(Berger). Humans enjoy the assertion of their superiority at the
shortcomings of those around them. The most comprehensive
approach and theory of humor, however, is the incongruity theory,
which asserts that something is funny because of the perception of
incongruity that comes from a violation of patterns and expectations.
The incongruity theory is rooted in ancient Greek and Roman
philosophy. In Aristotle’s book Rhetoric, he suggested that the best way
to create laughter is to form the audience’s expectation, and then deliver
something that violates it (Smuts). In On the Orator, Cicero concurred
with Aristotle and wrote that “the most common kind of joke is that in
which we expect one thing and another is said; here our own
disappointed expectation makes us laugh” (Morreal). This theory was
then revisited, developed, and reworked throughout the 18th century by
James Beattie, Immanuel Kant, Arthur Schopenhauer, and Henri
Bergson (Morreal).
When looking at humor through those three lenses, it becomes
simpler to differentiate among the applications of humor. Some people
use humor in tense situations to undue mounted pressure as described
by the relief theory. Others employ the superiority theory and draw
laughs with insults, and from comparisons to those beneath them.
Finally, there are those who create expectations and create humor by
delivering a twist that deviates from what is to be expected. The
incongruity theory suggests the set up of any joke is the creation of an
expectation, while the punchline is the violation of this expectation. In
philosophy, the incongruity theory is the most widely received, and
considered to be the most comprehensive. I believe that films also make
an argument to be the best strategy for teaching with comedy.
In movies like Dead Poet’s Society and Conrack, the “set up” is
established before either teacher arrives at his respective school. At
Welton Academy, the conservative prep school, the expectation is that
students are to obey authority and exist under the rigid and cold status
quo. Meanwhile, on Yamacraw Island, the expectation is that students
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