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January 24th, 2005

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12:12 am - NSOH
I tend not to post many quizzes to my LiveJournal, but I did enjoy How Old Do You Act? largely because it told 24-year-old Meg that she acted 29, and 29-year-old me that I acted 24. Good. Good.

I also enjoyed Better Sense of Humor, which rates your sense of humo(u)r on four theoretically mutually perpendicular axes. The author has a whole series of similar quizzes and even admits that she tries "not to rip off Meyers-Briggs too bad." This may be a situation where if the only tool in your toolbox is a Meyers-Briggs hammer then every problem looks like one of 24 nails, but it's definitely an interesting topic and one worthy of quizzes.

However, I also have the feeling that this may be a topic where people are not necessarily well-placed to self-analyse. EXPERIMENT:
Poll #423628 If you think you know my sense of humour, then:

Is my sense of humour sunny or dark?


Is my sense of humour dry or gross?


Is my sense of humour traditional or offbeat?


Is my sense of humour active or passive?


How would you describe my sense of humour?

It surprises me that there aren't more "sense of humour" tests around, or more formal study of different senses of humour. Quite often people print surveys about "what's important in a partner?"; the results can be skewed if the poll is commissioned by/for a deliberately biased constituency, but at least in the UK, it is quite common that "a good sense of humour" comes very close to the top of the list of desirable attributes. (I also suspect that it's also a key factor in the decision as to whether or not to add a journal as a Friend, because a large part of the LJ experience is as an entertainment medium.) I tend to believe that someone's sense of humour is one of the most important factors in determining how well, or poorly, you will get on with them; if they are entertaining, you can forgive a great many faults. The reflection has been made (mostly in jest) that there is no right and wrong, merely dull and entertaining...

Accordingly, it would seem to be worthwhile to try to identify types of sense of humour; friendships might be made around common interests, but they are strengthened and survive through time spent together enjoying common frames of reference and common sense of humour. There are many people who retain friends from some former activity even though the interest in that activity has died out, simply because the friendships made from it are so strong and the shared jokes experienced so powerful. Conversely, it's also common for fans of some activity not to bond well if the senses of humour do not align with each other, no matter how much joy is taken in the shared activity. When trying to build lasting friendships, I think there are far worse approaches to take than trying to identify people with whom you can have a good laugh.

It may be very difficult to work out how to measure, let alone categorise, senses of humour. Accordingly, this attempt to do so may be very far from the best way, but it deserves a great deal of credit for being an attempt in the first place. A particular difficulty comes from the fact that countries' senses of humour are so different from each other. I'm afraid that I failed to understand a number of the references made within the questions, so had to guess which answers were closest to my true preferences. The "traditional / offbeat" modifier seems particularly USA-centric to me; I suspect that most British humour since about Monty Python onwards is pretty offbeat by USA cultural standards - the offbeat is now traditional. The expression "alternative comedian" was used extensively in the UK in the 1980s, but I strongly suspect that most UK comedians would be considered alternative by 1980s standards; probably the highest-profile contemporary traditional comedians these days are Baddiel and Skinner, and offthetelly charts Baddiel's history, for even he is pretty offbeat when the main creative impetus.

Anyway, going back to this test, I predicted that I would be considered Sunny Gross Offbeat Active, and the results - somewhat unsurprisingly - were Sunny, Gross (weakly on the Gross side of the Gross/Dry cusp) and Offbeat. (For those counting: 3/10 Sunny/Dark, 6/10 Dry/Gross and 6/10 Traditional/Offbeat.) This also scored me as passive - 2/10 Active/Passive - which feels wrong. Apparently this makes me a Wild One, though the caveat at the bottom of the page applies exactly to me. Perhaps Sly Boots suits me better instead after all.

Possibly another way of testing is to try to measure by perceived adjective. In descending order, the four adjectives I would use to describe my sense of humour are silly, geeky, appreciative of wordplay and rude. (It'll be interesting to see whether any of you ascribe any of those adjectives to me, unprompted...) I have remarked to Meg that when we're together, whether in person or on the phone, we do spend a great deal of time being silly with one another, and it's a great joy to have found someone with whom I can share such joy. Senses of humour will never exactly match, but a strong correlation here must surely be a good indicator of a friendship that will long remain fun. Incidentally, I would also point to LaughLab for investigations on the subject, and note that it found that ducks are the funniest comedy animals. Perhaps a shared enjoyment and love for duckies might be indicative of a shared enjoyment and love for silliness, or perhaps I'm extrapolating in public again.

