Game of Humor: A Comprehensive Theory of Why We Laugh

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Overview

Humor, wit, and laughter surround each person. From everyday quips to the carefully contrived comedy of literature, newspapers, and television we experience humor in many forms, yet the impetus for our laughter is far from innocuous. Misfortune, stupidity, and moral or cultural defects, however faintly revealed in others and ourselves, seem to make us laugh. Although discomforting, such negative terms as superiority, aggression, hostility, ridicule, or degradation can be applied to instances of humor. According to scholars, Thomas Hobbes's "superiority theory"—that humor arises from mischances, infirmities, and indecencies, where there is no wit at all—applies to most humor. With the exception of good-natured play, Charles R. Gruner claims that humor is rarely as innocent as it first appears.

Gruner's proposed superiority theory of humor is all-encompassing. In The Game of Humor, he expands the scope of Hobbes's theory to include and explore the contest aspect of "good-natured" play. As such, the author believes all instances of humor can be examined as games, in terms of competition and keeping score—winners and losers. Gruner draws on a broad spectrum of thought-provoking examples. Holocaust jokes, sexual humor, the racialist dialogue of such comic characters as Stepin Fetchit and Archie Bunker, simple puns, and many of the author's own encounters with everyday humor. Gruner challenges the reader to offer a single example of humor that cannot be "de-humorized" by its agonistic nature.

The Game of Humor makes intriguing and enjoyable reading for people interested in humor and the aspects of human motivation. This book will also be valuable to professionals in communication and information studies, sociologists, literary critics and linguists, and psychologists concerned with the conflicts and tensions of everyday life.

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Editorial Reviews

From the Publisher
“Gruner expounds on Koestler's notion that aggression is the one indispensable ingredient for humor by taking on the daunting task of finding aggressive themes in hundreds of instances of humor over a wide historical period… A controversial book written in a confrontational style, which will provide much material for debate.” —K. M. Dillon, Choice
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9781560003137
  • Publisher: Transaction Publishers
  • Publication date: 1/1/1997
  • Pages: 226
  • Product dimensions: 6.24 (w) x 9.23 (h) x 0.85 (d)

Meet the Author

Charles R. Gruner is professor of speech communication at the University of Georgia. This is his second volume on humor. His first is Understanding Laughter.

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Table of Contents

Introduction 1
1 Win Or Lose: The Games We Play 3
2 Conflict in Daily Life 27
3 Drollery in Death, Destruction, and Disaster 41
4 Comic Scripts: Laughing at People, Groups, and Concepts 75
5 Sexual, Sexist, and Scatological Humor 107
6 The Special Case of Puns: Wordplay is a Game to be Won, Too 131
7 The Mirage of "Innocent" Humor 147
References 179
Index 191
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