Take My Course, Please! The Philosophy of Humor

Rated 1 out of 5 by from don't even think about it couldn't finish it, after 3 tries and listening to 2/3 of the lectures 1 of 2 of >120 teaching company courses I have taken that I couldn't finish the cheap Seinfeld knockoff framework trivializes the subject and the presenter I can't think of anything I took away from the effort there are plenty of good courses: this is not one of ,them
Date published: 2020-03-15
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Why Is Something Funny? Fascinating Course! Kudos to The Great Courses for continuing to come up with fascinating courses that are not in most university curriculum's. This is a gem of a course taught by an engaging and erudite philosopher. I've always been interested in the theory of humor, or why things are funny, and had always thought that social science and psychology would be the dominant "explainers." Professor Gimbel, however, shows that philosophy has a lot to say about why things are humorous, particularly the field of linguistics derived from analytic philosophy, as well as addressing moral and ethical issues related to humor's impact. Since the philosopher tells us that a theory must be both necessary and sufficient for it to explain all forms of humor, he applies this test to six theories of humor: superiority theory, inferiority theory, play theory, relief theory, incongruity theory, and cleverness theory, and finds each of them insufficiently comprehensive. (What delicious timing: hours after seeing the lecture on superiority theory I happened to watch an episode of "The Honeymooners" where Ralph and Ed manage to get themselves tangled in handcuffs, and on the wrong train!) He next explores whether some of the theories can be combined, but he notes that developing a hybrid model is difficult because it's hard to combine a response-side theory with a stimulus side theory. He does inform us that most philosophers of a linguistic bent favor the incongruity theory. I'd like to ask the Professor whether one of my favorite childhood reminiscences of Woody Allen: "I got beat up by Quakers" reflects the incongruity theory more than the superiority theory. Professor Gimbel notes the time-honored maxim, often attributed to Mark Twain, that Comedy = Tragedy + Time. In other words. as tragic events recede in time, the person can cast the tragic events in a new light, perhaps an absurd light. One issue he mentions is that Tragedy has attracted extensive philosophical attention over the centuries but Comedy, until recently, has attracted minimal attention, which his group of philosophers is rectifying. He also identifies, for its clarity of exposition, the "perfect joke" (sometimes attributed to George Carlin): "why do you drive on a parkway and park in a driveway?" Finally, in Lecture One, he identifies "object-oriented" societies where truth is fixed and unique and one must live according to it, and "process" societies where truth is the end result of a process which may never approach absolute truth and the uncovering process may be messy. Process societies embrace humor as a healthy expression of life, while object-oriented societies see humor as unhealthy and the mark of vice or sin. I've been trying since I finished this course, unsuccessfully I may add, to connect this social comparison with Horace Walpole's famous remark that: "the world is a tragedy to those who feel, but a comedy to those who think."
Date published: 2020-03-14
Rated 1 out of 5 by from Rarher good title. I recently bought the digital copy of "Take my course". I was not able to send it to my phone, so I am not too happy.
Date published: 2020-03-09
Rated 1 out of 5 by from painful the title is Philosophy of Humor - meaning the emphasis is supposed to be on humor. It's not. It was painful to listen over & over again to what sounded like philosophical mumbo jumbo. This course has little to do with humor, & definitely is not worth your time.
Date published: 2020-01-20
Rated 1 out of 5 by from It's not wha I thought In my opinion it's just a philosopher talking about all he knows about humor. You will not learn how to create humor, laugh or better understand comedy.
Date published: 2019-12-21
Rated 1 out of 5 by from This is more philosophy than humor. I just wanted to learn about humor. The title should be change to Philosopher talking about his humor knowledge. It's just a guy telling how a philosopher thinks different than no philosophers and how he sees humor. Don't expect to learn about comedy or how to make people laugh.
Date published: 2019-11-29
Rated 4 out of 5 by from Mostly Philosophy. Not Much Humor The potential student must understand going in that this course will not teach much about the practice of comedy. It will not teach how to tell jokes. Rather, it is a course about what humor tells us about ourselves. It is serious about funny. Each lecture addresses a philosophical topic such as what is meant by objectivity, how do we see truth in humor, and ethics of making someone the butt of a joke. It also discusses various philosophical or psychological theories of why people react to humor the way they do. Each course opens with a joke that illustrates the philosophical topic to be addressed in that lecture. The fact that this course is more about philosophy than humor is demonstrated by the quality of these jokes. I appreciated this course, but I was looking for what it was offering – insight into human nature in general rather than into comedy in particular. Dr. Gimbel is a reasonably good lecturer although I don’t think he’d make it as a professional comedian. He is assisted by a troupe of stand-up comics who help him illustrate humor. I used the video version. I think that it is better than the Audiobook would be, particularly for the skits.
Date published: 2019-11-08