The other useful aspect of testing for similar senses of humour is that you can test for dissimilar senses of humour and it might be possible to identify the concept of "opposite" senses of humour. As natural as it is to put people together who share senses of humour, it may also be wise to avoid putting people together who have radically different senses of humour. Perhaps this would be a useful sort of test to perform at interview, especially in companies where there's a well-established culture and a well-established sense of humour, or worries that a new recruit might not get along with the existing workers.

It's possible this might become another sort of interview test to master, though; perhaps it might become considered wise to train yourself to have some particular type of humour in the hope that it might enhance your chances of success at the interview, when really you want to know what people's true senses of humour naturally are. It could even be concluded that there's a "right", or desirable, sense of humour - a conclusion which makes me slightly uneasy. Then again, perhaps the logical conclusion of an anti-discrimination policy is that employees should not favour jokes which promote discrimination? Taking this further still, the question is raised whether senses of humour are natural or nurtured, and whether it might be that a discriminatory sense of humour is a natural facet of personality that should not be discrimated against!

One related issue that I have long been struggling with - and the struggle has recently loomed particularly large - is that of schadenfreude, (taking) "a malicious satisfaction in the misfortunes of others". It troubles me when I see this as a prevalent aspect in other people's senses of humour and I tend to avoid situations where this will be prevalent in the accepted sense of humour. It's interesting that this is effectively noted as one of the dominant characteristics of someone with the DGT sense of humour type, which further convinces me that I might be as far away from DGT as it is possible to get - specifically, a SYO.

However, there's more to schadenfreude than that. A Daily Telegraph columnist said last month that "It is an axiom often attributed to Confucius that life holds no greater happiness than the sight of a close friend falling off a roof." Additionally, I was profoundly affected by reading Aldous Huxley's reflection in Brave New World that "One of the principal functions of a friend is to suffer (in a milder and symbolic form) the punishments that we should like, but are unable, to inflict upon our enemies." Now it's a satirical work of fiction so that doesn't mean that Huxley believed that statement to be true, but it's a point worthy of reflection.

I ask you kindly not to go into specifics here if you know them, but there does seem to be a current fashion in entertainment for a spate of devices whose only purpose is to enable friends to suffer just such punishments. (This isn't particularly such a fad; practical jokes to this end have existed since time immemorial.) While I find it troubling that people should want such devices to exist at all, whether old or new, that is the only comment I have found which attempts to justify their existence in any way. I personally reject the comment totally much as I want to have nothing whatsoever to do with the devices. Now I spectacularly got served last time I launched an attack on schadenfreude, but much as I (broadly) don't appreciate schadenfreude and actively reject it, I feel that if I could understand how and why other people did then I would be significantly less troubled by other people doing so.

Finally, there is a tendency in the UK to conclude jokes by saying "Do you see what I did there?". I hereby proclaim that the one correct rejoinder to this is "Yes! I do see what you did there and while it may have been clever, it wasn't very funny!"
Current Mood: indescribableintrospective

(4 comments | Leave a comment)


Date:January 23rd, 2005 07:23 pm (UTC)
I think Mel Brooks got it right when he said:

"Tragedy is when I cut my finger. Comedy is when you fall down an open manhole cover and die."
[User Picture]
Date:January 24th, 2005 01:49 am (UTC)
Applause. Humour is my raison d'etre, but I could never have expressed my views on it as thoughtfully as you have done. I was planning to gack the quiz and run, but you've shamed me into trying to think of more content to provide.
[User Picture]
Date:January 24th, 2005 02:12 am (UTC)
FWIW I'm broadly with you on the subject of schadenfreude. The only time I'm ever pleased by the misfortunes of others is if I didn't like them in the first place. Even then, it's less "Ha ha !" and more "Serves you right you git !"
[User Picture]
Date:January 25th, 2005 04:26 pm (UTC)

I am here as you have keith chegwin listed as an interest, and I have just set up a keith chegwin community, which can be found at


You may also be interested in a general minor celebrities community found at


I hope you will join us :)

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