The Sense of Humor and Its Relation to Character and Sex

Laughter is loud because it calls for company. The smile is silent, sad, sublime, and may blossom forth unwitnessed. A laugh unheard embarrasses; a smile unseen is even more beautiful than one which is smiled to be seen.

Laughter occurs when libido is released from repressed aggression. Under certain circumstances, such release can occur without witty disguise. Cruel laughter is proof of this point.

Repressed laughter stemming from aggression which is not allowed to break through from the unconscious because it is too daring or not sufficiently disguised may cause a psychosomatic symptom, probably a headache. The headache personality is as a rule found in an intelligent but aggressive individual who inhibits severely the expression of his hostility. He appears to be cool, calm, and collected, but underneath he is torn by strong hostile feelings. Migraine patients are frequently witty. They find a temporary release for their intense hostility in cold, sharp, cutting remarks and witticisms. As Reik expressed it, "A thought murder a day keeps the doctor away."

A sense of humor is a character trait that helps to identify a particular type of person. The practical joker, the tease, the kidder, the mimic, the clown, the cynic, the wit and the humorist, the optimist and his twin brother, the pessimist -- all belong to the large family of people who struggle to find a permissible outlet for their aggression.

The term "to kid" means to treat somebody like a child -- "kid" being an almost universal vernacular for a little child. Like teasing, kidding contains elements of cruelty. The kidder uses his advantage of superior experience, knowledge, or authority to assume a pseudo-authoritarian, powerful, and hostile attitude toward the victim. The threat is pretended, not realized.

The inveterate kidder expresses his own conflict with authority (usually with his parents) and projects it onto his victim. He enacts through his kidding a psychotherapeutic drama. The kidder imitates his father torturing his "kid," who is in a position of humiliation and passive endurance. The kidder hopes through his repeated performance to find the final answer to an old anxiety. He behaves like a soldier who has broken down in combat and must now return to the traumatic battle scene in every nightmare. He reenacts the horrors of battle while sleeping. He tries in his dream to master his anxiety. If the anxiety cannot be mastered, the dream will turn into a nightmare and final awakening. By playing the actively teasing father, the kidder hopes to eliminate the hurt he carries in his heart from his childhood, when he had to take the kidding. He can dish it out but he cannot take it.

Kidding often begins with sniping at some bodily defect or imperfection. It has a further tendency to become patterned and repetitive. In an established group it can develop into a routine, as, for instance, in the locker room of the golf club where there is one bald-headed victim. If the victim does not react with the patience of a Job, he will hear the final taunt: "Come on! I'm only kidding" -as if that were an excuse.

Kidding is almost a masculine prerogative, and homosexuality is a favorite topic. According to unwritten rules, homosexuality may not be mentioned directly; kidding allows only hints as a substitute for the witty disguise. An accusation is not kidding. Here, more than anywhere else, the incorrigible kidder betrays with his kidding a sore spot within himself. The kidder who specializes in homosexual patterns gains two advantages for himself: first, he suspects others of what he himself may be guilty of and in this way externalizes an internal conflict; second, by joking and kidding about homosexuality within a masculine group, he experiences a certain amount of permissible, socially acceptable satisfaction. In other words, the repressed homosexual trend returns only thinly disguised in the form of kidding. Because the disguise in all kidding is usually incomplete and artless, we consider it as a lower, primitive form of having fun.

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