One point I had intended to make during the episode was about the role of the imagination in aesthetic appreciation, including appreciation of humor.
One distinction that Bergson glossed over and which we weren’t very consistent about making is the difference between “falling within the category of humor” and “actually being funny.” This came through a bit in our discussion of joke construction. For something to fall within the category of humor, meaning it’s potentially funny, all you need is an idea of a certain kind. While we didn’t acknowledge a successful theory on the ‘cast that captures what this kind is, I think we gave enough individual properties of some funny things so as to set up a family resemblance kind of definition, which may well be the best one can do: two elements that clash against each other unexpectedly. When starting to formulate a joke, or as Bergson does, when trying to describe types of comedy, you might not be very specific re. what these elements are, in which case it’s not fully a joke yet, but a sketch of a joke.
For instance, consider little kids taking on adult affectations. If you’re into comedy and have a good imagination, numerous examples of this probably jump to mind, possibly with enough vividness as to make you laugh. I personally find even that abstract description emotionally evocative: I don’t even have to picture a particular joke in order to get a sickly feeling like I’m about to drown in horrid cliché, which puts me in the sort of amused mode by which I appreciate schlocky entertainment.
So, one of the secrets of my neurotic superpower to (ideally) appreciate all forms of humor as described self-deprecatingly on the episode (because expressing arrogance in an obviously joking way is self-deprecating, despite the prima facie contradiction of that; you’re painting yourself as having this flaw of arrogance) is the power of imagination. As far as music goes, for instance, decades of perfectly crafted radio hits have made most people unable to get past any flaws in the performance of a song or the production value of its recording. As a music maker, I’m very used to hearing people sing out of tune in lo-fi settings where the mix between the instruments is not quite right, so I can (if I’m in the mood) imaginatively correct for that and appreciate works that are brilliant in some respect but which aren’t fully baked (like this Syd Barret song… my imagination adds a much more kick-ass drum part, for one).
I likewise have developed some rapport with graphic novels as essentially movies with no budget limitations. My visual imagination is less developed, though decent enough: I don’t think I take away pictures as clear as I’d like from actual books, and probably can more effectively glean a mood from the style of the prose than retain the descriptions of wardrobes and landscapes and facial construction that authors use to make their stories vivid.
I really enjoyed reading the Bergson, because he’d describe a form of humor, and even if his example was some French play I wasn’t familiar with, I could easily enough imaginatively construct the kind of set-up he was referring to out of comparable elements from movies, TV, etc. So even lacking elements like timing, perfect English word choice, and really even actual jokes, I still found reading this book about humor to be itself an amusing experience. Not gut-busting, but amusing.
My hypothesis here, then, is that good humor as opposed to merely something in the area of the comic which may not be immediately funny, does involve those fine points of timing and the unexpected, but humor as a calmer, lighthearted and creative approach to the world, seeing the patterns of absurdity in things on a near-constant basis, does not require material that’s as fully crafted and served up to us as all that. You might say that there are no bad jokes, only bad audiences, and while that oversimplifies the matter to the point of falsification, it’s a kick in the right direction.