The Discovery of Parts.

After posting “The Naming of Parts” I realized that I’d better explain why I think that comedy, wit, rebellion, and mystery are the four fundamental components of “humor,” that suitcase term meaning, basically, anything that is funny.

(Humor is not anything that makes us laugh. We also laugh out of derision, relief, nervousness, fear, and even simple enjoyment – as when we laugh at a baby’s expression of pleasure. Something is funny when we laugh out of delighted recognition – or more tamely, we smile out of amusement. Sometimes humor elicits only an internal delight, and we don’t laugh or smile at all.)

To arrive at comedy, wit, rebellion, and mystery, I started examining every humor term I could find. Many terms didn’t qualify as basic components because they belong in other categories. For example, movies, standup acts, and musical compositions (say, of P. D. Q. Bach) are humorous media. Slapstick, gags, word play, and satire are humorous genres. Silly faces, pictures, and noises are humorous tools. Timing is another vital tool.

Other commonly used terms fell out because they can be placed as logical subsets of more comprehensive humor components. For instance, incongruity, absurdity, puns, and epigrams are all aspects of wit. (You’ll have to trust me on my assignment of incongruity and absurdity to wit. I’ll try to justify it when I get there.)

It eventually dawned on me that comedy, wit, rebellion, and mystery are the basic components of humor because they are absolutely essential aspects of it – that is, humor cannot exist without at least one of them.

(Most humor involves two or more of them at a time, working together. Take, for example, “A cynic is a man who knows the price of everything and the value of nothing.” The comment on the conceit of the cynic is comical; the verbally elegant opposition of price and value, everything and nothing, is witty.)

So after a week off to hang out in Washington DC during the Obama inauguration (to which I may actually get as close as, say, Manassas, VA) I’ll try to get started explaining the humor component, comedy.

Here’s a hint:

Laurel and Hardy are trying to move an upright piano across a narrow, swaying suspension footbridge between two mountains. Halfway across they meet a gorilla.

BTW: I’ll actually be in Fairfax, VA, but Manassas is a funnier word. Why?


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