What Makes People Laugh?

For my capstone project, I am thinking about researching and exploring two things that I love – movies and language. In particular, I am very interested in how the language of comedy movies have changed over time. In other words, what, linguistically, makes people laugh today and what made people laugh yesterday. I wanted to start by researching some of the funniest movies of all times – according to a number of different sources. I would love to find one film from each decade since the 1930’s that has been unanimously named as the funniest film of , for example, the 1960’s. I started to research this films, and immediately came across a problem – one that, interestingly enough, has a lot to do with language.

How do you define a comedy? White google searching “comedy,” I found a number of results relating to the recent awards season – the 2014 Golden Globes, Oscars, SAG Awards, etc. This article  lists all of the nominees and winners for the various categories. However, the “comedy” nominees are very different than the comedy films I discussed in my proposal for this project. What do you think constitutes a comedic film? Why would this be any different as it applies to theaters versus a big time awards show?

Click here to take my survey and help me chose the funniest film from each decade!! I would really appreciate it.


2 thoughts to “What Makes People Laugh?”

  1. Meta! I love it! I think you’ve also hit the nail on the head as to why people from other disciplines should be interested to read your work. The failings of language (i.e. how I define comedy is different from how somebody else does) pops up in literature studies, communications studies, linguistics (which you obviously know), and even in statistics, research, and the sciences. I think that that question would make an absolutely killer introductory part to your project. Great work! Are there other sub-questions that you’re going to tackle while you address the base question you’re working with?

  2. These are such great questions. I think you’ve chosen the best genre possible for this project because comedy is so subjective and delicate. We all have notions of what kind of humor feels “natural,” what feels forced, what is appropriate for different audiences, what appropriate timing or delivery is, etc.

    As a culture, our conception of comedy based on these standards has definitely changed over time. My impression is that in general we have a slightly darker, or at least more sarcastic, sense of humor that may not always be laugh-out-loud funny (but of course that’s a huge generalization and of course there are exceptions!). I’ve noticed this especially in children’s movies, though no specific examples come to mind right now. Kids as characters are just generally sassier and more sarcastic.

    But anyway, that’s just me rambling about an observation that may not help you. I just think we’ve at least kind of moved away from the kind of in-your-face humor that we know and love with, say, Laurel and Hardy, towards something dryer and more subtle, which may make it difficult to even label “comedy.” I think it’s a great idea to send out a survey and get a sense of how other people think of the genre.

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