A drunk demonstrates Henri Bergson’s theory of laughter

Henri Bergson was a major French philosopher, and one of his published works was “Laughter: An Essay on the Meaning of the Comic.” Part of his position was that we laugh at people when they engage in automatism. Meaning, they keep doing what they are doing, like a machine would, and are unable to adapt to the situation. Here is a great example:

We, as onlookers, can see what the fool cannot see. The inebriated man just keeps trying to walk down the up escalator. If he were to give up after a few seconds, we would have chuckle, and that’s all. As people come up the escalator, and try to redirect him, it just gets funnier. The more determined the fool, the stronger the laugh.

Somebody suggests hitting the emergency stop button. A comedian would see the possibilities in that. Hit the stop button, the escalator stops, and the fool tumbles down the steps. Or, he goes down the steps extremely fast but doesn’t fall.

Bergson once said:

In laughter we always find an unavowed intention to humiliate and consequently to correct our neighbour.

If someone laughs at you, you tend to stop what you are doing. This guy is being laughed at, but just keeps at it. The idea for performance comedy is to do things you shouldn’t, get laughed at, and just keep going.

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