Tel Aviv Conference on Humor Finds That when Jokes Are Analyzed They Are Not Funny
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Tel Aviv Conference on Humor Finds That when Jokes Are Analyzed They Are Not Funny

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The 112 papers presented to the first international gathering on Jewish humor, being held this week, led one observer to suggest that all the scientific analyses of humor was similar to a school teacher attempting to dissect a Shakespearean comedy to discuss the plot, character structure and its grammer. “The teacher took all the fun out of the comedies, all the jokes out of the text,” the observer suggested.

Nevertheless, the first colloqium on Jewish humor and the fourth international congress on humor, held consecutively at Tel Aviv University, may have turned out to be a bit less than one would expect from a gathering of humorists speaking on their favorite subject. But it attracted more than 100 people — teachers, psychologists, sociologists, anthropologists and others — to hear 42 presentations from experts on Jewish humor and then some, mostly from Israel and the United States.

The organizer of this meeting is Prof. Avner Ziv, a psychologist who heads Tel Aviv University’s Department of Educational Sciences. Zvi, acting as chairman of both the colleqium and the congress, said in a recently published book that people who tell jokes and enjoy comedy, practical jokes and cartoons, but dislike satire, black humor and ethnic jokes, are probably people who are sociable, talkative, confident and independent with distinct leadership qualities.

Zvi, who presented an address at the opening session on “Psychological characteristics of Jewish humor in diaspora and in Israel,” also found in his studies that people who write humor for a living tend to be highly motivated, introverted, anxious and insecure, and come from a lower middle class family where parental conflict was common.


According to Zvi, Jewish humor is one of the main characteristics of the Jewish people — but unfortunately not in Israel. And in a paper, “Do Jews in Israel still laugh at themselves,” Haifa University’s Ofra Nevo showed that on the basis of her research, Jews in Israel preferred jokes in which Arabs were the victims, but the reverse was not true for the Arabs.

“It is possible that the enjoyment of self disparaging humor is a particular trait of oppressed minorities,” Nevo declared. “Self judgement constitutes one of the well known characteristics of Jewish humor in the diaspora. This serves as a defense mechanism for anxiety.”

Some of the papers presented during the weeklong series of meetings and workshops include: “Developmental change in humor”; “Humor and psychotherapy”; “Humor and education”; and “Structural affinities between the comic and the sublime in pictorial imagery.” In addition, symposia and workshops are being held on the following:


Humor and literature; humor in therapy; humor and mental health; humor in education; humor and personality; political and social aspects of humor; children’s humor; linguistic aspects of humor; humor and communications; methodology in humor research; humor in arts; theoretical aspects of humor; humor and sex; and humor research in the public’s eye and in the scientific community.

Israeli humorist Ephraim Kishon said he and a computer expert sought to program a computer to tell jokes and appreciate humor. “It seems that the only thing a computer cannot be taught to do is appreciate a joke, or make one up,” he said. Columnist Art Buchwald was scheduled to be the guest speaker but cancelled his appearance for personal reasons.

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