During quarantine, I have had a lot of time to scroll through social media. The other day, I was scrolling through the Snapchat explore page and I saw a series called WFH: Will From Home which is essentially a show featuring Will Smith where he tries to entertain us during quarantine. The episode that had popped up on my explore page was one titled “Will & Johnny Knoxville Talk Dumb Boy Stuff!” which was an episode featuring Will Smith, Johnny Knoxville, and Doctor Judy Ho and they all discussed why boys think pain is so funny. After watching this specifically due to the fact that I love Johnny Knoxville and his series of films and shows based off of pain, I realized that this sense of humor was not limited to the male gender. Pain can be very humorous in certain situations due to poor decision making and the unpredictability of it; however, serious accidents are not as funny.
Usually, when we laugh at someone getting hurt, we laugh because of the stupid decision that they made leading into the accident — not at the pain itself. According to Joseph Brownstein in his article “Why Pain Makes Us Laugh”, someone else’s dumb decision to try to jump over a six-foot wall or try to run on a tread mill going 30 miles per hour makes us feel superior and more intellegent. This is the same as when someone acts goofy or says something stupid. The decision, or lack thereof, to let silly or unintelligent words spill out of their mouth, makes us laugh. This is parallel to the decisions that they make leading up to the pain. They decide they want to make someone else laugh or test a theory, which may end badly; but it’s still funny because they were the wise one who decided to actually do the stunt.
The second situation where pain is funny is when it’s a harmless accident. For example, someone tripping and falling (or almost falling) is pretty comical. This is due to the fact that it’s unexpected and unpredictable.
When you are tickled, you laugh because you’re not expecting the tickling sensation. That’s why you can’t tickle yourself and cause a laughing fit from it. If you’re tickling yourself, you expect every next move, which completely eliminates the element of surprise. In an article on scientificamerican.com titled “Ask the Brains: Why Do We Laugh When Someone Falls?”, the article states that the person who witnesses another falling is being tickled or stimulated by a “neurological ghost” because of the unexpected nature of a fall, naturally causing a laughing mechanism. For example, one day at school, I tripped and fell over a friend’s foot in the hallway, causing my water to spill all over the tile floor. All day, I had friends coming up to me telling me how funny it was; and I agreed with them. Sure, it was a bit embarrassing; however, the outcome of me just trying to walk from point A to point B being equivalent to me ending up on the ground with my water all over the tile was pretty hilarious.
Lastly I think that people think that pain is humorous due to the fact that pain is plastered all over comedy films and T.V. shows. People like Johnny Knoxville and Steve-O make their livings off of pain as comedy! One example of this would be the MTV show Ridiculousness. This show has millions of viewers tuning in everyday just to see people do dumb things and get hurt because they find it hilarious! This is due to the fact that these viewers have been exposed to pain as comedy in the media for quite some time. A more family friendly version of this show that dates all the way back to 1989, America’s Funniest Home Videos, is a show that also often features people getting hurt as comedy.
However, I believe that serious accidents aren’t to be taken as comedy. Someone falling off of a 10 story building or a tragic car accident is not something that people laugh about. Myself and many other people do not find tragic life or death situations as laughable events.
Little cases of pain here and there are pretty funny and bring smiles to most people’s faces. If this weren’t true, most comedy films and T.V. shows would not exist! Through poor decision making and the unpredictability of most little injuries, it’s only human for us to laugh at each other’s little mistakes.