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November 2nd, 2019
First, a distinction: good comedy requires a clever element, but things that are merely clever do not constitute comedy.
There are some comedians who merely craft and perform clever puns, but much comedy goes far beyond this and incorporates extreme subjects. And comedy does this for a vital reason,
it’s generally not polite to bring up extreme topics.
Comedy enables us to entertain a discussion of difficult topics without social awkwardness. It’s the pleasure of comedy, often delivered by the mechanism of cleverness that balances the unpleasantness of the subject.
With these competing emotional forces in balance, we are able to fluidly explore difficult subjects together.
Comedy is a way to hack our own emotional system in order to move forward when something feels too horrible or serious to talk about.
This is a case where the combined effect is more than the sum of its part. The synergy of cleverness and extreme topics allows forward movement.
It’s not just something we do to have a good time.
It’s how we keep society healthy by keeping the Overton Window as wide as possible.