Jimmy Carr explains his theory of how laughter is tied to evolution on “The Green Room with Paul Provenza”

In the second season finale of Showtime’s The Green Room with Paul Provenza, Provenza asked Jimmy Carr to explain his theory on why humans laugh, and how it applies to evolution and makes us more advanced than other creatures big and small. Here is how that transpired.

Paul Provenza: “Jimmy has a book coming out. You have a theory about why we even have comedy.”

Jimmy Carr: “It’s a little bit pretentious. Do you, are you sure you want to hear it? Because it’s pretentious.”

Provenza: “I assume so.”

Carr: “I was trying to think about, why, actually why do we laugh? Why is there an advantage in an evolutionary sense, in a Darwinian sense, to laughing? And I think the ha-ha moment of a laugh, realizing something, you’re noticing a difference. So you’re rewarding noticing difference and linguistic ability. Those are the two things that led to our increased development the last 4,000 years. So you notice differences.”

Provenza: “You may as well be talking fucking French again.”

Audience laughs.

Carr: “So what I’m saying…I’m saying a joke is basically, you notice something that is out of place.”

Tim Minchin: “Incongruous.”

Carr: “Right. Something is incongruous.”

Provenza: “Something has surprised you.”

Carr: “So I’m saying that the ha-ha moment of a joke is very similar to the a-ha! moment of, ‘Ah, I’ve got an idea!’ Realization. Noticing something is different. So humanity, when we started, when we were all wandering around in the savannah, and you would look at a field, and you would see a lion. You’d notice that difference.”

Chris Hardwick (in a Southern accent): “Nah. Bullshit! God put us here. He made us out of clay. In a fucking garden! And he ripped out one of them goddamned ribs and made a pussy. And then some fucking snake crawled up.”

Minchin: “They need to be able to laugh at that pussy.”

Hardwick: “And that was 4,000 years ago. C’mon, motherfucker!”

Carr: “He makes a very strong point. I would counter…I just think there is an advantage. I think our culture has done very well out of laughter. Out of humor. Out of seeing something a little bit differently. And I think over the last couple of hundred years, what?”

Minchin: “Do we still have to buy the book?”

Carr: “We release endorphins when we laugh.”

Eddie Izzard: “Endolphins.”

Carr: “And the reason people come to comedy shows, there’s a release of endorphins and you’re happy, and…”

Hardwick: “Endorphins is another word for brain cum, basically.”

Carr: “Brain cum. You release brain cum. That is what I meant to say. Your brain does a little cum, and it gives you a happy feeling. And there must be an evolutionary reason why we have that.”

Hardwick: “But I also think there’s a certain communal aspect to it, that, because a lot of times, you’ll see comics kill just by reminding people about things they already knew, without any joke. And I think what’s happening is people are laughing because there’s this deep-seeded evolutionary, like, ‘Ahh! I relate to you. We’re all of the tribe. We’re all part of the same group.”

Judah Friedlander: “So is laughter the opposite of what we’re doing now?”

(Note: This exchange was subsequently edited for broadcast on Showtime.)

Sean L. McCarthy

Editor and publisher since 2007, when he was named New York's Funniest Reporter. Former newspaper reporter at the New York Daily News, Boston Herald and smaller dailies and community papers across America. Loves comedy so much he founded this site.

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