"The sound of laughter is produced by a deep inspiration followed by short spasmodic contractions of the chest and especially of the diaphragm. Hence we hear of `laughter holding both his sides... From the shaking of the body, the head nods too and fro. The lower jaw often quivers up and down, as is likewise the case with some species of baboons, when they are much pleased. During laughter the mouth is opened more or less widely, with the corners drawn more backwards, as well as a little upwards; and the upper lip is somewhat raised. During excessive laughter the whole body is thrown backwards and shakes, or is almost convulsed; the respiration is much disturbed; the head and face become gorged with blood with the veins distended; and the orbicular muscles are spasmodically contracted in order to protect the eyes.Tears are freely shed." " Charles Darwin, beneath.
Todorov's categories of the function of laughter, 'Ritual Laughter in Folklore'.see beneath

"Laughter is a special type of conditioned reflex but it is a reflex that charcterises man alone and has its own history.....each category or type of laughter characterises peoples at a certain stage in their economic and social develeopment."

1. The interdiction of laughter; in the land of the dead or mythic, the living person gives himself away by laughing. It is forbidden to laugh in the kingdom of the dead. "If you laugh Baba Jaga will catch us both".

2. Laughter as the creator of life, "God laughed and gave birth to the seven gods who control the world...When he burst out laughing, light appeared... He laughed again and everything turned to water... With the third burst of laughter, Hermes appeared..." The birth of a baby, the planting of crops.

3, The Christian Debate: from The Name of the Rose ; William(humanist) v Jorge(medieval fundamentalist).
William "You are laughing at laughter but you are laughing" Jorge made a gesture of irritation. "Jesting about laughter, you draw me into ideal debate. But you know that Christ did not laugh."


This section looks at twentieth century story telling, the techniques of telling a tale which ends in making people laugh; telling a story as in King of Comedy Rupert Pupkin, the TV comic, Jerry Langford his idol, Pupkin's Pride and Joy ; the embarassment of comedy. Rather than sustain storytelling techniques from the past, the twentieth century distills the story into a sequence of images.

How are those visual sequences composed ?

The medium of film allows us a particularly intimate perspective on the construction of the visual joke. Many comedians have insisted on logic and observation in their work.
Laurel and Hardy, techniques and composition. sequences from Brats (1930)the bathroom scene. Stan Laurel as the creative force in the partnership.
Buster Keaton, Steamboat Bill Jr , 1928, the logic of the hurricane. The use of cranes for destruction. The face of Keaton.
Jacques Tati, and the logic of unfolding in Monsieur Hulot's Holiday 1953; catching the pelt on the spurs; the logic of the towing line as catapult.
W.C.Fields, The Bank Dick 1940, the awful family and child abuse. (twice)
Sam Remi, Crime Wave, 1985, the comic strip. another chance to look at the chase through a sequence of doors. the safest hallway in the world. The woman pursued goes through the showroom of doors.
Chaplin, out-takes ; from Kevin Brownlow, The Unknown Chaplin ; the variations on the theme. The world turned backwards

Perhaps the funniest joke is the unsuspected one;

Blake Edwards and the farting scene in the lift from The Pink Panther .
laughter as a destroyer of the story. culminating in reading the news story, the unexpected punchline.


And if I have time, my favourite, "Pinback's Diary" from John Carpenter's film, Dark Star , 1974.


ABOVE a key list of what was considered funny and visual in 1942, Percy Bradshaw's They Make us Smile.

ABOVE RIGHT The writer Sid Perelman also produced illustrations for JUDGE magazine between 1925 and 1931.


S.Freud, Jokes and the Psychopathology of Everyday Life various editions.
Henri Bergson, Laughter, An Essay on the Meaning of the Comic , Macmillan London 1911
Charles Darwin , The Expression of Emotions in Man and Animals, Murray London 1904.
Vladimir Propp, Theory and History of Folklore , Manchester Univ Press, Manchester 1984 see Chapter II 9, "Ritual Laughter in Folklore".
Gilbert Highet, The Anatomy of Satire, OUP London 1962
James Agee, Agee on Film, Volume 1 , Putnam NUY 1983, Comedy's Greatest Era
Kevin Brownlow, The Parade's Gone By , Abacus London 1973. silent comedy.
Umberto Eco, The Name of the Rose , Picador London 1984 (1980)
Anthony Anderson, The Man who was H.M.Bateman , Webb and Bower Exeter 1982.


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