To find mirth in the world is to be human.
No culture is unfamiliar with humor, according to Joseph Polimeni, an associate professor of psychiatry at the University of Manitoba. For someone who analyzes humor, Polimeni tells me he’s still surprised by its complexity: How words and phrases and jokes have different meanings to everyone, but we all have the instinct to laugh. Just as humans have an innate ability to understand language, Polimeni says, so, too, do they have a reflex for comprehending everyday comedy. Sure, there are people who are better suited at making others laugh, but “almost everybody,” Polimeni tells me, can appreciate a quip.
As much as humor is universal, how it works is, to most people, a mystery. We seek out laughs in nearly every form of media, from film and TV to memes and TikToks. At the box office, popular comedies rake in big bucks. Funny people are idolized in pop culture.