Why do we like demeaning jokes and stories?

Several years ago, I wrote a blog on how most jokes are mean. I saw a meme on Facebook the other day that said:

Help Requested: A friend of mine has two tickets for the 2020 Super bowl.

A friend of mine has two tickets for the 2020 Super bowl. They are box seats plus airfares and hotel accommodations. He didn’t realize when he bought them that this is the same day as his wedding – so he can’t go. If you’re interested and want to go instead of him, it’s at St. Peter’s Church in New York City at 5 PM. Her name is Donna. She will be the one in the white dress.

The technical term for this kind of joke is a paraprosdokian, where the punch line is totally opposite from what is expected. And, I have to admit, I laughed because of the juxtaposition. And then, I had to ask why did I laugh? If we stop to give this any thought whatsoever, there is nothing remotely funny about this scenario, especially for a relationship therapist!

There is almost no one that would put another, someone we supposedly love, in this situation. And we certainly would not want this done to us by someone who supposedly loves us! So why would I laugh at this meme?

Typically, when another person is trying to be funny, we join in the laughter. This could be the amateur “class clown” or the professional comedian. As I wrote before, when they direct most of their “jokes” at themselves, we take this as witty self-deprecation. We also laugh when the subject of their “humor” is directed at someone; however, if that someone happens to be us, we tend not to like the resulting humiliation and do not find the joke to be funny in the least!

We also laugh when something untoward happens to another person, such as stepping off a curb into a deep mud puddle. This type of occurrence is textbook schadenfreude; we feel both superior to the other since we are not the one humiliated, and also a bit guilty because we would not like to be in that situation. Again, the critical position is, we do not want to experience what we just found funny.

I know this can all be said to just being human, but why? Maybe I am obsessing over the topic of this mean joke, but why do our egos so desperately need to feel superior to another? Why are our egos so unloving that we take pleasure in someone else’s humiliation? Especially when we hate being humiliated, I have not done any research on this, just musing on the subject.

I give a communications talk were I list shaming and humiliation as a leftover negative tool to control first children, and then adults. Shame and embarrassment deeply hurt; unfortunately, their use can then lead some, especially teens, to commit suicide.

A half century later, we are still a long way from the plea in a 60’s song:

Come on people now
Smile on your bother
Everybody get together
Try to love one another right now.
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