It’s Not Rocket Science


But comedy is a science, believe it or not.

There are scientists who study it like a bug under a microscope. They even use big, unpronounceable words like paraprosdokian, and a few weird ones familiar only to word-nerds, like syllepsis and zeugma.

Yes, people actually study humor scientifically. I wonder if that’s for people who don’t have a sense of humor of their own. Is there such a thing as “Humor envy?”

Believe it or not, without much trouble – and with a hair trigger on my computer’s Google key – I found almost 140 learned research articles, books, scientific journals, and even a few PhD theses, devoted entirely to studying Comedy. Maybe the funniest thing of all about that is that I would actually take time to find that out.

So, for those readers who still doubt this branch of academic research really exists – just imagine, a PhD in Funny – here are a few mostly weird examples:

  1. In 1905 Sigmund Freud stuck his toe into the humor pond and wrote a book on jokes and the unconscious mind. It has since been translated into dozens of languages.
  2. In 1999, Robert Latta published a book with the terribly un-funny title of “A Cognitive-Shift Theory and the Case against Incongruity” describing something called Theory L for whatever it is that makes you laugh so hard you spray soda out your nose.
  3. In 2004, Dean Yarwood wrote a book that seems very timely these days, “When Congress Makes a Joke: Congressional Humor Then and Now”

And then there’s my favorite, the one I’m sure I can actually understand, The Complete Idiot’s Guide to Comedy Writing, published by James Mendrinos in 2004.

Well, maybe there is a point to be made. Humor is a kind of therapy for anybody too troubled and harried by the world’s craziness or their own too-busyness. But who really needs a doctor, whether a PhD or an MD (though who can forget Dr. “Patch” Adams so well portrayed by Robin Williams in his 1998 movie), for humor therapy. We have our own on tap right here in Jamestown this week.

Our neck of the woods has truly become the nation’s capital for comedy with the Lucille Ball Comedy Festival back in town.

And best of all, your dose of comedy therapy requires absolutely no prescription, and even a little addiction to this cure is OK, maybe even advised.

Comedy legend Lenny Bruce, whose daughter Kitty took part in last year’s Lucy Fest, once said, “The only honest art form is laughter, comedy. You can’t fake it… try to fake three laughs in an hour – ha ha ha ha ha – they’ll take you away, man. You can’t.”

So there you have it: art, honesty and laughing-out-loud all wrapped up in one dose of comedy therapy.

Maybe the best part of a weekend of comedy is that it reminds us that life itself has so much in it that’s worth laughing at that we can all go back to work next Monday with a smile on our faces and no guilty pleasures to lie about to explain it.

Mel Brooks said, “Life literally abounds in comedy if you just look around you.”

Enjoy, enjoy, enjoy! And of course, enjoy the read right here in your very own Jamestown Gazette.

Walt Pickut

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Walt Pickut’s writing career began with publishing medical research in1971 while working at the Jersey City Medical Center and the NYU Hospital and School of Medicine. Walt holds board registries in respiratory care and sleep technology as well as bachelor's degrees in biology and communication, and a master's degrees in physiology from Fairleigh-Dickinson University in New Jersey, with additional graduate work in mass communication completed at SUNY Amherst. He currently teaches Presentational Speaking in the Houghton College PACE program at JCC and holds memberships in the Society of Professional Journalists and the American Society of Business Publication Editors. He lives in Jamestown with his wife Nancy, an MSW social worker, and has three children: Dr. Cait Lamberton in Pittsburgh, Bill Pickut, a marketing executive in Chicago, and Rev. Matt Pickut in Plymouth, IN.