is."

Critchley has some more of these hilarious witticisms at the end of his article. There is a difference between being funny and being a smartass.
posted by painquale at 3:57 PM on February 16, 2008 [1 favorite]

And then it occourred on me that Archimedes could have told to the camera "Hi I am on Meta and I am overthinking a plate of beans" and I would have lol'd
posted by elpapacito at 4:07 PM on February 16, 2008

If you think Bergson is good on comedy, you should totally check out Aristotle. I'd provide the link but I'm afraid there isn't enough room in the margin ...
posted by joe lisboa at 4:45 PM on February 16, 2008

Well, Bruce, I would have thought you'd have included the Philosopher's Song in the links.
posted by F Mackenzie at 5:46 PM on February 16, 2008

So, what was the British midfield that the Germans beat? I get Bentham, but can't make out the rest.
posted by oddman at 5:59 PM on February 16, 2008

Paging LobsterMitten to aisle 69,147 ...

Can somebody help me understand why the first 2 links are funny? Some of Chalmer's stuff made me laugh and I loved the Monty Python sketch, but the other stuff is way too rarified for an empiricist like me. Help?

aw, nevermind - if you have to explain, it just isn't funny anymore
posted by Quietgal at 7:33 PM on February 16, 2008

So, what was the British midfield that the Germans beat? I get Bentham, but can't make out the rest.

Bentham, Locke, and Hobbes.
posted by Horace Rumpole at 8:34 PM on February 16, 2008

The English midfield trio: Bentham, Locke, and Hobbes.
posted by LobsterMitten at 9:06 PM on February 16, 2008

D'oh, I should preview.
About the first two links: they're not really in my side of philosophy (they are more "continental" philosophy, I'm more "analytic" philosophy).

The Cixous piece (for which I have no background or expertise at all), I don't see as being overtly about humor at all. That is, I think there are lots of interesting things to be said about the peculiar ways social expectations of women make it hard for women to be funny -- many, many of our richest comic tropes are only available to male speakers/performers, and they fall flat when women try them, for example. But I don't see that essay -- or the linked excerpt -- making that point. So, not sure.

The Bergson I'm afraid I don't have time to read now. Will look at it later.

Philosophical analysis of humor is something I find very interesting, but I've never seen a successful one. I mean, they often have good insights but never seem to really nail it. The thing is humor is so variable across times and places. There are a very few things that seem funny widely, and I'm suspicious of whether these things are funny to widely different people in the same way or in quite different ways.

Chalmers has a nice piece here, in his taxonomy of cognitive jokes.
posted by LobsterMitten at 9:17 PM on February 16, 2008 [1 favorite]

The first two links aren't funny; they're about funny.
posted by anotherpanacea at 9:59 PM on February 16, 2008

That is what is funny.
posted by Henry C. Mabuse at 10:16 PM on February 16, 2008

But how is the second one about funny? My brief read-through reveals nothing.
posted by LobsterMitten at 10:36 PM on February 16, 2008

I read Bergson several times in college, and his work changed the way I thought about comedy. But on the other hand, I was dumb then, and I'm drunk now, so I'm not sure where I was going with this thought.
posted by Admiral Haddock at 11:06 PM on February 16, 2008 [1 favorite]

But how is the second one about funny? My brief read-through reveals nothing.

Yeah, as I look at it now I realize that the excerpt cuts out a little too quickly. Cixous imagines a role for laughter and comedic writing in undermining phallogocentrism, and I wanted to include her whole piece but it's not available freely without library access to JSTOR. Sorry about that. If you have online library access you can find it in Signs, 1:4, 875-93.

The point was just to showcase some approaches to comedy. I would have thrown Freud's Jokes and their Relationship to the Unconscious in there if it were available.
posted by anotherpanacea at 11:16 PM on February 16, 2008

Whaddaya know. Karl Marx was right.

Socrates was offside.
posted by surfdad at 5:49 AM on February 17, 2008

I found the Bertrand Russell yacht joke to be delightful. Anyway, the topic of philosophical humor always brings The Jean-Paul Sartre Cookbook to my mind. It's not very funny, but does include this gem:

Tuna Casserole

Ingredients: 1 large casserole dish

Place the casserole dish in a cold oven. Place a chair facing the oven and sit in it forever. Think about how hungry you are. When night falls, do not turn on the light.
posted by bluejayk at 6:40 AM on February 17, 2008

On that Monty Python sketch I've always wanted Schroedinger there to argue that the ball was both in the goal and not in the goal. For the dangers of humor in the hands of philosophers, be sure to read Umberto Eco The Name of the Rose. (wikipedia)
posted by nax at 7:27 AM on February 17, 2008

Far too FEW Philosophy links on the blue. Thanks for this anotherpanacea!
posted by Dantien at 7:36 PM on February 17, 2008

Philosopher or Warrior? (Ultimate Warrior, that is...)
posted by norm at 8:26 AM on February 18, 2008

« Older George Lawrence and his amazing Lawrence Captive...   |   Inventive insurgency Newer »

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