Laughing Matter: An Essay on the Comic

Laughing Matter: An Essay on the Comic

Laughing Matter: An Essay on the Comic

Laughing Matter: An Essay on the Comic


Why do we laugh? Do we really want to know why? We are torn between desire to understand the joyous human response of laughter and reluctance to expose the secret of our spontaneity to the rigors of intellectualizing, the labors of analysis. Marcel Gutwirth here offers a fresh approach to laughter and the full range of funny occasions-- from the artistry of Moli're's Misanthrope to the unique nature of Beckett's comic wisdom.


Trying to define humor is one of the definitions of humor.

—Saul Steinberg

Nothing is funny to everyone and anything seems potentially funny to someone.

—La Fave

To seek to give an account of the nature of laughter is to invite a stubborn resistance, made up in equal parts of a healthy skepticism and a perhaps no less healthy reluctance to know. We do not wish to have the secret of our spontaneity pried into. We take no pleasure in having it reduce to formula. Laughter, that least deliberate of explosions, is also our most valued reflex. Why grant another the right to hand us the key to it?

Take, on the other hand, Voltaire's mocking preamble to the article "Laughter" in his Dictionnaire philosophique: "Those who know why this kind of joy that kindles laughter should draw the zygomatic muscle—one of the thirteen muscles of the mouth—back toward the ears are knowing indeed." The very little we do know of the matter, though it manages to fill volumes, certainly helps bring home the sarcasm. Small wonder then that those rash enough to . . .

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