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Comic Relief: A Comprehensive Philosophy of Humor



Comic Relief: A Comprehensive Philosophy of Humor

John Morreall

ISBN: 978-1-444-35829-2 August 2011 Wiley-Blackwell 208 Pages


Comic Relief: A Comprehensive Philosophy of Humor develops an inclusive theory that integrates psychological, aesthetic, and ethical issues relating to humor
  • Offers an enlightening and accessible foray into the serious business of humor
  • Reveals how standard theories of humor fail to explain its true nature and actually support traditional prejudices against humor as being antisocial, irrational, and foolish
  • Argues that humor’s benefits overlap significantly with those of philosophy
  • Includes a foreword by Robert Mankoff, Cartoon Editor of The New Yorker
Foreword - Robert Mankoff, Cartoon Editor of The New Yorker.


1 No Laughing Matter: The Traditional Rejection of Humor and Traditional Theories of Humor.

Humor, Anarchy, and Aggression.

The Superiority Theory: Humor as Anti-social.

The Incongruity Theory: Humor as Irrational.

The Relief Theory: Humor as a Pressure Valve.

The Minority Opinion of Aristotle and Thomas Aquinas: Humor as Playful Relaxation.

The Relaxation Theory of Robert Latta.

2 Fight or Flight – or Laughter: The Psychology of Humor.

Humor and Disengagement.

Humor as Play.

Laughter as a Play Signal.

3 From Lucy to "I Love Lucy": The Evolution of Humor.

What Was First Funny?

The Basic Pattern in Humor: The Playful Enjoyment of a Cognitive Shift Is Expressed in Laughter.

The Worth of Mirth.

4 That Mona Lisa Smile: The Aesthetics of Humor.

Humor as Aesthetic Experience.

Humor and Other Ways of Enjoying Cognitive Shifts: The Funny, Tragic, Grotesque, Macabre, Horrible, Bizarre, and Fantastic.

Tragedy vs. Comedy: Is Heavy Better than Light?

Enough with the Jokes: Spontaneous vs. Prepared Humor.

5 Laughing at the Wrong Time: The Negative Ethics of Humor.

Eight Traditional Moral Objections.

The Shortcomings in the Contemporary Ethics of Humor.

A More Comprehensive Approach: The Ethics of Disengagement.

First Harmful Effect: Irresponsibility.

Second Harmful Effect: Blocking Compassion.

Third Harmful Effect: Promoting Prejudice.

6 Having a Good Laugh: The Positive Ethics of Humor.

Intellectual Virtues Fostered by Humor.

Moral Virtues Fostered by Humor.

Humor during the Holocaust.

7 Homo Sapiens and Homo Ridens: Philosophy and Comedy.

Was Socrates the First Stand-up Comedian?

Humor and the Existentialists.

The Laughing Buddha.

8 The Glass Is Half-Empty and Half-Full: Comic Wisdom.


"As an intelligent treatment of what humor is and what it means, this work raises significant questions and proposes plausible answers." (CHOICE, September 2010)