How does slapstick work and where did it originate from?
Good question. Slapstick and the explosion of fun that usually accompanies it, like with all laughter, is a reaction to simulated and unrealized danger. A series of accidents that only feign injury and harm to someone, eliciting uncontrollable laughter when said incident proves to be no reason for concern…
…accidents which at some point in time, back in the day before fire was discovered and art was the color of mud in one’s hair, were for the most part injurious, even fatal. Falls, blows, and all kinds of clumsiness led to pain and death. The sight of your beloved neanderthal falling flat on his or her face is all it took to stop your heart.
Yet, upon second look, in some cases no harm had been done. No injury, no blood, nothing broken, twisted or bent out of shape, nothing to impede your companions’ mobility and function. Just a dirty face and a look of bewilderment, which elicited relief in the startled onlookers, whose autonomic huffs and puffs and grunts were quickly turned into giddy haha, a nervous laughter borne out of fright vented swiftly and automatically. The face full of dirt and the look of bewilderment in the person falling so gracelessly became associated with this kind of euphoria, and gradually situations like these began eliciting laughter automatically. Har-har-har went everyone when others slipped and fell, some after assessing the situation, having realized that no harm had been suffered by anyone, others at the onset, at the mere sight of someone falling flat on his or her face. Before evaluating the situation. Just like that.
In other words, laughter often preceded broken bones because it became internalized.
And slapstick was born, leading to the automatic explosion of laughter that often accompanies someone running into a lamppost.
Humanity’s source of amusement has grown immensely since the first days of neanderthal joy. From slapstick and faux-pas to caustic satire and cerebral humor, people find ways to amuse themselves and undo the stress that winds them up.
Over the millennia this has become a bona fide reaction to a vast array of releases, to stress undone, dissolved, vaporized, or maybe not so vaporized after all. Sometimes people laugh not because the stress is gone but in spite of it. They tackle their agitation with head-on amusement that is totally out of place and makes no sense.
Because, and here’s the flip side to the argument, laughter is also a vent for imminent threat. Sometimes when people are faced with a persisting, lingering danger that eats away at them, or with pain, or disaster — when they are subject to anxiety, stress and unease of all kinds — they react with hysteric giggling. Nervous, maniacal laughter. They subconsciously hijack their autonomic nervous systems, assuming control of the crazy chemicals in their bloodstream that give them fright and pain, subverting their effect, subjecting themselves to a heavy dose of the jollies to take the edge off.
So laughter is not just the reaction to fear dissipated. It’s also the reaction to clear and present danger.
Food for thought.
From the bays of Pearl Coast, and in conjunction with EON: THE ANGRY COMING OF AGE,
Fish a ton of oysters, find a shiny pearl, and, last but not least, watch this space for more.