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May 4, 2010: The Power of Humor to Persuade, to Heal, and to Educate

How does a well-played bit of humor immediately disarm an opponent? Why does laughing actually make you feel better? Why are viewers of comedy shows the most informed citizens in the country?

It turns out that there is a lot to explore about what is going on in our cognitive and physiological functions when something tickles our funny bone.

Humor Heals
  • Humor & Immunity and Humor & Pain by Rod A. Martin (2007)
    Read pages 317 - 324 (note that some of the text is missing because it's on google books, but the available information is really interesting and enough to get us started in dialogue).
  • - an example of a handful of web sites I found dedicated to the idea that humor heals. Just peruse the site a bit for some interesting anecdotal information.
Humor Persuades
  • The Power to Persuade by Kevin Dutton (Scientific American Mind, March/April 2010)
    Pages 24 - 31. This article is not exclusively about humor, but it makes an interesting point about how the persuasive function of humor has to do with creating mental "incongruity." The whole article is worth the read, but we'll focus on the short section about incongruity on page 28.

Humor Educates

  • Political Punch Lines by Jessica Bloustein, Newsweek Web Exclusive Sept. 11, 2008
    The money quote from this article is "The Pew Research Center recently found that audiences for "The Daily Show" and "The Colbert Report" were better informed about the world around them than the general population, scoring in the highest percentile on knowledge of current events."

  • Thank you, Jon Stewart, for teaching us more about Yemen than so-called respectable sources of news.

The Daily Show With Jon StewartMon - Thurs 11p / 10c
Terror 2.0 by Yemen - Sad Libs
Daily Show Full EpisodesPolitical HumorTea Party

  • Pay attention to the subtle messages about the American economy that you would normally pick up subconsciously from this snippet from The Onion (excuse the obnoxious ad for the first 10 seconds).

Ford Unveils New Car For Cash-Strapped Buyers: The 1993 Taurus


  1. Last Friday, on Talk of the Nation, there was a timely and topical segment less than 8 minutes long. It is called "Why laughter May Be Medicinal."

    You can find it here:

    laugh, love, and live well,


  2. The link in Jay's comment goes to another story. Here is the link and transcript for the interview Jay found:

  3. Fellow Re-thinkers:

    I wish to expand upon an idea I expressed briefly in our humor discussion. And I seem to recall that the idea was presented to me in a training on media literacy. So, if you will all humor me.....
    It is the notion that all information that presents itself to our senses is benign and sterile, dry packets of data (think of your high school history class, somebody telling you about a band that you've never heard). In order for us to internalize that information, it must arrive in a vehicle that is capable of driving that (pardon the pun) into our psyche. And that vehicle is emotion (now think of that entire weekend you spent with a song by the Village People stuck in your head).
    Advertisers understand this, and you will notice their effort to entice us by creating an emotional bond with their product, ofttimes at the complete exclusion of any relevant information about the product itself (most beer commercials). There are various means by which this is accomplished. One such mean is humor.
    Consider a quip from the late, great comedian Mitch Hedberg (for the record: overall non-derogatory humor, very crass presentation while stoned out of his mind), and I quote: "That would be cool if you could eat a good food with a bad food and the good food would cover for the bad food when it got to your stomach. Like, you could eat a carrot with a onion ring, then they would travel down to your stomach... then they would get there... then the carrot would say, 'It's cool, he's with me!'"
    The vehicle of emotion can be effective in delivering useful information (didn't someone mention that Colbert viewers were found to be among the most informed about current events?), or useless information (Village People). It can even persuade us (different forms of music, art, advertisements) to embrace ideas or concepts that we would reject if we were to analyze them solely with our rational minds. Any thoughts?

    Finally, I will offer in parting my joke that you have all been awaiting anxiously to hear. It goes like this: A game warden approached a fisherman on the lake and noticed he had a bucketful of fish. When he asked to see the man's fishing license, the man replied that he had none, and that the fish in his bucket were his own, that he had brought them to the lake for some routine exercise. "All I do is dump them in the water, let them swim around for awhile, then give a whistle, after which the fish will jump back into my bucket", he explained. Incredulous, but amused, the warden insisted that he prove it. Agreeably, the man dumped his entire bucket of fish into the water. "Now whistle", ordered the warden. "For what?", asked the man. "For the fish", answered the warden, after which the man inquired, "What fish?"


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