Humor in America

Tracy Wuster

Today (June 25th) is the 52nd birthday of Ricky Gervais.  Today is also the birthday of George Orwell (1903-1950).  In his 1945 essay, “Funny, but not Vulgar,” Orwell discussed the meaning of humor and the state of humor in England, and his insights might shed some light on Gervais.  He wrote:

We do not know with certainty how laughter originated or what biological purpose it serves, but we do know, in broad terms, what causes laughter.

A thing is funny when — in some way that is not actually offensive or frightening — it upsets the established order. Every joke is a tiny revolution. If you had to define humour in a single phrase, you might define it as dignity sitting on a tin-tack. Whatever destroys dignity, and brings down the mighty from their seats, preferably with a bump, is funny. And the bigger they fall…

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