Creative Writing 102: Unraveling Creativity and Humor in Comedians' Personalities

FOREWORD


Creative Writing 102 articles are a continuation of the previous Creative Writing 101 series and serve as one of the academic courses in the field of Creative Writing Studies and Literary Theory. The course, which is a fundamental guide within the scope of general knowledge compared to the technical knowledge of Creative Writing Studies and Literary Theory, also addresses students and the general readership alike. With this goal in mind, the author has opted to write the article in very plain and basic English to convey just the necessary understanding of Creative Writing by making the article merely an introduction.


Creative Writing 102 is mainly divided into five chapters including:


- The Screenplay - Blending Screenwriting with Literary Theory


- In the Realm of Travel Writing - Immortalizing Stories in Nonfiction


- The Digitalization of Creative Writing Through Video Games


- Critical Theory - The (Im)possibility of Application


- Unraveling Creativity and Humor in Comedians' Personalities



[Book cover of The Everything Guide to Comedy Writing: From stand-up to sketch - all you need to succeed in the world of comedy by Mike Bent].



The last article of the 102 series of Creative Writing focuses on an examination of the reasons why comedy writers used humor to make other people laugh. The need of writing anything related to comedy will be studied from a psychoanalytic point of view to comprehend the hidden and unspoken part of these artists’ lives. Therefore, the analysis of comedy writers’ psychology and psychological state of mind will be further elaborated after having a brief overview of the various theories of humor, comedy, and laughter that have emerged over the centuries. In order to grasp the psychodynamics of comedy writers, in general, it is mandatory to examine the categorization of humor, depending on its nature and usage. Most importantly, it is needed to comprehend how psychologists and scholars have attempted to define humor.


“The faculty of percussion what is ludicrous or amusing, of expressing it in speech, writing, or other composition: jocose imagination or treatment of a subject.” Rod A. Martin – (Mrabet et al., 2020, p. 362).

Humor and comedy have been approached by numerous psychologists and psychiatrists. According to G. Neil Martin (2022), the various studies on humor and comedy have had primarily the same outcomes in attempting to examine them. For P. S. Speck (1991), they can be listed out as “comic wit, satire, sentimental comedy, sentimental humour and full comedy.” (Martin, p. 6); for J. P. Kelly and P. J. Solomon (1975), they are divided into seven main categories, such as “puns, understatement, jokes, something ludicrous, satire, irony and intent.” (Martin, p.6); on the other hand, M. Buijzen and P. M. Valkenburg (2004) examined them by giving other similar yet slightly distinct attributes to previous established definitions of humor and comedy, including “slapstick, clownish, surprise, misunderstanding, irony, satire and parody.” (Martin, p.6). The relationship between humor and laughter is characterized by interconnectedness. According to Martin, laughter cannot happen without any element of humor, which is explained by the fact that both of them are deeply related to each other for the sake of amusing and entertaining a given audience. In this case, to what extent is comedy related to laughter and humor?


G. Neil Martin on ‘Theories of Comedy and Laughter’


Martin (2022) distinguishes five theories of comedy and laughter — theory of superiority, incongruity theory, relief theory, arousal theory, and reversal theory. Only three, out of five theories will be used in this article to decipher humor. Coupled with this, Rod Martin and other psychologists, including Puhlik-Doris, Larsen, Gray and Weir, have elaborated the Humor Style Questionnaire, also known as HSQ, by identifying four styles of humor—self-enhancin, affiliative, aggressive, and self-defeating. Consequently, these theories will guide us to profiling comedy writers.


“The four styles are “Self-enhancing” (described as “relatively benign uses of humour to enhance the self”), “Affiliative” (the use of humour to enhance relationships with others), “Aggressive” (“the use of humour to enhance relationships at the expense of others) and “Self-defeating” (“the use of humour to enhance relationships at the expense of the self”).” (cited in Martin, 2022, p. 31)

[Book cover of The Humor Code: A Global Search for What Makes Things Funny

by Peter McGraw and Joel Warner].



The first theory of comedy and laughter, that of the theory of superiority, is presumed to have been held by Plato. It is based on a type of humor, which is used to depreciate other people through “the creation of amusement by having the inferiority of others” (Martin, p.36). Also referred as ''disparagement humor'', this form of humor is similar to what Martin et al., have described and coined as aggressive humor. Its purpose is to use humor in an aggressive way, exemplified in the shape of stereotypical jokes mainly derived from “sex, culture, ethnicity, professions and phyla.” (Martin, p.39).


