Power Of Humour


In writing and general discussion, we often think of levity and gravity as mutually exclusive, that serious issues should not be presented humorously, and humour must not discuss weighty elements. Indeed, mixing the two seems counterintuitive. Making topics that demand public awareness and attention, like conflict, environmental problems and social evils, funny might appear disrespectful, while incorporating elements of death and tragedy into jokes may defeat the primary purpose of making people forget their worries and laugh. 

But even though it appears to defy logic, we can use humour when writing or speaking on consequential topics because it can be a powerful tool for engagement and a catalyst for understanding and retention. 

First and foremost, humour helps capture the audience’s attention – a must when presenting big concepts and communicating important ideas. A monotonous bombardment of unexciting information will put people off, especially if it is information they are not comfortable acknowledging. Humour, with its ability to surprise and entertain, can break this monotony.

By injecting a bit of comedy into the delivery of a serious message, communicators can both bring people into their writings or speeches and retain their attention. There is a reason satirical cartoons and memes get more fanfare on social media than op-eds or research papers. The former is also more memorable. You may remember a funny photo or GIF you saw some weeks ago more clearly than a solemn news story you read only a few days ago. The aim is to get people thinking while laughing and use delight to cut deep.

Secondly, humour breaks down barriers. As mentioned above, grim information, especially if it is on a topic people are not too open about, will make people apathetic at best and confrontational at worst. Getting the delivery wrong can breed resentment and instigate conflict. Humour, though, makes these topics feel less pointed and makes the audience more receptive to the message being conveyed.

Comedy sands off the sharp edges. For example, calling someone old can be offensive but referring to them as a vintage model can bring a smile to their face. And that is what scribes and speakers should strive for. Making people laugh through words fosters a connection that, in turn, makes it easier to reach out to the audience and make them see the world through a different point of view.

In other words, what humour does is build empathy. Serious presentation of serious issues makes people feel overwhelmed and powerless. They feel the problem is much bigger than they are and that their actions will not bring any change. This is what we see when it comes to climate change and green practices. People say that they alone buying an electric car or producing less waste will not solve the climate crisis, so they do not do anything.

When serious issues are tinted with levity though, it brings the large issue down to a human scale and makes the subject matter more relatable. Saying “Global warming means you will never be able to wear the pricey fur coat you bought last month” makes the issue more personal than simply announcing “The planet is heating up.” 

Thirdly, humour creates positive associations. When people smile about a certain topic, they will subconsciously associate it with happiness. This will make them more receptive to, or at least less uncomfortable with, acknowledging the issue. A funny advertisement on handwashing is likelier to get people to wash their hands than a straightforward public service announcement. That is why the old tele-serials by Madan Krishna Shrestha and Hari Bansha Acharya were so effective at raising public awareness. They infused humour into serious messages.

Funny things also tend to get shared a lot. This enhances their reach and impact. Ultimately, humour disarms the audience and allows for open and frank discussions. It creates a friendlier atmosphere and encourages audience members to speak up. There is less hostility and blame-throwing and even the most poignant criticisms can be passed off as witty jokes. So, everyone can be at ease expressing themselves and put their two cents in. The room becomes more collaborative.

But there is a limit. There are some topics that should never be made light of. There are some subjects that the audience should be made uncomfortable with. The world can be a cruel and unfair place and sometimes, people need to be hit in the face with that cruelty and unfairness. Other times, though, if we can laugh about something, we should. After all, they say laughter is the best medicine.

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