TEDxBoulder Speaker, Improvisationalist, and Entrepreneur, Eric Farone answers the question, “What makes things funny?”

I had a chance recently to conduct a brief interview with Eric Farone, owner of the Bovine Metropolis (improv) Theater (LINK).  Eric is a funny guy and was a speaker at TEDxBoulder. He gave an entertaining talk, which I will post as soon as it is up.

I asked him my favorite question of late, “What makes things funny?”

His answer to the question is reminiscent of definitions of humor made by various versions of incongruity theory. (Caleb Warren discusses incongruity theory  – and its pros and cons –  in a recent blog post.) Eric’s definition seems most related to a stronger version of incongruity theory that incorporate the notion of resolution. That is, it is not just contrary thoughts, ideas, opinions, or actions that elicit amusement, but rather it is the ability of the perceiver to make sense of the contradiction. The challenge, as Caleb lays out, is that although many humorous stimuli seem to fit this definition, so do many non-humorous stimuli.

We suspect that this notion of incongruity has some truth to it. As we’ll discuss more when we present the Benign Violation Theory more thoroughly, we agree that humor requires one particular type of incongrous juxtaposition: the perception that something is both a violation and benign. However, not all incongruous juxtapositions are humorous. Some are tragic. Muggers and yacht clubs don’t typically go together, but getting mugged at a yacht club would not be funny. And some are simply awesome. Combining an internet browser and a cell phone brought previously disparate concepts together, but it wasn’t funny; it was profitable and ridiculously popular.

My suspicion is that because of incongruity theory’s strong intuitive appeal and popularity (e.g., Eric knows humor and endorses a version of the idea), Caleb and I are going to need to address the issue more deeply – both conceptually and empirically.