Humor Theory. One might think that almost nothing sounds less funny. One might think that to analyze laughter and its motives is to condemn oneself to a life of straight faces. This is quite untrue. Sometimes the analysis itself is funny (as when Kant chalks the pleasure of humor up to frustrated organs jumping around inside of us), but even when the analysis is not particularly diverting, questioning humor and its motives is important and relevant. Kierkegaard tells us that people are prone to think seriousness the same as harmony, and laughter the same as uncomfortable incongruity. Humor can, therefore, be a formidable advocate for social change when it illuminates the previously unquestioned, yet entirely inharmonious, ways of the world.
No one is more concerned about achieving social harmony than the Jesuits. Peter-Hans Kolvenbach explains that Jesuit universities hope to encourage the students in their charge to become aware of these unquestioned, iniquitous ways of the world, and to go about working for their abolishment. While Kolvenbach makes no references to humor as a means to this end, his ideas align quite well with those of Kierkegaard. Humor involves identifying an incongruity, and Kolvenbach points to this as the first step toward change.
Mark Twain alludes to a distinction of humors when he draws a line between the comic story, which “makes one want to renounce joking and live a better life,” and the humorous story, which is an achievement of American art. The difference between the two is that the first beats its audience over the head with the reason for the laughter, while the second innocently rambles, pretending to be ignorant of anything funny. This latter brand of humor forces its audience either to think or to be excluded from the joke. When the audience thinks, it has identified an incongruity, and the first motion toward change has begun.
Obviously Jesuits should tell more jokes.