When you think of comedy, the next thing that you think of likely is not pain. However, comedy and pain share a unique and connected relationship.
Pain and comedy have several different relationships. Many comedians experience mental distress, patients with chronic pain feel relief through humor, and society laughs at others' misfortunes. Each of these relationships stems from a different area of human psychology.
Pain and humor are interconnected in a few different ways. Though seemingly different, the two emotions are closely related. Learn more about the relationships between pain and comedy below.
Pain and Comedians
The first relationship we will discuss is that of pain and those who deliver comedy, comedians. Comedians are often thought to be the happiest people. After all, comedians make their livelihoods from making us laugh.
Unfortunately, those who provide the most happiness are often those who are battling the most mental pain. Comedians often put up laughing, smiling facades to cover their tortured souls.
Some of the most popular comedians, such as Robin Wiliams, Ellen DeGeneres, Woody Allen, Bo Burnham, and Charles Rocket, deal with severe depression or lack of self-worth. According to Brain World Magazine, one study found that about 80% of successful comedians have participated in psychotherapy at some point in their life.
More surprising than these seemingly happy people battling with mental pain is the fact that they credit their comedic abilities to the pain. Without this pain constantly in their life, some feared they would no longer be funny.
But why do comedians feel like their pain is the source of humor?
Closely connected to laughter is the feeling of humiliation. When we are humiliated, we attempt to laugh it off. This masks the feeling of embarrassment. Comedians often use their own humiliation and pain as the source of their jokes. Because comedians frequently deal with pain and humiliation, they are better equipped to convey those feelings in a humorous way to an audience. In fact, many comedians directly make fun of themselves as a part of their set.
Charlie Chaplin once said "To truly laugh, you must be able to take your pain, and play with it!"
Using their own pain and misfortune as a part of their jokes allows comedians a sense of control over their humiliation. Rather than allowing people to laugh at whatever, whenever they want, comedians guide them to laugh at certain aspects of themselves.
Although this does give the comedians some control, it can also cause comedians to feel isolated or damage their views of self-worth.
How Comedy Helps Pain
In regards to mental pain, laughter can not cure the distress both we and comedians experience; however, laughing can provide temporary release from the bondage of depression.
When it comes to physical pains, comedy can actually provide a more permanent treatment for one's ailments.
We have all heard the phrase "laughter is the best medicine" at some point in our lives. While you may brush this off as just a phrase, there is actually some merit behind it.
Several studies have found that laughter positively affects stress, the immune system, and even chronic pain. Humor can also be beneficial for alleviating physical pain and conflicts.
An article in the European Journal of Pain explained that watching a funny video or another humorous action can increase one's tolerance for pain.
Think of a father "comforting" a young child who has just fallen and scraped their knee. Rather than feeding into the child's pain, the father teases them about how they got hurt in the first place. This reaction changes the child's focus from their humiliation to a humorous series of events that led to their misfortune.
These studies and examples show us that comedy has a positive relationship with both mental and physical pain.
Why is Pain Funny
As well as alleviating both our physical and mental ailments, comedy and pain share another special relationship. This is the relationship of pain being comedic.
Think back to the last few viral videos you watched. How many of those videos were of someone getting hurt or experiencing some form of pain? Chances are at least ONE, if not more, was related to someone experiencing pain.
What is it about these videos that make us laugh? Do humans enjoy seeing other humans in distress? Luckily, this is not the reason we laugh when others get hurt.
One aspect of the pain and comedy relationship is when something is humorous or not. This largely relies on the context in which the pain is portrayed.
For example, extremely tense situations where someone is severely injured do not invoke humorous responses. These are not the instances of pain that we find comedic. However, in casual or light-hearted situations, one's pain or misfortune is regarded as humorous.
In addition to the severity of the pain, our emotional connection with the person affects how we view the situation. When someone close to us gets hurt, we are likely to show concern before laughing (there are some situations where we laugh at the misfortune of those close to us as well).
However, when a stranger is the subject of misfortune, it is seen as humorous. The fewer emotional connections we have with the person, the funnier the situation appears.
Philosopher Henri Bergson claims that laughing may also be a way to signal societal preferences. When someone stumbles on the street, it is not considered normal behavior. People then laugh as a way to signal to the person they have made a mistake.
Similar to the claims of Bergson are those of Thomas Hobbes. Hobbes explained that when someone experiences pain or misfortune, we laugh to express our superiority over them.
Learn more about the science behind humorous pain from Medical Daily here.
While pain is often thought to be the source of humor, Hobbes and Bergson provide different insights. Rather than laughing at the pain someone is experiencing, we laugh at the actions or behaviors that caused the pain.
When someone falls or walks into something, it shows clumsiness, ignorance, and lack of attention. These behaviors fall outside of societal norms and preferences. We laugh both to inform the person of their mistake as well as our own superiority.