The Jester Archetype: Understanding the Power of Humor
A Seriously Powerful Way to Influence People
Normally we think of humor as something that isn't very important or worthy of thought. Usually we're content to say "it's funny because it's funny" about a joke, gag or comedic situation and leave it at that. To question a joke or to try to understand the nature of what makes something humorous somehow kills its essence. So, we try not to think about humor. We are content to let the Jesters make us laugh and forget about it.
But, thinking about jokes can tell us something about human nature-- humor may even be a key to understanding consciousness. Humans are the only living creature that can tell a joke. (A commonly held belief is that human beings are the only living creatures that can use tools. Actually, many animals use tools.)
In a previous article, I wrote about the Pearson-Myers Archetypal Indicator test and the twelve character archetypes. In it, I put forth the idea that the source of the Jester's power is his ability to see the world as being completely ridiculous. The Jester's outlook on life can be a strength or it can also be a limitation, depending on the quality of the Jester. Strong Jester characters like Tom Bombadil are powerful allies capable of assisting a hero in need of rescue, but weak Jester types are used as comic relief in stories and are prone to running away when called upon to do something dangerous.
In popular fiction and literature, characters with Jester abilities who are involved in situations where the possibility of a physical confrontation is likely are able to use humor to defuse a potential conflict before it starts. We also see Jesters using the power of humor to gain acceptance in hostile social situations. Even the will of kings and other figures of high social status can be swayed by the sarcastic remarks of a Jester.
Four Types of Jester Heroes
The unique personality of a Jester is largely defined by how he or she uses humor. In the Internet Encyclopedia of Philosophy, Aaron Smuts writes about four different theories of humor. These principles can be applied to the Jester archetype to derive four main types of Jester "good guys." Of course, well-rounded Jester types can move freely across all four aspects, but most Jester oriented characters specialize in a particular mode of expression. The following is a brief overview of the four types of Jesters.
The Juggler (Superiority)
- The superiority humor theory is one of the oldest theories of humor. The ancients noticed that in comedies, the audience is often invited to laugh at stupid, strange looking characters-- and feel superior to them. Laughter may also occur when we experience the "sudden glory" of feeling better than someone else. In a popular YouTube clip, a plus sized model falls off of a catwalk. Many funny things are going on in the clip, but the main reason why we laugh has to do with the fact that the woman suddenly fell from a position of high status (a model strutting down a catwalk) to a position of very low status (a clumsy woman who tripped and fell down) in the blink of an eye.
- Like a skillful juggler who can carelessly toss dangerous objects around in the air without risking injury, a Juggler Jester is capable of lowering or raising someone's status according to his whim. A Jester can use his joke-telling abilities to easily ingratiate himself to those who depend on maintaining high status-- namely, those who hold positions of power. When people have their status elevated, they experience good feelings. A Jester is able to associate himself with those good feelings. In this way Jesters can easily ingratiate themselves to almost anyone, especially people who believe that status is important.
- Since the Jester mentality assumes that status is essentially meaningless, Jesters don't mind lowering their own status to get a laugh. On the other hand, Jesters are not afraid of tearing down someone else's status either. Skillful Jesters can rip anyone apart with ease if necessary, and without feeling a shred of guilt. The true mark of a master Jester, though, is the ability to successfully lower status without causing pain or emotional injury. In medieval times, kings depended on the commentary of their low-status Jesters. Since their comments were in the form of non-threatening jokes, court Jesters were allowed to speak truth to power. Other members of a king's court had to be very careful with their words, because angering a powerful king could result in death.
The Balloon Twister (Relief)
- Humor can also be derived from nervous energy. Nervousness can be released in the form of laughter. In social situations it's common to see an awkward person laugh constantly when attempting to engage in conversation, for example. If nobody else feels tense in the situation, only the socially awkward individual will be the one laughing because the other people in the group have no nervous energy to release. Humor can also help us find relief from repression. For example, many people feel shame around sex, or the elimination of waste. So-called "dirty" jokes help relieve some of the shame around sexual behavior and bodily functions. Typically, young people have a high amount of shame when it comes to these things. The older we get, the more comfortable we become with our bodies. As a result, the dirty joke genre is often thought of as being an immature form of humor.
- Perceptive Jesters are able to find out what bothers or unnerves someone. Once that information is known, a Jester can then flip those uncomfortable subjects and use them as fodder for hilarious jokes. If this is done in an artful way, the Jester can make himself seem to be "above the law" and as a result, the Jester's status will increase in the minds of the audience. Comedian George Carlin famously mocked the fact that seven dirty words were deemed to be too inappropriate for TV. Carlin's rant called out the ridiculousness of banning certain words, regardless of their context. Like a skillful clown making animal shapes out of a balloon, Carlin was able to harness the nervous energy caused by his use of the shocking taboo words and release that energy in the form of riotous laughter.
