I’ve been noticing something over the last few weeks – I like to crack jokes. A lot.

Here are just a few examples from recent text conversations: 1

  • When I failed to properly read information about the school district opening back up for the next school year: “Hey, they only mentioned science and technology in our school’s name, not literacy.” 2
  • After reading a post by the principal about how we were more than our our GPAs: “Dr. B [the principal]: ‘At TJ, students are more than numbers.’… Also Dr. B: ‘Alright, this way to the top of the US News [Best High School] rankings!‘” 3
  • When a friend texted that he had been busy putting his brother to sleep: “Why were you euthanizing your brother?” 4
  • After typing that submissions for a particular assignment were due at “6!” : “And I mean 6 pm, not 720.” 5

I don’t really know why I do this so much, or really why people make so many jokes. What’s the point of humor in the first place? Was there some sort of evolutionary advantage to cracking a joke? I can see it now – a Homo erectus goes up to the intimidating saber-toothed tiger, nervous because his clan’s lives are on the line, and gives the beast the best zinger he’s got. The cat drops and starts rolling around, tears streaming out of its eyes because it’s just howling, and the people are able to rush away to safety. This, truly, must be what Darwin meant when he talked about survival of the fittest.6

Seriously, though. The origins of humor are surprisingly complex, and scientists and researchers galore have studied it without ever really coming to a definite conclusion regarding why it exists. Some possible reasons include:7

  • Pointing out incongruities
  • Releasing repressed sexual or aggressive feelings
  • Demonstrating superiority
  • Ostracizing someone (the butt of the joke) while socially elevating the person making the joke and everyone listening to it
  • Improving camaraderie
  • Replacing social grooming as a source of pleasure
  • Facilitating cooperation

Nowadays, humor is an integral part of how we interact with the world.8 In order to thrive socially, it’s crucial to be able to make jokes and laugh at them too. I suppose many of the same reasons why humor might have originally come into existence might apply to why it’s still around today. I guess I’m also quite thankful for it, too–many of my closest friendships rely on being able to laugh at each other and the world around us, and I’d probably be a lot more alone than I already am without my sense of humor.9

One last thing: if you’re super bored from reading this long blog post… hi super bored from reading this long blog post, I’m Shreyas!10

  1. Edited for “clarity”, of course. (Edited 6/15/2021: why am I bothering to explain all these jokes?) [return]
  2. The implication here is that TJHSST, a science and technology school, cared little enough about literacy to accept someone like me who obviously can’t read. [return]
  3. It’s a bit of hypocrisy on the administration’s part to tell us that we should see ourselves as more than a bunch of numbers, considering that they care about the school’s rankings so much and have to consequently see us as, you guessed it, a bunch of numbers. [return]
  4. He meant “putting to sleep” in the literal sense, but I took it to mean he was performing a coup de grĂ¢ce on his brother, like you would do with an old and sick animal at the vet’s. [return]
  5. \(6!=6\cdot5\cdot4\cdot3\cdot2\cdot1=720\) [return]
  6. Even while questioning why jokes are necessary, I manage to crack a joke. Also, Darwin did write in Expressions of the Emotions in Man and Animals that “[l]aughter seems primarily to be the expression of mere joy or happiness.” [return]
  7. Taken from Polimeni and Reiss, The First Joke: Exploring the Evolutionary Origins of Humor (2006). That’s right, I read a scientific study for this blog post. Fear me. [return]
  8. As opposed to being a derivative part, of course. [return]
  9. If I showed this statement to my sister, she’d probably say, “That’s impossible–you already have no friends!” [return]
  10. Yeah, you probably hate me for that one. Take a minute to calm down and enjoy life with some relaxing music. [return]