Pigs on a Fence

Pigs on a Fence
Daniel Eskridge

The Project
Whether your tastes bend toward the sophisticated witticisms of Oscar Wilde or the Sunday comic strips; the amusing anecdotes exchanged over drinks or the slapstick antics of Charlie Chaplin; the political satire of John Stewart or the absurdity of Monty Python; the situation comedy or the edgy irreverence of standup comedians; the one thing we all have in common is that humour is truly in the funny bone of the beholder. We all know humour when we see it, yet when it comes to explaining why we find something funny, we often struggle to put the feeling into words. Throughout history, there have emerged patterns and continuities in the types of stimuli that trigger smiles, laughter and other emotional expressions associated with humour. But what factors make something humourous? Why do we respond to some types of humour and not others? How do we understand the effect of humour on our mental, emotional and physical wellbeing? How have understandings of humour changed over time and across cultures? What language and concepts are available to facilitate a more complete understanding of this aspect of the human condition? How does humour enable us to negotiate key relationships in our lives, whether it be with family, partners, colleagues, pets or strangers? How does humour affect different people in different ways? How can humour be used to promote social transformation and justice? In what ways can humour be incorporated into the inter-disciplinary protocols and best practice that structure our professional lives? By providing a springboard for exploring the answers to these questions, this project seeks to promote a better understanding of humour in order to identify ways in which it can support personal health, positive inter-personal relationships and innovation in professional protocols and best practice across disciplines.

The multiple facets of humour require an integrative approach. Thus, history and anthropology are called to shape the archaeology of humour and laughter, while philosophy aims to define their relationships with the concepts of freedom, truth and morality. Sociology deals with humour as strategy of survival and means of sanctioning societal deviations and regulating individual and collective rules of conduct. Based on the concepts of biological sex and socialised gender, theorists attempt to identify specific features of humour creation and reception in men and women. Medical investigations and clinical practice have often pointed to the physiological effects of laughter, focussing on its restorative function and therapeutic values. If arts are generous with displays of amusement and playfulness, there are, however, systems and practices that defy gratification and jocularity: what are, for instance, the levels of acceptance for humour in science or business, politics or religion, architecture or gastronomy? There are innumerable representations of humour in world’s literature: prose, drama and poetry have challenged and changed the foundations of witticism and comicality over the centuries; novels, plays and verse often rely on the flexibility of imagination and versatility of language as constructive ways to defy commonplace and subvert the mainstream. Linguistics has scrutinised the figures of language and wit, their ambiguity and connotations, while cultural critics have emphasised the difficulties of transposing one nation’s humorous self-expression into another language or imagination. In business environments, humour can be used as a means of mobilising staff, attracting customers, or disseminating information more effectively. Humour can be a useful teaching tool in various types of learning environments. Humour can be part of activist initiatives and other types of movements aimed at achieving social change. Humour can be a powerful tool for mobilising or pacifying the public, a means of promoting or discouraging belief, a means of unifying or dividing. Accordingly, this event pushes beyond academic inter-disciplinarity to create an environment in which participants from across the professional spectrum share their insights into the meaning and uses of humour.

The Issues
The conference will explore a diverse range of issues including, but not limited to:

Understanding humour
• Humour and laughter from ancient times to the new Millennium
• Theory of humours and theories of humour
• Distinctive cultural/national brands of humour
• The places and spaces of humour
• The language of humour
• Laughter – the universal panacea?
• Clowns and comics, pranksters and jesters
• Genderised versions of humour
• Class humour
• Regional/cultural brands of humour (e.g. British humour)
• Globalisation of humour: traceability and translatability
• The future of humour

Humour and human condition
• Psychological/biological perspectives on how humour affects mind and body
• Humour, stress and well-being
• Factors that shape sense of humour
• Humour and the development of “self”
• Humour as defense mechanism for coping with adversity, loss, tragedy
• Humour and human bonding
• Humour and non-human entities (e.g. animals, machines, artificial intelligence)
• The benefits and costs of making fun of oneself or others

Uses of humour
• Humour in literature, art, music, cinema, television and radio
• Borders of humour: dark humour, horror humour, crude humour, toilet humour, off-colour humour
• Inappropriate humour: when jokes go wrong
• Humour as teaching tool in learning environments
• Humour in medical/clinical/care-giving settings
• Humour in the workplace
• Humour in business and advertising
• Humour and spirituality
• Humour and politics
• Humour in times of war, disaster, community mourning, etc.
• Humour and the law
• Humour and activism
• Humour and technology

The Audience
Comedians, writers, anthropologists, architects, artists, historians, medical staff, sociologists, linguists, literary critics, poets, writers, activists, educators, NGO representatives, businesspeople, lawmakers, spiritual/religious leaders, as well as the general public interested in exploring the intersections between their professions and the various aspects of humour with an eye toward promoting greater understanding of the rhetoric and uses of humour and laughter.

The Outcomes
The main goals of the presentations, papers, performances, exhibitions, seminars, panels, round tables and workshops are:
• to promote the collaborative-associative examination of the genesis, evolution and current status of humour;
• to identify the cognitive dimension, as well as the variables and constants, of humour;
• to develop intercultural projects and collaborative networks that will facilitate a deeper understanding of humour and laughter;
• to determine and attempt to define the limits of cultural perception through the translation and translatability of humour.