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Open Access Publications from the University of California

Defining Humor, Theories, and Where is it in Dance?

  • Author(s): Harper, Jessica Lynn
  • Advisor(s): Hall, Chad M
  • et al.

People of all cultures find humor in things, even though certain aspects of humor differ (The Psychology of Humor: An Integrative Approach, Martin 5). The sound of laughter is universal and seems to be innate, which is often associated with humor. Our perception of what is funny may differ, but humor is recognized when it arises. This research investigates the many definitions of humor, the philosophy and production of humor, why laughter occurs, humor theories, elements of what makes something funny, and where humor lives in dance. The foundation of humor theory is identifiable in three groups: incongruity, superiority, and relief theory. I give examples of legends that use humor, and categorize which theory group their humor exudes. I give history on vaudeville and burlesque, and the legends that have employed humor in their works such as: Josephine Baker, Charlie Chaplin, Donald O’Connor, Bob Fosse, and Mark Twain. Successful comedians, writers, choreographers, and professors interviewed, give their perceptions of humor, factors of what makes something humorous, and insight on how humor is essential to life. I take an in-depth look at professionals’ understandings of humor from: Craig Hawksley, Joe Keane, Liz Tenuto, Patrick Damon Rago, and

Patricia Sandback. I also shed light on successful artists who utilize humor in dance today, and share my creative process in developing my choreographic thesis concert Don’t Expect Much. My thesis concert is much like a vaudeville-burlesque show, moving from one varying act to the next, creating an avenue for audiences to laugh and be entertained. Satire is a major theme throughout Don’t Expect Much.

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