A Taxonomy of Laughter

Discussion of the art and craft of improvisation. All skills-levels welcome.

Moderators: happywaffle, arclight, bradisntclever

A Taxonomy of Laughter

Postby Spots » March 21st, 2012, 5:52 am

***WARNING: READ THIS THREAD AT YOUR OWN RISK***

------------------------------------------------------------------------------------
If you are OK with dispelling your own beliefs about laughter, continue to read on. But if you feel that gaining more understanding will conflict with your personal comfort or sanity please read no further. After reading this, some people may become self aware about laughter. Might start to mess with you. But don't worry. Even if you do read the following it is likely you will develop a cognitive bias so that you can allow yourself to bury it in the back of your brain. You now have been warned and consciously choose to read or not read A Taxonomy of Laughter.
------------------------------------------------------------------------------------


A Taxonomy of Laughter


During shows I like to imagine laughs are the beeps from a metal detector. Individual laughs let you know when you're close to triggering a sense of euphoria in a person, or maybe something else. Listening & distinguishing laughs is one way live performers can hone their craft.

(A big reason why you should try to watch MANY shows.)

We communicate a lot when we laugh. Fear, empathy, joy, status. As infants we laughed to tell our mothers that we felt at ease.

In other words laughter is multi-purpose and its own form of communication.

In Fates Worse Than Death, Kurt Vonnegut refers to laughter as a fight-or-flight response. He says we laugh because otherwise we'd have to punch someone in the face to express our feelings.

Vonnegut is the person who inspired me to research this. But even his description doesn't account for all laughter. Not by a long shot. Does laughter serve to smooth out tension? This is my personal theory.


Socially or non-socially, we smooth out different types of tension using laughter. We do it for many reasons but the primary purpose is to assure one another of safety without having to use hand signals or waste time speaking. Perhaps we laugh to tell each other "this isn't a real threat."

Here is a sociological breakdown of my perception of laughter as both an audience member and performer after hundreds of live comedy shows. A Taxonomy of Laughter:


Added fun: Try to simulate these laughs as you go along.


---------------------------------------------------

SOCIAL LAUGHTER
Laughter directed at others in order to communicate fight-or-flight instincts.


1.) TERRITORIAL GROUP (to PROTECT)
We laugh to assert our feelings of dominance.



Alpha laughter
"I acknowledge your performance but people must remember I'm still the alpha here."

I'm in On It laughter
"That was a reference to a thing I know! I want people to know that I know." (Intellectual Territory)

Oooh I Saw That Coming laughter
"Nice. I appreciate that move but I wasn't surprised. You can't fool me!" (Intellectual Territory)

---------------------------------------------------

2.) EMPATHY GROUP (to NURTURE)
We laugh to express our own feelings of helplessness.



Pity laughter
"Been a while since someone laughed at something. I guess I will."

Nervous laughter
"This is so embarrassing. I've become self aware & I need to signal out to others."

Crisis Averted laughter
"Oh shit you guys! Those two almost killed each other. Phew."

---------------------------------------------------


3.) SOCIAL ASSURANCE GROUP
We laugh to express our feelings of ease and safety.



We're All Laughing laughter
"Oh everybody is laughing? I will join you!"

Joy Expression laughter
"I want others to know I feel safe & full of joy."

Joy Expression laughter scale 2
"I want others to know I feel safe & full of joy."

Joy Expression laughter scale 3
"I want others to know I feel safe & full of joy."

XXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXX
Here is where I argue laughter becomes a subconscious attack on the human body.
XXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXX

(You will experience difficulty faking one of these laughs)

NON-SOCIAL LAUGHTER
Non-social laughter is more mysterious and seems purer in almost all aspects. Very much a mystery.


1.) INNER ASSURANCE GROUP
We laugh to assure our own brains?


Joy laughter scale 5
"I feel safe, full of joy, and I cannot help laughing."

Joy laughter scale 10
"I feel safe, full of joy, and I cannot help laughing."


2.) INNER CONFLICT GROUP
We fight back our laughter because of conflicting social constraints.


Non-verbal laughter
Should be laughing out loud but mysteriously do not because nobody else is. (ie: Breaking the seal in a quiet theater audience)

Captivated & Succeeding to Fight Back the laughter
"I'm hanging onto every word & I want to listen-- Mmph. Gasp. Giggle." Usually results in...

Captivated & Failing to Fight Back the laughter
"Tried to restrain myself. Nope! Too funny-- Mwah!!! Ahahaha!"

