On the Humor of Falling Down
by Oak Hill Studio
Having recently listened to Chesterton’s COCKNEYS AND THEIR JOKES, I couldn’t help but recall an event that occurred well over 20 years ago.
There was a particularly bad ice storm that overtook campus one winter day back during my college days. The memory stands out clear in my mind of the strong urge to laugh when I saw a student slip and fall on the ice as I was walking to class. It was the sort of laughter that bubbled up from within, quite unexpectedly! No sooner had I begun to snicker at the funny site, I was down on the ground myself. I’m not sure who had the last laugh! I love Chesterton’s insights on this type of humor that seems universal.
In order to understand vulgar humour it is not enough to be humorous. One must also be vulgar, as I am. And in the first case it is surely obvious that
it is not merely at the fact of something being hurt that we laugh (as I
trust we do) when a Prime Minister sits down on his hat. If that were so
we should laugh whenever we saw a funeral. We do not laugh at the mere
fact of something falling down; there is nothing humorous about leaves
falling or the sun going down. When our house falls down we do not
laugh. All the birds of the air might drop around us in a perpetual
shower like a hailstorm without arousing a smile. If you really ask
yourself why we laugh at a man sitting down suddenly in the street you
will discover that the reason is not only recondite, but ultimately
religious. All the jokes about men sitting down on their hats are really
theological jokes; they are concerned with the Dual Nature of Man. They
refer to the primary paradox that man is superior to all the things
around him and yet is at their mercy.