Chapter 9. DIAMETRICALLY OPPOSED Conventions

Abbott and Costello. Martin and Lewis. Beavis and Butthead. There is something implicitly funny about the juxtaposition of opposites. They make us laugh. This occurs because, when paired, opposites jar us into processing unrelated ideas as single concepts. The union of opposites, much like the relationship between the setup and punch line of a good joke, is therefore humorous. For example, consider "the world' s funniest joke," based on a joke contest orchestrated by Richard Wiseman at the University of Hertfordshire:

A couple of New Jersey hunters are out in the woods when one of them falls to the ground. He doesn't seem to be breathing; his eyes are rolled back in his head. The other guy whips out his cell phone and calls the emergency services. He gasps to the operator: "My friend is dead! What can I do?"

Up to this point, there is no humor to be found. In fact, this is anything but funny. However, consider what happens once we add the punch line:

The operator, in a calm, soothing voice says: "Just take it easy. I can help. First, let's make sure he' s dead." There is a silence; then a shot is heard. The guy's voice comes back on the line. He says:" Okay. Now what?"

This disassociation between setup and punch line causes laughter. Without it, there would be no humor. Rather deliberately, the setup is designed to send your mind in one direction, while the punch line is designed to send it in the opposite direction. When setup and punch ...

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