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When I was six, I would put on these comedy shows where I would put on old Halloween costume and those comically large sunglass and pretend to slip on an imaginary banana peel approximately 46 consecutive times in a row. I was extraordinarily proud of this comedy extravaganza which lasted about 3 hours. Every night. Bless my parent’s souls for sitting through all those performances which I forced them to come to. Every night. In fact, I remember one night after about 2 hours of my brilliant show my mom stopped me. She said, “Megan,” and I said yes. “You are so good at imagining. You have so many imaginary friends, you imagine that banana peel.” and I said thank you, and she said, and I’ll always remember this, she said, with the glow of desperation in her eyes “Is there anyway you could imagine the audience too?” I bet some of you are thinking that same thing too, now, huh? This was the first time in my life I questioned comedy. Even at my young age at the time, I can remember wondering–why exactly do we laugh? And, how can a specific thing be innately funny? I guess I probably didn’t use that specific wording, I mean I was 6– I still thought “Specific” was the name of an ocean, but the concept was there. As I grew up, these questions persisted: I saw bullies telling jokes at victim expense, comedians telling jokes about national tragedies, and viral tweets from our country’s highest ranking executive, all often resulting in laughter. Why? Today, I will be examining why we laugh, by first telling how people use comedy to hurt, then by showing how people use comedy to heal, and finally by explaining why comedy is a more powerful tool now than any other time in history.       There are hundreds of widely debated theories behind why we laugh. Some are rather simple, like the Incongruity Theory. According to this theory, when I say this joke, “I wrote a song about a tortilla, but it actually it was actually more of a wrap”-I’ll give you a second to all get it- the reason people laugh at that is because of the inconsistency: tortilla and rap music aren’t things that go together, causing contrast in your mind that results in laughter. Another example, “I love getting up at 5 am and putting on a pantsuit to give speeches to strangers who are currently writing mean things about me,” now according to the Incongruity Theory, that statement was a funny because I made it sound like this is fun,  but we’re all dying inside a little bit. That perfectly transitions us into our next theory of humor: The Superiority theory.  Famed 16th century philosopher Thomas Hobbes, who developed the Superiority Theory, stated,”The passion of laughter is nothing else but sudden glory arising from some sudden conception of some eminency in ourselves, by comparison with the infirmity of others.” Simply put, this is the philosophy that all humor victimizes someone with the intention to make others feel superior, and all laughter is just a moment of glory. This is best explained with a story:  As I said earlier, I’ve always had an infatuation with comedy so growing up, I was the kid watching old reruns of Saturday Night Live while my peers were still preoccupied with Sesame Street and Spongebob. So on Halloween my second grade year, when I was a perfect likeness of my favorite SNL character Roseanne Roseannadanna, none of my classmates laughed. They did laugh however at the snot-nosed bullies impersonating my impersonation, which is ironic. This is a less severe example, but essentially all bullying boils down to The Superiority Theory. Insults posses no true comedic value yet often still trigger a response of laughter from the people watching. This is because the insult makes the bystander feel superior to the victem causing a chemical response in their brain which results in laughter. And then, the bystanders’ laughter rewards the bully making them feel superior and causing them to repeat the cycle. So at this point, humor seems to be an entirely negative thing use to inflate individuals’ egos while making others feel small.Jerry Plaza, a teen from Badger, Minnesota, has had plenty of experience with the Superiority Theory. He was in 7th grade when he had his first bully. His name was Jesus and he made it his personal mission to make Jerry’s life a living Hell. Jerry’s peers continually laughed at the torment, enabling Jesus’s bullying. Jesus pushed Jerry against lockers, threw garbage at him, knocked over his food tray, and even spit in his drink. The torment was unyielding, until Jerry realized he had a tool to combat Jesus: his wit. One day, when Jesus was flicking Jerry’s ear, Jerry turned around and politely stated, “Gosh, quit flirting with me,” using humor to diffuse the situation. Later that day, Jesus tryed to slam Jerry into a locker, but Jerry managed to doge the blow. He then stated, “Jerry – 1, Jesus – 0. Don’t worry, you can’t win them all.” After that day, Jerry never had a problem with bullying again. Within the years to come, he would extend his friend group and began being known by his peers as “the funny one.” His reputation for quick wit gave him the social confidence he needed to come out to his family. Jerry now notes comedy saved his life.  