Accordingly, this is depicted in a particular type of aggressive humor, including “irony, sarcasm, and black humor.” (Mrabet et al., p.366). In other terms, both laughing at a potential aggressor, and being exposed directly to “the aggression, pain or malice conducted by the aggressor” (Martin, p.37), would be instantly minimized and placated by the concerned person. Such reaction is considered to be a form of “coping”, which triggers a “cathartic or psychic release.” (Martin, p.37).


“Comedy”, he wrote in Poetics, “is an imitation of people who are worse than average. The ridiculous [the people] is a species of ugly; it may be defined as a mistake or unseemliness”. (Aristotle cited in Martin, 2022, p. 37).

The second theory, known as the incongruity theory, is based on the disjunction between two opposite ideas, thoughts, and actions, basically a mimetic representation of the human nature in a given society. The presence of such opposition between two elements generates adjacency, causing humor and laughter. Martin (2022) refers to William Hazlitt’s lectures on prominent English comic writers, whereby he explains that the origin of laughter comes from everything that is connected to incongruity and disconnectedness between two ideas. The classification of three types of humorous or ‘laughable’ is identified as the following:


“the short-lived surprise at something happening, the ludi­crousness of something improbable or distressing and ridiculousness arising out of sheer absurdity.” (Martin, 2022, p. 41).

[Book cover of The Serious Guide to Joke Writing: How To Say Something Funny About Anything

by Sally Holloway].



The third theory, known as the relief theory, encompasses Freudian understanding and analysis of humor and laughter. Previously while discussing aggressive humor it was mentioned that, in Martin’s terms, the “cathartic or psychic release” is triggered by laughter and humor. According to Freud, the result of a humorous situation releases an “excessive psychic or nervous” discharge of energy (Martin, p.43). Furthermore, Freud’s study of humor resulted in more elaborate findings, giving more insights on the function of humor in society. In this way, Martin (2022) explains, building on Freudian explanation of humor, that any form of humor helps people avoid unpleasant and unfriendly feelings by exteriorizing them. Hence, humor or “gallows humour” (Martin, p.37), in Freudian terms, it heals the individual thanks to its emotional and anesthetic effect on the human mind.


Psychoanalyzing Comedy Writers


A comedy writer is a comedian, par excellence, for the term ‘comedian’ is defined as “a writer of comedies” and also as “an actor who plays comic roles” (Merriam-Webster, n.d.). Hence, the term comedian and comedy writer will be both used in providing an insightful analysis from a psychoanalytic perspective in terms of personality, creativity, verbal intelligence, and self-monitoring. In this way, they are presumed to be connected to each other.


Many studies and tests have been conducted to understand the personalities of comedians from a psychoanalytic perspective. Kaufman and Kozbelt (2009) refer to tests made by Janus et al., on sixty-nine comedians, showing that they are endowed with ‘verbal wittiness’ in Feingold’s and Mazella’s terms. This verbal form of intelligence gives access to people with a high sense of humor to distinguish themselves from others in terms of creativity and self-monitoring. Regarding the test it can be said that comedians and comedy writers are particularly clever when it comes to verbal intelligence and use language, both in spoken or written form, to make people laugh at their jokes.


“Wit was seen as a verbally aggressive, acidic form of humour and a sign of the user’s cleverness and linguistic dexterity.” (Martin, 2022, p. 4)

Nevertheless, verbal wittiness hides another aspect of their personalities. Most comedians use verbal intelligence not only as a weapon to confront individuals, but also as a shield to protect themselves from what they have experienced during their childhood. More elaborate researches about comedians’ social and educational background have been made to understand how they grew up. In addition to that, psychologists and psychiatrists have been concerned with the factors that led either to comedians’ emotional instability and introversion or to their extraversion and excessive openness towards individuals. The results have been, surprisingly, interesting to take into account.


[Book cover of Comedy Writer: Craft advice from a veteran of sitcoms, sketch, animation, late night, print and stage comedy by Andrew Nicholls].



