Two hunters are out in the woods when one of them collapses. He doesn't seem to be breathing and his eyes are glazed. The other guy takes out his phone and calls emergency services. He gasps: “My friend is dead! What can I do?” The operator says: “Calm down, I can help. First, let's make sure he's dead.” There is a silence, then a gunshot. Back on the phone, the guy says: “OK, now what?”
What is so uniquely human about humor? Mo Collins, 8-year star of MADtv, and key contributor or guest on projects like Curb Your Enthusiasm, Family Guy, 40 Year Old Virgin, Six Feet Under, Arrested Development, and Ally McBeal, has spent her life living that riddle—or as the case may be, koan.
Stating a sentiment with which Mo would likely agree, author E. B. White once said that "Humor can be dissected as a frog can, but the thing dies in the process and the innards are discouraging to any but the pure scientific mind." With that warning in mind, what does an Integral Approach have to offer on the subject of comedy and humor? How on earth can a map, of all things, bring explanatory power to bear on something as fickle and frivolous as human amusement?
First, let’s simply look at what an Integral Approach can reveal about the nature of humor. From slapstick to standup to satire, it’s clear that there is a spectrum of comedy and humor. It’s likewise clear that while a young child can appreciate the physical yucks of, say, the Three Stooges, they aren’t quite going to be able to grasp—one hopes—why Eddie Izzard’s insistence that he is an executive transvestite is so hysterical. So perhaps there is some kind of developmental aspect to humor, where increasing levels of complexity can yield increasingly rich and subtle kinds of humor.
One of the simplest models of human growth and development used by integral tracks the movement from egocentric to ethnocentric to worldcentric levels, waves, or altitude of being. An egocentric orientation—focused on “me” and “mine”—is fundamentally concerned with physical bodily existence, and so here physical humor or slapstick would be immediately appreciated. An ethnocentric orientation relies on the mind’s ability to take the role of other—but only expanding to those in my group, tribe, or nation. Here, due to the mind’s ability to take more perspectives, more complex forms of humor are available—but often at the expense of those not in my group or accepted by my group’s values (racist jokes, religious jokes, homophobic jokes, etc.). A worldcentric orientation expands the circle of care and compassion once more, this time trying to include all peoples, regardless of sex, religion, nationality, creed, and so on. Frankly, one would likely have to be at least at a worldcentric level of development to even consider cross-dressing a perfectly acceptable practice, let alone engage the topic with good cheer and laughter. Finally, with a Kosmocentric orientation, which begins to take on a distinctly spiritual or transpersonal flavor, one embraces and even identifies with all sentient beings, everywhere. Here, from the point of view of the Witness, or the Ground of all Being, humor can take on an entirely new quality: it’s just not that this or that is humorous, but that the entire manifest universe is a dancing, shimmering display of your very own Self, and that you were the author of the grandest Joke of all. You just had to find some poor sap to play it on… and so you did.
Like a growing number of comedians, Mo is finding ways beyond mere irony, discovering that the joke gets better as the view gets bigger. Integral Naked invites you to join this talented comedian for a tour through Love and Laughter, where vulnerability is the gateway to release, and empathy transmutes ridicule towards one into a recognition of the ridiculous situation we are all in together….