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states share in common. On the other hand, horror and humor are not exactly the
same. For we do not always laugh at monsters. So, we also want to produce an
account of the difference between these mental states. In the previous section, I pre-
sented a theoretical account of horror. In this section, I will examine a theory of
humor, one that will illuminate its essential similarities and differences with horror.
At present, the leading type of comic theory is what is called the incongruity
theory. Historically, it seems that this sort of comic theory took its modern shape
in the eighteenth century in reaction to the kind of superiority theory of humor
that is associated with Thomas Hobbes. As is well known, Hobbes™s theory of
laughter is nasty, brutish, and short. In Leviathan, Hobbes maintains:
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Sudden glory is the passion which makes all those grimaces called laugh-
ter; and it is caused either by some sudden act of their own, that pleases
them; or by the apprehension of some deformed thing in another by com-
parison whereof they applaud themselves.17
That is, on Hobbes™s view, the source of comic laughter, indeed of all laughter, is
rooted in feelings of superiority.
But this view is clearly inadequate. Often laughter, especially comic laugh-
ter, arises when we find ourselves to be the butt of a friendly joke. So, superi-
ority is not a necessary condition for comic amusement.And, of course, neither
laughter nor comic amusement need occur in all situations in which we find
ourselves to be superior. As Francis Hutcheson, reacting to Hobbes, pointed
out, we rarely laugh at oysters. So, superiority is not a sufficient condition for
comic amusement.
But if superiority is not the wellspring of laughter, what is? Hutcheson sug-
gests that

generally the cause of laughter is the bringing together of images which
have contrary additional ideas, as well as some resemblance in the principal
idea: this contrast between ideas of grandeur, dignity, sanctity, perfection,
and ideas of meanness, baseness, profanity, seems to be the very spirit of
burlesque; and the greatest part of our raillery and jest is founded upon it.
We also find ourselves moved to laughter by an overstraining of wit, by
bringing resemblances from subjects of a quite different kind from the
subject to which they are compared.18

That is, for Hutcheson, the basis of comic amusement is incongruity “ the bringing
together of disparate or contrasting ideas or concepts. Comic teams, for example,
are often composed of a tall, thin character and a short, fat one. And European
clown performances are frequently composed of an immaculately clean, sartori-
ally fastidious white clown “ the epitome of orderliness and civilization “ and an
unruly, disheveled, hairy, and smudged clown “ the lord of disorder and mischief.
Indeed, even where the white clown is absent, the unruly clown generally finds a
foil in the suavely tuxedoed or smartly uniformed ringmaster. Comedy, that is,
naturally takes hold in contexts in which incongruous, contrasting, or conflicting
properties are brought together for our attention.
In addition to Hutcheson™s, incongruity theories of humor have been
advanced by James Beattie, William Hazlitt, Søren Kierkegaard, and Arthur
Schopenhauer.19 As we saw in an earlier quotation, Edgar Allan Poe also seems to
have subscribed to this opinion, while Henri Bergson™s well-known thought that
comic laughter is provoked by the apprehension of the mechanical in the human
may be regarded as a special instance of the incongruous yoking together of dis-
parate properties “ in this case, those of the human and the machine. More
recently, Arthur Koestler, D. H. Monro, John Morreall, and Michael Clark20 have
defended variations on incongruity theories.
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The basic idea behind the incongruity theory of humor is that an essential
ingredient of comic amusement is the juxtaposition of incongruous or contrasting
objects, events, categories, propositions, maxims, properties, and so on. Stated this
way, the incongruity approach can seem insufferably vague. However, the view
can be given immense precision. Schopenhauer, for example, hypothesized that
the requisite form of incongruous juxtaposition in humor was the incorrect sub-
sumption of a particular under a concept “ that is, a sort of category error.What
he had in mind can be illustrated by the following joke.
