Saturday, November 12, 2011

Why Is Pantsing Funny?

My Fellow Comedists,

I had cause this week to look up the word "pants" in the Oxford English Dictionary. The noun form is surprisingly contemporary, not appearing in the language until the mid-19th century. More interesting is that the verb "to pants" someone appears in the early 20th century, originally meaning to put pants on someone, then acquiring the meaning of partially taking the pants off someone in the late 20th century.Why is this funny? There are three primary accounts in humor theory. Freud argues that laughter is the result of making ourselves superior to someone else. The victim of the pantsing is made to be in a situation he or she does not want and by doing the pantsing or watching the pantsing, we are therefore superior to the mark and that is why we find it pleasant to watch.

Robert Solomon argued that humor can arise when we empathize with someone who is in a position of inferiority, allowing us to safely admit our own inferiority. In this way, seeing the pantsing, we identify with the victim and can project our own discomfort and powerlessness finding pleasure in company.

The classic incongruity account would argue that what is funny is the bizarre experience of seeing pants pulled down in public when we expect pants to be up in public. It could be a cognitive incongruity or a shock of seeing the absurd, but it is hard to make sense of this sight or this behavior in a situation where it is not generally observed and runs contrary to expectation.

So, why is pantsing considered funny?

Live, love, and laugh,

Irreverend Steve