He says, “Humor has tremendous advantages for the one telling the joke. People listen, people laugh, and people change their perspectives on things.” Everybody loves a joke, and now everybody loved Jerry.Jerry was encapsulating a different theory:  The Relief Theory. The Relief Theory of humor, designed by Sigmund Freud, means that as we get more uncomfortable, stressed, and pressured, we can diffuse those emotions by using jokes. In juxtaposition to the Superiority Theory, this theory shows how humor is a positive asset: in the high strung climate our society is in, comedy is an essential structure in tension release. This shows humor is intended to bring people together, creating fellowship through laughter. Creating a sense of belonging between those who heard the joke and the person who told it. This is a very positive benefit of comedy, one that helps kids everywhere fit in with their peers.  So at that point, with our current high tension political climate, humor allows us to discuss and develop ideas that would otherwise be uncomfortable making it a critical tool in social or political change. While many people are interested in current events everybody can relate to humor. In a 2010 study by CBS, 21% of people claimed that their primary source of News was either Saturday Night Live or The Daily show. These shows are incredibly powerful right now because is because they’re utilizing comedy with the intention to spark a conversation about something deeper. These shows make light of political, social, and economic issues with the intent to spark a conversation within the average American household. And because of the Relief Theory, through comedy we’re able to talk about some of the country’s biggest issues while avoid offending others.But the influence of humor extends far beyond bullying and talk shows, it is now an up and coming medium for information distribution. More and more teens are getting their news from their phones. According to NBC, the average American teen spends 9 hours a day on their smartphone, physically touching their phone two thousand five hundred times.  In contrast, fewer and fewer teens are reading the newspaper, less than 15% to be exact. And 30% of those teens who do have social media, use it as their primary source of information. Woah, that was a lot of numbers, and you all, statistically speaking, have very short attention spans from years and years of constant electronic use. Superiority Theory, anyone catch that? But, in short, those numbers mean that a New York Times article now has less impact with young people than a viral meme. Memes, for those of you who’ve taken up residence under a rock, are pictures with a few words. Often no more than one sentence. They’re a snapshot reflection of americana, often reacting to the news. During this age of mass media, many marketing experts agree a meme or catchy hashtag is now the best way to influence teenagers, coining the phrase “Meme Warfare.” After the “Zombie Hillary,” meme went viral, young voters began questioning the democratic presidential candidate’s health; President Trump’s approval rating went down when the meme of him looking at the sun during the eclipse was circling the internet. The influence of a 15 word joke has become extensive. Making “a sense of humor” a necessity for people.       In this new age, comedy has become its own language. Now more than anytime in history having a strong sense of humor is essential for growth. So coming back to that original question of “why?”: We laugh because things are different and they don’t make sense, even if that means laughing at people who are different. We laugh to cope with things that are hard, like social and political issues. In short, we laugh when we do not have other skills to cope with a situation. Now the positive benefits of comedy are overwhelmingly essential for many people, from a large scale Vegas show, to victims like Jerry learning to deal with their bullies, to 6 year old me in my sunglasses and old Halloween costumes pretending to trip over an imaginary banana peel.Overall, where there is humor there is growth, for good or for bad. And it’s up to us to assure it’s for good. That’s why safe spaces to explore comedy are so important- that’s why this conversation is so important. I knew when I walked onto this stage I’d have a sure safe space to talk. Because the speech and debate community  is a place for open minded people who don’t only talk, but listen as well. Unfortunately, once I leave this room I will no longer have the luxury to be in a community like this. Because out there, people hate, and they often use humor to do so ruining it for those of us who are actually trying to make a difference. Humor has the ability to change so much in our future, but it won’t if ignorance prevails. We cannot allow one of the most beautiful and strongest tools of humanity to be rendered useless by intolerance. We deserve better than that. We must extend this respectful environment into our current world to truly be using humor as the asset it is. Thank you

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