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Philosophy of Humor I'm not completely through the course, but I am enjoying it a lot; however, my enjoyment is bittersweet as it is the last course I'll probably ever buy from you. As a long time steady customer, I am VERY UPSET about your only offering video courses. There are several courses I won't be buying because of your choice to eliminate audio courses. I know you are saying one can buy a video course and only listen to it via Google Play or on Apple devices,but what about older people, like me, who don't access your courses this way? I don't have a device that can allow this. I am very sad that I won't be able to buy some of your terrific courses because they are not available to me any more. This is very upsetting for me, and dare I say, a foolish choice for your company.
Date published: 2019-09-03
Rated 5 out of 5 by from One of the best courses I've found In my view, this course ranks among the best in the Great Courses catalog. Professor Steven Gimbel’s lectures remind me of Robert Greenberg on music, Arthur Benjamin on math, and Timothy Spurgin on reading and literature. Besides presenting a comprehensive, balanced overview of this particular topic, he demonstrates the way philosophers formulate questions and then explore a problem, employing arguments that prompt counter-arguments. As he emphasizes throughout, these questions “may not have answers.” In presenting various approaches to understanding humor, he is eminently fair in presenting and critiquing each theory, even the one he has developed himself. His language is clear, direct, and precise; his style is conversational rather than professorial; and his tone is friendly and good-humored rather than monotonous. Reflecting on his own experience as a stand-up comedian must have enhanced his ability to present complex material in an engaging manner. The course is well organized, and each lecture begins with a few apt jokes that illustrate the points to be made in that session. (As he acknowledges, some of these jokes are even funny.) Anyone who expects a series of stand-up comedy routines instead of an introduction to philosophical reasoning about humor is likely to be disappointed, I suppose; but someone who wants to hear a thought-provoking discussion by a clever expert in the field is likely to share my enthusiasm. He has presented a course that excels in making philosophy accessible to non-specialists and in recognizing humor as a crucial element in our lives.
Date published: 2019-05-10
Rated 3 out of 5 by from More of a sociology course than truly understanding humor and how to write humor.
Date published: 2019-05-09
Rated 4 out of 5 by from Enjoyable course, but less than profound A philosopher's analysis of some of the multidisciplinary literature on theories of humor. Clear presentation, well organized, lots of funny illustrative jokes that are then analyzed in the light of the various contrasting theories of what makes for humor. I wish that the professor had focused a little more on the relevant work in psychology and even neurology and a little less on grand social theory and ethics, but overall, an interesting and enjoyable course.
Date published: 2019-05-06
Rated 5 out of 5 by from A true philosophy course, not a jokebook I listened to the course over the span of 12 weeks, and I will probably listen to it again. This is a true philosophy course, and with Dr. Gimbel's style, ties the practical and subtle (humor vs. jokes vs. "funny") with history/historic philosophy, medical science, sociology, and so on. Yes, there are jokes sprinkled through. Some are funny, all are topical. The course is split into thirds, loosely, kinds of humor (spoof, satire, etc.), theories of humor (what are the conditions for something to be considered "humor": deprecation of others, of yourself, cleverness, etc.), and ethics of humor. Within the limits of the course (24 30-minute lectures do not a full semester make), the base concepts are well presented and fairly well integrated. I found the middle third (theories) a little dry, but this is the section that is the most hard-core, philosophically, and the most tied to a rigorous presentation. And it is precisely the rigorous presentation that allows the comparison/contrasting of the theories. This foundation, further, is leveraged in the final section. The final third is the most 21st-century topical. Its material is easily related to modern society and much of modern "live" comedy (as opposed to TV sitcoms and movies). From this, it provides insight into politics and individuals' psychological states. The course is well worth taking a second time. The repetition, and the ability to integrate with later material, leads to expanded insight into earlier lectures. Further, a second listening provides a greater understanding of the integrated nature of each lecture. I have spot-listened to a few, and will continue to do so. All in all, a worthwhile course. If you're looking for an understanding of the nature of humor instead of a stream of jokes.
Date published: 2019-04-12
Rated 1 out of 5 by from Horribly redundant! I'm a presenter and really thought this course would help. I've never seen a subject so re-hashed with re-stating the obvious and restating the same thing. It was totally useless.
Date published: 2019-04-08
Rated 2 out of 5 by from The Philosophy of Humor The name of the course is the Philosophy of Humor. Make sure that this is what you want. Philosophers may love this course. I am not well schooled in philosophy and cannot distinguish an erudite philosophical discussion from mere sophistry or pedantry. This is not, and, did not advertise itself to be, an analysis of the types of humor and the structure of humor, nor provide any insights into the construction of humorous stories or jokes. There are a few examples of jokes or humorous stories. I did not find any of these particularly amusing. If you are looking for an occasional good belly laugh, or for tips on developing your craft as a stand up comic, look elsewhere. However, if, indeed, you are looking for a course on the Philosophy of Humor and have no illusions about being entertained, you may find this course very satisfying.
Date published: 2019-03-27