The first reason is that a great number of comedians have been given big responsibilities in their childhood. Taking care of one’s family members and working at a young age hinder the child’s psychological state of being and prevent children from growing up in a healthy and caring environment. Moreover, their relationship with their parents plays a significant role in their development. Contrary to their fathers; their mothers are described as “disciplinarians, aggressive critics, non-nurturing, and non-maternal.” (Kaufman & Kozbelt, p.90). Being raised by authoritative mothers and passive fathers paves the way to a dysfunctional family environment. Following the incongruity theory and relief theory, this leads a large number of comedians to counteract the impact of trauma childhood on their psyche by using humor as therapy, protection, and resistance.


Such claims explain why some comedians are impulsive, hostile, aggressive, anxious, and depressed. Hence, the use of humor functions as a defiant yet protective manner to fight their anxiety and depression by transforming their anger and “suppressed rage from physical to verbal aggression” (Kaufman & Kozbelt, p.89). In other terms, the nature of humor used by this category of comedians, in this case, is much similar to aggressive humor, but is less related to defeating humor. Consequently, comedians’ preference for aggressive humor consolidates the main characteristics of the theory of superiority.


On the other hand, other traits of personality, such as shyness, sensitivity, and empathy, are also depicted in the description of another category of comedians. For example, some studies showed that in opposition to the introversion and emotional instability of some comedians, comedy writers generally tend to be more open, extravert, and meticulous. In this sense, the nature of humor used by these comedy writers would be rather an affiliative humor and self-enhancing humor, in accordance with the relief theory.


On the whole, comedy writers belong to those creative writers, whose purpose is to present a comic and laughable version of reality. Studies and theories on humor, laughter, and comedy, depending on the comedians’ degree of creativity, self-monitoring, personality, and verbal intelligence, aim at unveiling a hidden and deeper psychological aspect of their lives. No matter how vast and diverse the field of creative writing is, as it was shown throughout the 101 and 102 series regarding university specialization, prose and poetic writings, screenwriting, travel writing, video games, and critical theory, it remains exploitable for further academic and non-academic purposes.


Image Sources

Bent, M. (2009, August 18). [Book cover of The Everything Guide to Comedy Writing: From stand-up to sketch - all you need to succeed in the world of comedy by Mike Bent]. Amazon.com.

https://www.amazon.com/Everything-Guide-Comedy-Writing-stand-up/dp/1605501689


Holloway, S. (2010, November 1). [Book cover of The Serious Guide to Joke Writing: How To Say Something Funny About Anything by Sally Holloway]. Amazon.com. https://www.amazon.com/Serious-Guide-Joke-Writing-Something/dp/1907498370


McGraw, P., & Warner, J. (2014, April 1). [Book cover of The Humor Code: A Global Search for What Makes Things Funny by Peter McGraw and Joel Warner]. Amazon.com. https://www.amazon.com/Humor-Code-Global-Search-Things/dp/1451665415


Nicholls, A. (2020, December 3). [Book cover of Comedy Writer: Craft advice from a veteran of sitcoms, sketch, animation, late night, print and stage comedy by Andrew Nicholls]. Amazon.com. https://www.amazon.com/COMEDY-WRITER-veteran-sitcoms-animation/dp/B08QM15ZYQ


References

Kaufman, S. B., & Kozbelt, A. (2009). The Tears of a Clown: Understanding ComedyWriters. In S. B. Kaufman & J. C. Kaufman (Eds.), The Psychology of Creative Writing (pp. 80–97). Cambridge University Press.

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Martin, G. N. (2022). An Introduction to the Psychology of Comedy. In The Psychology of Comedy (pp. 1–34). Routledge.

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———————. (2022). Theories of Comedy and Laughter. In The Psychology of Comedy (pp. 35–45). Routledge.

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———————. (2022). Comedians and their personalities. In The Psychology of Comedy (pp. 69–81). Routledge.

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Merriam-Webster. (n.d.). Comedian. In Merriam-Webster.com dictionary. Retrieved March 11, 2022, from https://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/comedian


Mrabet, J., Ben Rejeb, R., & Le Maléfan, P. (2020). The Role of Humor in Sustainable Education and Innovation. Sustainable Development and Social Responsibility, 2, 361–371. https://doi.org/10.1007/978-3-030-32902-0_38


Additional Reading

Humor Styles Questionnaire (HSQ). (n.d.). Psytoolkit.org. Retrieved March 11, 2022, from https://www.psytoolkit.org/survey-library/humor-hsq.html


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Neyra Behi

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