On a planet in deep space, the inhabitants are cannibals. One butcher shop
specializes in academic meat.Teaching assistants go for two dollars a pound, assis-
tant professors cost three dollars a pound, philosophy professors with tenure are
only one dollar and fifty cents a pound, but deans “ deans are five hundred dollars
a pound. When latter-day astronauts ask why deans are so expensive, they are
asked, in turn: Have you ever tried to clean a dean?
On Schopenhauer™s view, the crux of the humor here is the incorrect sub-
sumption of a particular “ the moral regeneration of a dean “ under a very differ-
ent concept of cleanliness, one pertaining to the preparation of animals for
cooking. Similarly, when I define comedy as “you falling down and breaking your
neck, while tragedy is when I prick my finger,”21 a major part of the humor
resides in the conceptual inappropriateness of counting a pinprick as tragic. The
errors here are logical; they involve the misapplication of or the confusion in
applying a given concept to a particular case. One might also speak of the relevant
incongruity, as Kierkegaard does, as a contradiction.
Thus, on one very rigorous construal of the incongruity theory of humor, the
incongruities that underlie comic amusement are contradictions, indeed, contra-
dictions in terms of concepts and categories.This version of the incongruity the-
ory is very elegant and tidy. But it is also rather narrow, too narrow, in fact, to
cover the wide gamut of comic data. Juxtaposing a tall, thin clown and a short, fat
one may invite comic laughter, but it is hard to see how such laughter can be
traced back to a contradiction.
As a result, the ways in which incongruous juxtaposition is to be under-
stood with respect to comedy, while including contradiction, must also be
expanded to encompass other forms of contrast. And some extended ways of
understanding the notion of incongruous juxtaposition include: simultane-
ously presenting things that stand at extreme opposite ends of a scale to one
another, like placing something very tall next to something very short; or mix-
ing categories, as in the title Rabid Grannies; or presenting a borderline case as
a paradigmatic case “ a diminutive Buster Keaton in an oversized uniform as a
representative of the All-American football hero; or breaches of norms of pro-
priety where, for example, an inappropriate, rather than an illogical, behavior is
adopted “ for example, using a tablecloth as a handkerchief. Or the incongruity
may be rooted in mistaking contraries for contradictories, as in the following
exchange: “Would you rather go to heaven or to hell?” “I™d rather stay here,
thank you.”
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Though the relevant incongruity in a comic situation may involve transgres-
sions in logic, incongruity may also be secured by means of merely inappropriate
transgressions of norms or of commonplace expectations, or through the explo-
ration of the outer limits of our concepts, norms, and commonplace expectations.
The incongruity theory of humor, of course, is especially suggestive in terms
of our questions about the relation of horror and humor. For on the expanded
version of the incongruity theory of humor, comic amusement is bound up with
trangressive play with our categories, concepts, norms, and commonplace expec-
tations. If the incongruity theory of humor is plausible, then for a percipient to be
in a mental state of comic amusement, that mental state must be directed at a par-
ticular object “ a joke, a clown, a caricature “ that meets a certain formal crite-
rion, namely, that it be apparently incongruous (i.e., that it appear to the
percipient to involve the transgression of some concept or some category or some
norm or some commonplace expectation).
Just as the mental state of fear must be directed at a particular object subsum-
able under the category of perceived harmfulness, the mental state of comic
amusement requires being directed at a particular subsumable under the category
of apparent incongruity. Moreover, since apparent incongruity is a matter of the
transgression of standing concepts, categories, norms, and commonplace expecta-
tions, the relation of horror to humor begins to emerge, since in the previous sec-
tion it was argued that a necessary condition for being horrified is that the
emotional state in question be directed at an entity perceived to be impure “
where impurity, in turn, is to be understood in terms of violations of our standing
categories, concepts, norms, and commonplace expectations.Thus, on the incon-
gruity theory of humor, one explanation of the affinity of horror and humor
might be that these two states, despite their differences, share an overlapping nec-
essary condition insofar as an appropriate object of both states involves the trans-
gression of a category, a concept, a norm, or a commonplace expectation.
