An Irish man got the last laugh with a pre-recorded message played from inside his coffin, Sky News reported. Before his death, he planned a message to autoplay through a speaker as he was lowered into the ground. Humor can be quite useful in our toughest times.
A year before his death, Shay Bradley, of Kilkenny, Ireland, set up a plan to have a pre-recorded message played from his coffin as it was lowered into his cemetery plot. As he was laid to rest, funeral attendees were led to believe they heard the man crying, “Let me out; it’s [expletive] dark in here! Is that a priest I can hear? It’s Shay; I’m in the box!” Although grief ruled the day for his family and friends, Bradley was able to give himself a humorous send-off and to break up their tears with laughter. Humor has proven surprisingly important for our lives from a psychological standpoint.
The Logic of Humor
From a philosophical perspective, humans are intelligent creatures endowed with reason. Many people also argue for the existence of the soul, and the intersection of reason and the soul offers much food for thought—perhaps to nobody more than Anthony Ashley Cooper, Third Earl of Shaftesbury.
“Shaftesbury argued that a loving God would not have created a world with the possibility of joy and pleasure, including humor, if He had not wanted His children to enjoy it,” said Dr. Steven Gimbel, Chair of the Philosophy Department at Gettysburg College in Pennsylvania. “The appropriate amount of good humor at the appropriate aspects of the world—that is, the false—is agreeable to us and should be, because that is the mark of a well-functioning spirit.”
In other words, as creatures designed with reasoning minds, the unreasonable should seem odd to us, and humor is often found in that which is odd.
“The oddity of certain kinds of irrationality should be bothersome, but in other lighter cases, the irrationality should incite good cheer because we have detected it and are able to correct it,” Dr. Gimbel said. “We find the absurd to be funny because that is how we were made.”
Freudian Thought on the Necessity of Humor
Sigmund Freud had a different view of humor. “The Freudian mind is composed of three parts: the id, housing our basic and animal urges; the ego or conscious mind; and the superego or conscience,” Dr. Gimbel said. “The id and superego constantly battle with each other. This takes energy—both to fight and keep it sublimated below the threshold of consciousness.”
Dr. Gimbel said this friction can warp the mind, causing neuroses, so we have a serious need to release this building subconscious pressure. Jokes, then, are the safety valve—especially, Freud believed, dirty jokes and ethnic jokes.
“These topics reflect the majority of the conflict between the id and the superego that take up our mental energy, but they use humor to drain this pent-up tension, satisfying the id by being titillating and the superego by restraining itself from acting,” Dr. Gimbel said.
“This is why humor is necessary. The feeling one gets from the joke—the release, the pleasure—means that humor is effective in saving the mind from itself.”
Dr. Steven Gimbel contributed to this article. Dr. Gimbel holds the Edwin T. Johnson and Cynthia Shearer Johnson Distinguished Teaching Chair in the Humanities at Gettysburg College in Pennsylvania, where he also serves as Chair of the Philosophy Department.