Comedy and Insight, Or When Diarrhea Is a Good Thing…May 23, 2011
Insights Make Us Laugh
According to the comedian Zach Galifianakis, the only time it’s appropriate to shout out to room full of people, “I HAVE DIARRHEA!” is when you’re playing Scrabble (because it’s worth a crap load of points). When I heard this joke in his stand-up act, it got me laughing…and thinking: why is this so funny? Of course, some would say that I have a juvenile sense of humor, but I’ll bet if you had seen it, you would have laughed, too. Was it his delivery? Maybe. He has a way about him that’s just silly and weird and funny. But more than that, I started to realize that this joke got to me because there’s an insight embedded within it. When you really think about it, it’s true! That really might be the only occasion a person could shout “I HAVE DIAHRREA!” and experience little or no social consequence.
As I pondered why this joke is so funny, I began to realize that much of comedy, and stand-up comedy in particular, is really just the revelation of insights. Insights are “unthought knowns,” or information that is already stored in our brains, but we don’t consciously know it’s there until all of a sudden, something triggers our knowledge and we become aware of it. (Click here to see Daryl Travis’ blog post for more on this topic.)
The work we do at Brandtrust® is all about insight. We are insight miners, if you will. And while the work is not as hard as, say, mining for gold, or coal, or diamonds, you still have to work pretty hard to dig these nuggets out of the human mind where they are hiding. The output of this labor, though, can be amazing. Insights can really turn things around for a brand or make a product more innovative. And the insight that hit me hard the other day is that apparently, insights also make us laugh.
When you watch the masters of stand-up comedy, like Jerry Seinfeld, Rodney Dangerfield, Bill Cosby, Richard Pryor, George Carlin, Eddie Murphy, and many others, you will find that their acts primarily consist of insights and stories strung together. I didn’t share links to all of them simply because this is our business website and many of these masterful comics are also masters of the profane. But, if you are interested, you can easily do your own research on YouTube where you are sure to find plenty of laughs…I did.
Humor Taps the Unthought Known
This relationship between humor and insight is fascinating to me. It seems that much of what strikes us as funny has that effect because it makes a connection to an experience we’ve had in the past or one of those untapped, unthought knowns lying dormant within our own minds. When we hear the joke, a connection is made and we experience an “ah-ha” moment. We recognize the association between the comic’s experience and our own, and we feel a satisfying sense of connection with the comic and the rest of the audience for having gotten the joke.
The coolest part of all this for me is that other processes work in the same way. When we have “ah-ha” moments, when insights are revealed, and also when we laugh, the limbic system of the brain is activated. As a result, the brain is rewarded with a flood of dopamine that feels really, really good. That’s why laughter, comedy and the ability to get the joke are all so enjoyable. To learn more about the relationship between humor and the release of dopamine, check out this article in the journal, Neuron.
Mining For Gold – Everywhere
In the words of legendary comedian Mel Brooks, “life literally abounds in comedy if you just look around you.” Finding comic relief is just like finding insights. The golden nuggets are everywhere, we just have to open our eyes and look around for them. It reminds me of this old man, George. George went to the doctor for his annual physical. He told the doctor that he felt fine, but often he had to go to the bathroom in the middle of the night. Then he said, “but you know Doc, I’m blessed. God knows my eyesight is going, so he puts on the light when I pee, and turns it off when I’m done!” A little later in the day, Dr. Smith called George’s wife and said, “your husband’s test results were fine, but he said something strange that has been bugging me all day. He claims that God turns the light on and off for him when uses the bathroom at night.” To which Thelma exclaimed, “that old fool! He’s been peeing in the refrigerator again!”