Here’s something that happened this evening.
Imagine the following. There’s a group of university students gathering to get their photo taken. One of them holds a camera and looks at pedestrians so he can find someone to take a photo of them. His eyes meet my eyes. He says, “Excuse me”, and gestures that he wants me to take a photo of them. I say, “Ah, OK”. He passes me his camera. I walk away, as I say, “Thank you”. They laugh.
There are four lessons for me to draw here.
Humor seems to be a game of contexts. In this case, what I did was to misinterpret the situation. The action expected of me was to grab his camera and get straight into taking a photo of them. This would be a supposedly-common context.
Instead, I did something else, which was still a possible interpretation of our interaction. He offered me a camera, and I interpreted that he gave it to me out of kindness. I got a free camera and walked away. This interpretation curves out another context. Also, since I did it in an exaggerate way rather than a serious way, that invited them to a context of humor.
So, laugther = an unexpected context + a context of humor.
The above analysis is slippery. Forget about intellectualizing what makes people laugh.
There’s no lesson 4.
There’s no lesson 3.
But there is lesson 5 – it’s fun to make people laugh!
(No, I didn’t run away with their camera after they laughed. I did take a few photos of them, completely blocking other pedestrians and all!)