- Depending on the situation and the nature of the Jester character, a Jester may choose to confront people with taboos in an attempt to purposely frighten or startle them into realizing how silly their fears are. In this way, the Jester may temporarily increase the stress caused by taboos instead of relieving the stress. If a Jester does this, those who have an unusual amount of stress around whatever taboo the Jester is playing with might react in a fearful way. People who are afraid of clowns are often responding to the fact that a clown's shameless behavior can seem bewildering and scary.
The Absurdist (Incongruity)
- Often times, we laugh because things are not as we expect them to be. On the other hand, not every surprise is funny. Nobody laughs when a plane's departure time is delayed (unless they have an unusually sick or sadistic sense of humor.) Absurd situations and jokes usually follow some type of strange, unexpected logic. Experiencing the cognitive shift caused by absurd events is sometimes pleasurable, and if the shift is drastic enough it can provoke a laugh.
- Recognizing and drawing attention to the unexpected might have been a survival skill that was useful in ancient times. The ability to notice and signal abnormal events -- like the appearance of a summertime bird in the dead of winter, for example -- would have proven to be a useful skill if the information was then used to accomplish something or avert disaster. (For example, an unexpected bird might signal changing weather patterns, etc.)
- An Absurdist style Jester is able to use nonsense and witty wordplay to provoke laughs. Through the use of funny, unexpected rhymes and surprising, apparently nonsensical actions a Jester who is skillful in the use of absurdity is able to ingratiate himself to others without affecting the status quo and without having to tap into the often volatile power of cultural taboos. In art, literature and music, apparent absurdity is often used to conceal deeper levels of meaning that are accessible only to those who think deeply about the painting, story or song. For example, Lewis Carroll's Alice in Wonderland appeals to children with absurd humor, even though adults may understand some of the satirical ideals Carroll works into the story.
"Yo Mamma" Jokes
The Child (Playfulness)
- Humor can also be derived from the joy of play and the use of imagination. Playful humor may involve play fighting, flirtation or mock sexual advances. The playful exchange of harsh insults is also a form of playful humor. ("Your mom" jokes are a good example of playful humor.) Like absurd humor, playful humor has no important consequences. In other words, nobody involved in a playful joke or game is affected in any way by the outcome, and nobody loses or gains status. Playful humor is different from absurd humor in that playful humor is obvious and follows simple patterns whereas absurd humor is witty and tends to follow unexpected logic. Both playful and absurd forms of humor may often overlap, but generally playful humor is simple, repetitive, and physical (or derived from physical action) whereas absurd humor tends to be more cerebral and involves the use of complex wordplay and/or imagery.
- The Jester who is skilled in the ways of the Child can switch back and forth between childish and adult mentalities at will. When a Jester switches into Child mode, the people around him often follow suit. A Jester might adopt Child techniques at a party to help ensure that everyone is having a good time. Child Jesters often know how to play an endless array of card games and board games. Engaging in meaningless play can help relieve boredom during times when not much is happening, and these are the situations where Child Jesters are especially fun to be around.
To find out about the four types of Jester baddies, hop over to archetypesexplained.com.
What Is Your Favorite Type of Jester?
A Painfully Awkward Amateur Stand-Up Routine
Amateur Comedy Shows: Jesters In Training
Amateur comedy shows are typically used by beginning comics to try various jokes out on an audience and gauge a reaction.
Amateur comedy shows are interesting because of the awkward moments: the moments where a comedian is struggling, or getting frustrated, or dealing with hecklers. Seeing a comedian struggle is sometimes funny in-and-of-itself, even if the routine itself is awful. For anyone interested in the nature of comedy, witnessing the telling of an awful joke can be more interesting than seeing a famous comedian reciting a list of perfected jokes with ease.
There's also another reason to attend amateur comedy shows: to see the creative process in action. Formulating a stand-up routine is hard and it takes multiple attempts and a certain amount of failure to get it right. There's something to admire in a beginning comedian's willingness to fail. For certain skills (especially social skills) failure is completely necessary. Failure also comes in handy when attempting to perfect any type of art: music, painting, writing, whatever.
There's also a certain amount of excitement involved in watching a totally unknown comic step up to the stage that you can't get while sitting at home and watching a pre-recorded performance. There is a chance that you might be blown away by an incredibly off-the-wall routine, but most of the time that doesn't happen. That's because developing a stand-up routine is a very hard thing to do. Attending an amateur comedy show will help you appreciate the craft of joke telling.
Stepping into the Jester archetype is not easy. Maybe that is part of the reason behind why clown shoes are ridiculously large-- perhaps it's a symbol of how they are incredibly hard to fill.