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The Value and Purpose of Humor

The use of humor in daily life is so significant that people cannot estimate its full value. Jokes have become an indispensable part of human life. Laughter, which is shared between two individuals, binds them together, as well as increases the level of intimacy and happiness. In addition, laughter leads to healthy physical changes in the human body. Beyond the function of entertaining people, humor helps individuals to pay attention to pressing issues related to a certain group of people. Comedy, as a form of humor, holds much more than just a laugh.  Comedy offers commentaries about social life in the country, including American race relations. Stand-up comedians not only make uncomfortable those persons who have promoted the occurrence of these issues but also play an essential function in the U.S. society by displaying problems and forcing people to confront those realities, which they often ignore. An analysis of the study shows that beyond its simple entertainment value, humor plays the function of portraying social issues while stand-up comedians foster the implementation of social changes.

 
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Humor plays an essential role in human life as it entertains individuals and makes them feel happy. In her article titled “Comedy and Democracy: The Role of Humor in Social Justice,” Nancy Goldman argues that humor blocks such negative emotions as anger and fear, as well as those emotions, which make people be “more reactive than proactive” or “more rigid than flexible”. Humor may also create cultural forms and manifest itself in different types of media, including movies, television, theater, literature, music, and art. According to Goldman, humor is unique to people, cultures, as well as periods of history. It means that jokes may serve as a vehicle for the development of identity and self-expression. However, beyond these functions, humor can also instruct its users and listeners, as well as draw attention of the audience to the everyday practices of human life by illustrating political and social issues, as well as showing the reasons of their occurrence. As a result, humor is important for people because it plays a social function of outlining the social problems of the country.

The social function of humor and jokes may be divided into two types. The first one is that humor manifests relations between different groups of people and social systems while the second one is that humor outlines social phenomena and contributes to the reformation of social life, including the relationships among races. Goldman argues that humor is closely linked to the stereotypes that exist in American society as it can reinforce those ones that refer to ethnicity and race. These social issues are usually the central subject used for stand-up comedians in their jokes.

Stand-up comedians’ humor has drawn much attention in recent decades. In his article titled “Stand-Up Nation: Humor and American Identity,” David Gillota studies the ways in which famous stand-up comedians of the United States use their humor to showcase to the audience their ideas about the development of identity in a society full of problems related to race and ethnicity, sexual orientation, as well as political affiliation. According to Gillota, American stand-up humor defines not only the classic model of a person versus society but also more modern debates about identity politics. Gillota claims that stand-up comedians may help “to reinforce rigid and stifling boundaries” for representatives of marginalized groups. According to Gillota, African-American humor as a type of the U.S. humor is well-known for its tendency to delineate differences that exist between the white and black as it suggests that there are attitudes, conduct, and activities, which are unacceptable for African-American people. As a result, humor offered by stand-up comedians helps the audience to determine, explore, as well as solve the problems related to the unspoken issues of the U.S. society. 

Nancy Goldman also discusses this issue in “Comedy and Democracy: The Role of Humor in Social Justice,” in which she examines the way comedians and artists use humor in their work to emphasize the problems of social justice and the necessity of social changes. The author comments on the ways in which comedians use humor to discuss the social and political life of people. For this reason, Goldman explores Alex Barnett’s and Kristina Wong’s humor. In his comedian work, Alex Barnett explores racial issues and at the same time, broadens the scope of audience regarding this issue. According to the author, “performers who play with the line between what is safe to speak about and what seems undiscussable” may raise consciousness and awareness of the audience regarding these issues. Such performance may even make the listeners feel the shame caused by the discussed subject. Another comedian is Kristina Wong, who uses taboo topics in her jokes, including mental illnesses. Wong discusses these issues by “making the invisible visible”. According to Goldman, the process of making jokes about such aspects may weaken the disgrace and humiliation attached to them, as well as provide the opportunity for sufferers to alter the situation. As a result, the social function of humor in general and stand-up comedy in particular may help to release tension among the representatives of the American minority groups and stimulate the reformation of the social life of the country.

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Personally, I consider the social function of humor to be an essential one because jokes used for stand-up comedians help to push social boundaries. People usually meet with agreement and laughter those stories and expressions, which comedians tell on stage despite the fact that they might be unacceptable or embarrassing in everyday life. Comedy may help people to achieve social justice and foster the implementation of necessary changes in American society. The issue of race is the central theme of jokes told by African-American comedians. In some cases, comedians help the representatives of minority groups understand their place in society. For example, I agree with Gillota when he states that Chris Rock, who is an American stand-up comedian, “attacks institutional racism with a vehemence that is rarely seen in American media”. I have seen Never Scared, in which Chris Rock makes a distinction between wealthy and rich by emphasizing that in the United States, African Americans can only become rich; however, they can never be as wealthy as white individuals. By focusing on this statement, the comedian emphasizes the presence of racial discrimination in American society. This experience had a lasting influence on me. Being an international student who comes from China, the issue of racial segregation is close to me. Overall, the social function of humor is significant as it helps to blur the disparities between people, alter old ways of thinking, as well as make citizens understand which changes in social life their country needs.

In conclusion, taking into consideration the findings of the study, humor plays an essential role in the life of American citizens because it does not only entertain people but also helps to portray those social issues, which exist in the country. Stand-up comedians also play a significant role in the lives of the U.S. as their jokes help to promote the implementation of social changes. Overall, the American society needs stand-up comedy because social concerns and demographics of the United States, as well as in other nations constantly lead to the occurrence of new stereotypes and taboo issues. As a result, humor may help the American society to catalyze any lasting social changes in the country.

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