Rated 3 out of 5 by from The course should have greater appeal to people more interested in philosophy than a practical analysis of humor. The course is true to its title.
Date published: 2019-03-24
Rated 1 out of 5 by from I’ll be asking for my money back. Cute tittle, but the course is a bomb. You’d be better off watching YouTube videos. The course is like a bad public access show and a total waste. I tried to watch it . Even tried to just listen. Big looser. I can not believe the other reviews. Makes me now question all the Great Courses reviews
Date published: 2019-03-17
Rated 2 out of 5 by from Couldn’t finish I tried to watch. I love philosophy. I love humor. This course couldn’t keep my interest. Only the second out of 40+ courses that I’ve taken that I felt was a waste of time.
Date published: 2019-03-03
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Great fun, but also serious stuff This is a course for people interested in (and with some background in) philosophy, who are also intrigued by its relation to the nature, history, and function of humor—as in stand-up comedy, which Professor Gimbel pursues in his spare time as a longstanding avocation. I haven’t taken his other courses (Redefining Reality [4140], and Formal Logic [4215]), but I found him an engaging and authoritative presenter, and the course well-designed and thorough. It’s also creatively produced, with the stage and lighting of an actual comedy club (including a low camera angle to evoke being in the audience of such a venue), and an effective team of assistant comedians to illustrate the concepts being discussed with actual jokes. And there are plenty of jokes, although all of them are carefully chosen to fit the lecture topics; I found nearly all of them funny and none of them in poor taste, despite the numerous touchy subjects under discussion. This is a course on philosophy first, whose intention is to explore the purposes, implications, and structure of humor, and not a lighthearted joke-fest, and I suspect that anyone coming to it expecting the latter would disappointed and bored by all the stuffy academic discussion. This is a niche course, in comparison with the majority of Teaching Company courses I have taken, but I enjoyed it, I was impressed by Dr Gimbel’s synthesis and presentation of the subject, and I learned a lot.
Date published: 2019-02-28
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Humorous Instructor! A great course to learn about the history and kinds of humor. This course is also jam-packed with jokes and skits to illustrate examples of the various topics. There are a lot of subtle jokes too, which the viewer can pick up is you really listed. While some of the definitions in the first disc are dry - and they have to be - the rest of the discs really pay off. I think I'll watch them again!
Date published: 2019-02-23
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Lighten Up! Does it take a critic to critique? Lifelong learning needs to accept the humor. Thank you!
Date published: 2019-02-20
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Extremely interesting Not sure what I expected, but this is a very interesting course with an philosophic approach to understanding humor. I enjoyed it very much.
Date published: 2019-02-11
Rated 1 out of 5 by from Poor sound quality! This is at least the 50th course I have purchased from The Great Courses and it may be good, but it is very difficult to tell -- the sound quality is very bad. I literally can't tell what the professor is saying much of the time. And the little humorous inserts are even worse.
Date published: 2019-01-24
Rated 3 out of 5 by from pertinet A bit tedious a times but interesting, no great revelations.
Date published: 2019-01-24
Rated 3 out of 5 by from Better if shorter This would have been a better 12-lecture course. Churchill said it took him 4 hours to write a 10-minute talk and ten minutes to to talk four hours. I think the material here could have been covered in half the time. Still, a good course, but not "great."
Date published: 2019-01-22
Rated 4 out of 5 by from A fine overview of a captivating subject A comprehensive and engaging exposition of a topic that has long deserved to be taken seriously.
Date published: 2019-01-14
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Well Worth the Time Dr. Gimbel offers a deep and fascinating approach to the theory of humor. He keeps the lectures flowing with examples and insight. He covers a multitude of theoretical perspectives thus offering a rich and comprehensive study of why we laugh. He clearly demonstrates why the study of humor needs to be taken seriously and the role it plays in our daily lives.
Date published: 2018-12-23
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Take My Course Please! Dr. Gimbel nails it! Entertaining and deep all at one - very informative - cover all from philosophy to psychology to anthropology. I was waiting for the ref. to Freud and what S.F. considered the "best joke" ever. If Dr. Gimble got this in the he missed very little. Fun for the whole family.
Date published: 2018-12-22
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Good intro on each lecture ! Great course ! Didn’t realize how many concepts and interesting information involves the telling of jokes. Learned a lot about humor.
Date published: 2018-12-16
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Fun stuff So far, I enjoy it very much. You have to pay close attention. I'm up to my 3rd lecture.
Date published: 2018-12-03
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Truthful AND Funny! A healthy dose of philosophy paired with a happy dose of humor--this course explores the history and rationale of the question: "What makes people laugh...and why?" As a performer in a comedy barbershop quartet, I found the course enlightening.
Date published: 2018-11-30
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Take My Course, Please! The Philosophy of Humor
Course Trailer
The Universality of Humor
1: The Universality of Humor