So far, I have proceeded as if the incongruity theory of humor is unproblem-
atic. But it is not evident that it is a perfectly comprehensive theory of comedy.
For the kind of incongruity that the theory identifies as the quiddity of humor
requires structure “ a structure against which opposites, extremes, contrasts, con-
tradictions, inappropriateness, and so on can take shape.22 But not all comic
amusement would appear to require this sort of structure in order to be effective.
Sometimes we laugh at pure nonsense “ a funny sound, perhaps, or a dopey
expression, like “see you in a while, crocodile” “ where no explicit or implicit foil
of the sort the incongruity theory presupposes can be specified (no contrasting
category or concept or norm or expectation).
However, even if the incongruity theory is not a comprehensive theory of
comedy, it may still be useful for our purposes. For it does appear to identify at
least one of the major recurring objects of comic amusement with some preci-
sion.That is, the incongruity theory of humor may succeed in identifying part of
a sufficient condition for some subclass of humor, and this may be all we need to
explain why some horrific imagery can be transformed into an object of laughter.
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Of course, the domain of even such a modified incongruity theory of comedy
is much broader than that of the theory of horror presented earlier.The object of
comic amusement of the incongruity variety can include jokes, people, situations,
characters, actions, objects, and events, whereas the object of horror according to
my theory can only be an entity or being of a certain sort “ what I call a monster.
However, it should be clear that this sort of being can be accommodated within
the incongruity theory of humor because there is something already straightfor-
wardly within the compass of that theory that is generally very like a monster and,
on occasion, can be easily transformed into one.
What I have in mind is the figure of the clown.The clown figure is a monster
in terms of my previous definition.23 It is a fantastic being, one possessed of an
alternate biology, a biology that can withstand blows to the head by hammers and
bricks that would be deadly for any mere human, and the clown can sustain falls
that would result in serious injury for the rest of us. Not only are clowns exagger-
atedly misshapen and, at times, outright travesties of the human form “ contor-
tions played on our paradigms of the human shape “ they also possess a physical
resiliency conjoined with muscular and cognitive disfunctionalities that mark
them off as an imaginary species.
Moreover, clowns are not simply, literally monstrous. Clowns are also frequently
theorized in the language of categorical transgression with which we are already
familiar from our discussion of horrific monsters. For example, in “The Clown as
the Lord of Disorder,”Wolfgang Zucker describes the ritual clown in these terms:
“Self-contradiction ¦ is the clown™s most significant feature. Whatever predicates
we use to describe him, the opposite can also be said with equal right.”24
Noting the origin of the word “clown” in words that meant “clod,” “clot” and
“lump” “ that is, formless masses of stuff, like earth or clay, coagulating or adhering
together “ the anthropologist Don Handelman claims that “clown-types are out-of-
place on either side of the border, and in place in neither.They have an affinity with
dirt (Makarius, 1970: 57), primarily through their ability to turn clearcut precepts
into ambiguous and problematic ones.”25 Handelman goes on to note:

These clowns are divided against themselves: they are “clots,” or “clods,”
often “lumpish,” that hang together in seemingly ill-fitted and disjunctive
ways.The interior of this clown type is composed of sets of contradictory
attributes: sacred/profane, wisdom/folly, solemnity/humor, serious/comic,
gravity/lightness, and so forth. Given this quality of neither-nor, this type
can be said to subsume holistically, albeit lumpishly, all of its contradictory
attributes.26

Furthermore, as with horrific monsters, these conflicting attributes may be strictly
biological.As described by Pnina Werbner, the clown figure at a migrant Pakistani
wedding, who is the magical agent of the bride™s transition from a presexual being
to a sexual one, is a composite “ an old man, played by a nubile young woman “
whose shape-changing eventually marks ritual transformations.27
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The anthropological literature on ritual clowns identifies clowns as categori-
