“The ego refuses to be distressed by the provocations of reality, to let itself be compelled to suffer. It insists that it cannot be affected by the traumas of the external world; it shows in fact, that such traumas are no more than occasions for it to gain pleasure.”
Freud’s discussion on humour explores the idea that by refusing the trauma of the external and in fact deriving pleasure from these scenarios the mind creates a humorous situation for the self and for a non-involved spectator.
A very clear example of this process being played out is in the YouTube video I have linked. The video, later revealed to have been staged, shows a man being chased down, searched and arrested by an agent. Throughout the arrest the man makes constant jokes, for example telling the agent his safe word, making silly noises whenever he is moved, commenting on things being removed from his pockets and other things to make light of the situation.
The interesting thing in this example is the fact of the video being staged and how that interacts with Freud’s theory. If the video was real, and for a while many thought it was, then the trauma that the man, and therefore the viewer, is refusing to experience and deriving pleasure from would also be real.
The video being staged however means that the event is not actually real and as such is only an imitation of the genuine trauma, what is interesting then is how the humour is still derived from the situation. If no actual trauma is being refused its traumatising effects, then it is just the idea of someone doing this that becomes humorous in itself and this is an idea that Freud does not necessarily address within his writing.
Becoming aware of the fact that the video is staged changed my personal experience of the video, and of many others in the comment section. Many of the comments seek to expose the falseness as an almost slight on the video and it is interesting how this staged event fronting as real has its impact altered when it is shown to be what it is.
Sigmund Freud, “On Humor,” The Standard Edition of the Complete Psychological Works of Sigmund Freud (London: Hogarth, 1955), 160-166.