Starting with the first “joke” most of us experience (“peek-a-boo!”), explore the underlying nature of humor in different cultures and at different times in our lives. Consider whether or not humor is culture-dependent, and how societies view humor as both an expression of life and a mark of vice.

35 min
The Objectivity of Humor
2: The Objectivity of Humor

Most people would say that humor is subjective, but this claim is entirely false. In this lecture, Professor Gimbel explores the objectivity of humor by first considering what philosophers mean by “objectivity,” then by drawing several important distinctions between the subjective and objective notions of laughter, funniness, and humor.

31 min
The Science of Laughter
3: The Science of Laughter

Consider some thought-provoking questions about laughter and its relationship with humor. What happens in the brain to trigger laughter? What environmental factors make it more likely for us to laugh at something? Why do human beings develop the ability to laugh? What social functions are served by our laughter?

29 min
Truth and Humor
4: Truth and Humor

Jokes aren’t intended to be statements conveying new information about the world—and yet they can be true. Start building a clear definition of humor by examining the relationship between truth and humor, rooted in the four main philosophical accounts of truth: correspondence theory, coherence theory, pragmatism, and subjectivity.

30 min
Comedy and Tragedy
5: Comedy and Tragedy

We’re told that “comedy equals tragedy plus time.” Here, probe the fascinating relationship between comedy and tragedy. Central to this lecture is Aristotle’s Poetics (in which tragedy and comedy are distinct forms) and the ideas of Arthur Asa Berger (who sees comedy as a reaction to a tragic world).

26 min
Irony and Truth
6: Irony and Truth

Perhaps the place where humor and philosophy most strongly overlap is with the notion of irony, and, in fact, a lot of humor employs irony. From the ancient Greeks to the ironic humor of the present day, consider how irony can make humor not just silly—but profound.

27 min
Satires, Parodies, and Spoofs
7: Satires, Parodies, and Spoofs

Visit a corner of the world of humor that takes itself very seriously: satire. Topics include ancient Greek satyr plays; the philosophies of satire put forth by Horace and Juvenal; Jonathan Swift’s A Modest Proposal (one of the most famous modern works of satire); and the relationship between satire, parody, and spoofs.

29 min
Stop Me If You’ve Heard This One: Jokes
8: Stop Me If You’ve Heard This One: Jokes

Most of the work involved in the philosophy of humor centers around jokes: speech acts whose structure and mechanisms are easy to see. Professor Gimbel guides you through some of the many logical mechanisms used to generate verbal humor, including accidents, burlesque, facetiousness, stereotypes, and more.

27 min
Theories of Humor
9: Theories of Humor

Begin your search for a theory of humor with an introduction to the philosophical methodology best suited for the task: analytic philosophy. This methodology, as you’ll learn, seeks rigorous and clean accounts of what we mean by the words we use—so we can tell which questions are real questions.

28 min
Superiority Theory
10: Superiority Theory

When we tell a joke, we’re making fun of someone or something. In this lecture, investigate superiority theory: the view that humor is the expression of one’s superiority over another. Consider ideas put forth by thinkers like Plato and Hobbes, as well as possible arguments against this theory.

28 min
Inferiority Theory
11: Inferiority Theory

Inferiority theory, which is the inverse of superiority theory, posits that we find humor funny because we’re bringing ourselves down mentally to the level of the butt of the joke. Is this idea successful as a humor theory? Is it necessary—or sufficient? Find out in this lecture.

28 min
Play Theory
12: Play Theory

What makes play theory unique among humor theories is that humor is not in the joke (or the reaction to the joke) but in the relationship between joker and audience. Humor, as you’ll learn, can be seen as a sort of play that makes for a well-lived human life.

30 min
Relief Theory
13: Relief Theory

Turn now to relief theory (or release theory), a purely response-side theory of humor that focuses on how humor affects the mind of the listener. Thinkers you’ll turn to for a better understanding of this include the Reverend Francis Hutcheson, Sigmund Freud, and contemporary philosopher Robert Latta.