cally interstitial and categorically transgressive beings. That aspect of the ritual
clown is still apparent in the perhaps more domesticated clowns of our modern
circuses. In my previous allusion to European circus performances, I noted that
the unruly clown functions as the double or doppelg¤nger of the more fastidious
clown or of the ringmaster or of some other matinee-idol type, such as the lion
tamer or the knife thrower or the equestrian. Not only does the clown, like a hor-
rific monster, indulge in morally transgressive behavior “ butting people about
and taking sexual liberties “ but like the dark doppelg¤ngers of horrific fiction, the
clown-monster is a double, a categorically interstitial figure that celebrates
antitheses or “ab-norms.”28
Moreover, given the strong analogy between the clown-figure of incongruity
humor and the monster-figure of horror, it should come as no shock that the
clown can be and has been used as a serviceable monster in horror fictions. One
example of this can be found in Stephen King™s novel It, which has been adapted
for television, in which the presiding monster takes the form of Pennywise the
Clown through much of the story. But another, rather imaginative example is the
film Killer Klowns from Outer Space, where the hero correctly surmises of the
eponymous man-eating aliens that they are really animals from another planet that
just happen to look like clowns. And they also store their victims in huge cocoons
that just happen to look like cotton candy.
If, typically, clowns function in incongruity comedy in a manner analogous to
the way in which monsters function in horror fictions “ that is, as the objects of
the relevant mental states “ then our question can be focused concretely by ask-
ing:What does it take to turn a clown into a monster or to turn a monster into a
clown? To answer the latter question, it is instructive to recall a short 1965 stand-
up comedy monologue by Bill Cosby. He says:
I remember as a kid I used to love horror pictures.The Frankenstein Monster,
Wolfman, The Mummy. The Mummy and Frankenstein were my two
favorites. They would scare me to death. But now that I look at them as a
grown-up, I say to you anyone they catch deserves to die.They are without a
doubt the slowest monsters in the world.Anyone they catch deserves to go.29
Here Cosby very efficiently transforms his favorite monsters into comic
butts. How does he do it? By effectively erasing one of their essential charac-
teristics. Earlier I offered a theory of what it takes to be a horrific monster.
Among the features that were most crucial in that analysis were that the hor-
rific monsters had to be both fearsome and loathsome, where the basis of that
loathsomeness was impurity borne of categorical transgressiveness.What Cosby
does in this routine is to subtract the fearsomeness from this monstrous equa-
tion. By alerting us to how very slow these monsters are, he renders them no
longer dangerous or fearsome. Once their fearsomeness is factored out, what
remains is their status as category errors, which, of course, makes them apt tar-
gets or objects of incongruity humor. Similarly, in a film like Beetlejuice, when
252 ART, EMOTION, MORALITY
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the ghostly young couple attempt to haunt their former house, they cause
laughter despite their horrific appearance because we know that they are inef-
fectual, insofar as their victims can neither see them nor be harmed by them.
Subtract the threatening edge from a monster or deflect our attention from it,
and it can be reduced to a clownish, comic butt, still incongruous, but now
harmless, and, as a result, an appropriate object of laughter.
Approaching our question from the opposite direction, clowns, of course, are
already categorically incongruous beings. Thus, they can be turned into horrific
creatures by compounding their conceptually anomalous status with fearsome-
ness. In Stephen King™s It, this is achieved by equipping Pennywise with a sharp,
cruel, yellow maw, while in Killer Klowns from Outer Space, the monsters not only
benefit by having rows of incisors that haven™t been brushed for centuries, but also
through the possession of super-human strength, quasi-magical powers, and inter-
galactic blood-lust.30 Moreover, the latently horrific potential of clowns “ along
with puppets and ventriloquist™s dummies “ is well known to the parents of small
children who are often terrified by such “funny” creatures exactly because they
have not yet mastered the conventions of so-called comic distance.

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