Inappropriate laughter
We attempt to hide or mask our joy from others. Because the topic is taboo, or we are conflicted with ourselves from drawing joy from such a topic. A person may even hold their head in their hands out of shame or disgust at their own reaction. While laughing to themselves.

3.) INNER EUPHORIA GROUP
Usually begins with a feeling of warmth & joy and builds and builds and builds. This is laughter that cannot be held back because it's essentially a drug high & a bit of a mystery as to its purpose.


Euphoria High laughter
(The ego is absent and replaced with pure euphoria)

Euphoria High Laughter -- GROUP
(the whole audience is laughing but each person is having an inner, personal experience. totally pure)



I think it goes without saying that the Euphoria High is the Holy Grail for comedians. I believe Social Laughter is what Luis C.K. refers to as "tepid laughter" even though it's great to hear--- it somehow doesn't stack up very high to those personal, euphoric laughs where the person is totally immersed in the experience.

Where they are too busy enjoying themselves to communicate.
Last edited by Spots on April 21st, 2013, 9:52 pm, edited 28 times in total.
Image
User avatar
Spots
 
Posts: 1442
Joined: September 1st, 2009, 1:08 am
Location: New Orleans

Postby Spots » October 26th, 2012, 5:51 pm

My friend says reading this taxonomy made him self-conscious about the types of laughs he's getting. My response was "Great! Accept it as a Challenge. Go for the non-social laughs. Arouse a sense of euphoria in the audience."



I want people to let go of the idea of "laughs per minute." If there were hundreds of "laughs per minute" it's still not ideal because no comedian could build up tension within 15 seconds EVERY fifteen seconds. The number of laughs never illustrates the value of the audience's emotional state. For instance you could have 2 hours full of nervous laughter which is absolutely awkward and painful for the audience. Therefore thinking in terms of laughs per minute is an utter fallacy.


No, we have to contextualize the laughter and seek a fuller experience. We have to challenge ourselves as comedians to arouse that sense of inner conflict or euphoria in our audiences. We need to be aware what kind of laughs are beeping forth from the metal detector out there in those seats.
Last edited by Spots on November 1st, 2012, 2:31 am, edited 7 times in total.
Image
User avatar
Spots
 
Posts: 1442
Joined: September 1st, 2009, 1:08 am
Location: New Orleans

Postby Spots » October 31st, 2012, 1:51 pm

After a particularly hilarious show I filed another laughter category under the Inner Conflict Group:

Inappropriate laughter
We attempt to hide or mask our joy from others. Because the topic is taboo, or we are conflicted with ourselves from drawing joy from such a topic. A person may even hold their head in their hands out of shame or disgust at their own reaction. While laughing to themselves.
Image
User avatar
Spots
 
Posts: 1442
Joined: September 1st, 2009, 1:08 am
Location: New Orleans

Postby Spots » November 1st, 2012, 1:52 am

This is how much weight each kind of laugh carries. Imagine they are planets.

Image


Keep in mind that laughter can overlap between 2 or 3 categories.

This scale is based on my own perceptions, beliefs, and experiences. It may vary from comedian to comedian. Audience member to audience member. But for me it doesn't matter if the whole room is laughing if it's a nervous laugh because there's simply no weight to it.


Put simply: If the audience members can stop mid -chuckle and choose not to follow through with their laughter-- that's not really laughter. That's chatter. They're chatting to each other.
Image
User avatar
Spots
 
Posts: 1442
Joined: September 1st, 2009, 1:08 am
Location: New Orleans

Re: A Taxonomy of Laughter

Postby Spots » December 30th, 2013, 7:47 pm

I haven't shared this in a long, long time. Some comedy-science-nerd out there and I are going to talk about this one day.


The whole thing has changed quite a bit:


https://drive.google.com/file/d/0B2Z_Uw ... sp=sharing
Image
User avatar
Spots
 
Posts: 1442
Joined: September 1st, 2009, 1:08 am
Location: New Orleans

Re: A Taxonomy of Laughter

Postby Spots » May 29th, 2015, 12:32 pm

This Taxonomy will now be remembered as "Thank Heavens I developed my own personal Bullshit Detector"



Image
User avatar
Spots
 
Posts: 1442
Joined: September 1st, 2009, 1:08 am
Location: New Orleans


Return to Improv Theory & Practice

Who is online

Users browsing this forum: No registered users and 1 guest

cron