30 min
Incongruity Theory
14: Incongruity Theory

Take a poll of contemporary philosophers of humor and they’ll overwhelmingly say they support the incongruity theory. Learn how this particular theory takes as its central concept the incongruity of two things that don’t connect with one another, and how it helps us understand how verbal jokes work.

27 min
Cleverness Theory
15: Cleverness Theory

Here, analyze Professor Gimbel’s own theory of humor, called the cleverness theory. According to this theory, humor is a conspicuous act of playful cleverness in which there’s no necessary connection between humor and laughter, and jokes can be used to make yourself attractive, to distract from the truth, and more.

27 min
Humor Theory Revisited
16: Humor Theory Revisited

Take a more holistic view of the six different approaches to humor theory you examined in earlier lectures. Using a joke that introduces the lecture, Professor Gimbel walks you through how each humor theory would account for the humor of that particular joke to arrive at a possibly synthetic idea of humor theory.

28 min
Humor Ethics: Boundaries and Limitations
17: Humor Ethics: Boundaries and Limitations

Is there a moral responsibility to think about when we tell a joke? Are there rules to joking? Are there only jokes certain people can tell, or times and places where joking is wrong? Can joking be a morally good act? These and other questions are the subject of this lecture.

31 min
Who Can Tell Ethnic Jokes?
18: Who Can Tell Ethnic Jokes?

In this lecture, take into philosophical consideration ethnic jokes, or jokes that have as their butt an entire group. Are they always impermissible? Are they just jokes? Are they only sometimes allowed? Work through the arguments for several versions of each possible stance, making the best case for each.

30 min
Comic Moralism
19: Comic Moralism

Some philosophers argue the morality of telling a joke depends on how funny it is. Others believe the funniness of a joke depends on its morality. Explore the quandary of comic moralism with a close look at three types of positions: comic moralists, comic immoralists, and comic amoralists.

30 min
Situational Ethics and Humor
20: Situational Ethics and Humor

Investigate three ways in which the situation may be relevant to the morality of joke-telling. You’ll consider the ideas of a comedic “waiting period” for a joke, the ethics of places where jokes are morally forbidden (like funerals), and topics that some philosophers consider to be ethically off-limits.

31 min
The Necessity of Humor
21: The Necessity of Humor

Ponder the notion of whether humor is not just good but necessary to human life. Using the work of thinkers like Kierkegaard, examine whether we’re wired for humor, and how the necessity of humor depends upon the picture we have of the human soul—or the human mind.

32 min
Comedian Ethics
22: Comedian Ethics

Professor Gimbel offers possible answers to these questions about comedy as an art form: What are the moral differences when a joke is told by someone hired to entertain us? Should we hold comedians to higher moral standards, or do they get a longer moral leash because of their profession?

29 min
Socially Progressive Comedy
23: Socially Progressive Comedy

Another way to look at humor is as a (possibly skewed) instrument of change, a tool of liberation, and a means of progressive activism. Study the history of American humor as a way confront oppression and to humorously expose the inequities of society.

27 min
Ridiculousness and the Human Condition
24: Ridiculousness and the Human Condition

Is it true that laughter is the best medicine? Conclude the course with the relationship between humor and living a good life. Using insight you’ve gained from previous lectures, consider how to think of humor as a medication allowing you to live your life to the fullest as a biological being.

33 min
Steven Gimbel

Scientists give us new accounts of how the universe works, and philosophers unpack those theories to see what they tell us about what is real.


Johns Hopkins University


Gettysburg College

About Steven Gimbel

Professor Steven Gimbel holds the Edwin T. Johnson and Cynthia Shearer Johnson Distinguished Teaching Chair in the Humanities at Gettysburg College in Pennsylvania, where he also serves as Chair of the Philosophy Department. He received his bachelor's degree in Physics and Philosophy from the University of Maryland, Baltimore County, and his doctoral degree in Philosophy from the Johns Hopkins University, where he wrote his dissertation on interpretations and the philosophical ramifications of relativity theory. At Gettysburg, he has been honored with the Luther W. and Bernice L. Thompson Distinguished Teaching Award. Professor Gimbel's research focuses on the philosophy of science, particularly the nature of scientific reasoning and the ways that science and culture interact. He has published many scholarly articles and four books, including Einstein's Jewish Science: Physics at the Intersection of Politics and Religion; and Einstein: His Space and Times. His books have been highly praised in periodicals such as The New York Review of Books, Physics Today, and The New York Times, which applauded his skill as "an engaging writer...[taking] readers on enlightening excursions...wherever his curiosity leads."

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