YMIAFT Chapter 3 Part 5
“Whenever I'm on my computer, I don't type 'lol'. I type 'lqtm' - laugh quietly to myself. It's more honest.”
~ Demetri Martin
If laughter is part of a system for people to develop bonds, then why ever laugh alone? If no one can hear it, it has no value. However, laughing by yourself is no huge mystery, it's simply a result of our modern environment being totally different from the one we evolved in, and us not having had the time to evolve a new way to deal with it. When laughter was formed, no human was ever alone. Let that sink in a bit. You were born, lived, and died, constantly surrounded by everyone you ever knew. In that environment, laughter was always a two way street, and right now your brain on the humour network level just doesn't understand that you are ever alone.
By laughing, you are in effect stating to all the people around you that you “get it”, whatever “it” is that the group seems to be interested in at that moment. When you laugh, others around you have the chance to “get it” too, integrating themselves into the social environment as well. Even when you don't really get it, or only partially get it, laughing a little is better than not laughing at all, because at least then you're somewhat part of the group, which is better than not being a part of the group at all.
Laughing is not a challenge to people around you to check if they are on board with you. It's not a test of who is in or out of the group entirely, where those who fail are your enemies and those who succeed are your allies. It's an opportunity, presented to all the group's members, to exhibit their commonality with how the group thinks. It benefits both the people laughing and the one telling the joke to know who could be with them. It's not a good social strategy to draw hard lines around every person and be challenging people all the time. It's far better to try and get everyone, as much as possible, on your side. It therefor feels about as good to have people around you laugh as it does to have someone else cause you to laugh. Also, as an aside, a claim could be made that it's only important for the craft of comedy to be seen as not laughing at your own jokes, as how you act before and after telling your joke might impact how your audience gets it. Research indicates that people telling jokes among friends tend to laugh more than their listeners. In our evolutionary past, when we were among friends, not only is there no downside to laughing at your own jokes, laughter was and probably still is, the best way to get others to play along with you.
Jerry Seinfeld famously once noted that most people at a funeral would rather be in the casket than giving the eulogy. Public speaking of any kind, requires that you put yourself in a position of essentially seeking the approval of the group. It doesn't take a psychologist to recognize that for us social humans, that's a stressful situation. Standup might be the scariest form of performance because it is the most directly correlated to our internal systems for seeking group acceptance. We can easily applaud someone we think we're supposed to suck up to or sympathize with or something like that by just mechanically clapping our hands, but genuine laughter requires a level of sincerity that is much harder to fake. Not impossible, just more difficult than our more socially ritualized communications like clapping, bowing, or words. If you don't succeed in making the audience laugh, then you are not merely unfunny, you are alone. And being alone, is one of the worst fates any human can suffer.
The positive feedback from participating in the delivery of a joke could be the feeling that a lot of comedians tap into that drives them to want to make others laugh. Getting a laughter response means you are an in-member of the group. Performing comedy, like all performances, when it succeeds, comes with a high, a feeling of success and joy of self expression. It also probably comes with a sort of distilled version of this sense of having made everyone in the room validate you as part of the in-group. People who like being funny, especially those who pursue comedy as a performance craft, could possibly be the people who have a high sensitivity to this particular kind of affirmation.