ISSN (Print) - 0012-9976 | ISSN (Online) - 2349-8846

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To Laugh or Not to Laugh

The non-innocent logic of comedy is almost always premised on exclusion, the one laughed at being ostracised and separated from the ones laughed with.

In a scene in J D Salinger’s campus classic The Catcher in the Rye, the schoolboy Holden Caulfield attempts to attract the attention of three ladies in a bar by pretending to be posh and playful. After realising his imminent failure to flirt with élan, Holden lies about seeing the Hollywood movie star Gary Cooper in the adjacent room. This has the intended effect and the ladies are immediately drawn to Holden, one of them even confirming excitedly that she too had seen the back of Cooper’s head as he was leaving the room. This assertion is based entirely on faith on a spurious statement, and it appears so foolishly funny to Holden that it killed him in secret laughter.

The section in The Catcher in the Rye is interesting inasmuch as it immediately instantiates some classic traits that characterise comedy – selective deception, gullibility, the playful transformation of lie into believable fact and, most importantly, the problematic proximity of the comic situation to a sense of loss. The content of comedy is complex as well as uncomfortable inasmuch as it almost always appears at the cost of someone else’s well-being, whether it’s a loss of face, faith or even something more immediately and permanently damaging.

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