Evolutionary biologists have historically struggled to understand why the human animal developed a sense of humor. The best theory I have heard comes from watching when infants laugh. Babies don’t truly laugh until about the fourth or fifth month, and they do so as a response to relief after a fright. e.g. Mommy makes a scary face (fright), but baby realizes that it’s still his loving mother (relief); Daddy tosses baby into the air (fright), but catches him a second later (relief); the game of peekaboo; etc. Eventually we get to the point where we enjoy the shock-relief contrast such that we seek it out. All physical comedy is based on this principle. The man falling down is only funny after it’s clear that he’s really alright. I’ve come to classify the vast majority of British comedy as “humor from uncomfortable situations”. Monty Python and The Office are good examples. “Safe fear” is the apparent attraction of scary movies and roller coasters (neither of which appeal to me). While this fright-relief pattern is not the only dimension to comedy, it’s one of the first to develop in children and is definitely one of the principal aspects of why we laugh.
On Tuesday morning we went for Marga’s last ultrasound appointment. <sarcasm>The obstetric nurse was her usual charming self.</sarcasm> She almost denied us entry because we had changed our appointment date. When we got into the examination room, the doctor came in. She seems like a nice enough woman, but is just overpowered by the pure evil of her demon assistant. Luckily the devil nurse isn’t present during the examinations. The doctor went silently about measuring the cranium and femur of my unborn child, who now takes up more than the full screen of the ultrasound machine. There was some small talk about the baby’s activity levels. Then Marga comes out with this:
Marga: “To be honest, I’m not so sure that it’s a girl.”
The doctor immediately tensed up. No doubt she’s previously had to deal with emotional mothers that refuse to believe the sex of their baby. I was confused too. I had no idea where Marga was going with this. And her timing was perfect.
Doctor: “Um….really?? …..why not?”
Marga: “Judging from all the violent kicking, I think it might be a calf.”
The doctor burst into laughter. Her relief was as palpable as her nervousness had been.
Doctor: “Ha! I’ve never heard that one before! That’s a good one.”
Such is the mind of a pregnant veterinarian, I suppose. You have to admit that the imagery is apt.