William D. Waltz

from Die Laughing

In a shadowy corner of the Paleolithic world, the human sense of humor was born of an insalubrious tryst between joy and humiliation when some numbskull slipped on a banana peel. We've been laughing ever since. And, despite facts to the contrary, our sensibilities have evolved. In fact, some of our humor is so sophisticated it isn't even funny. It may be smart, biting, provocative, and dark, but there's no laughing. Our best comedy excoriates sacred cows, peeling away layers of self-righteousness, hypocrisy, authority, and invincibility while busting beliefs so entrenched they're nearly invisible. It may be satisfying to ridicule the beliefs of others, but it's just too easy. The beauty of humor, and quite likely its true evolutionary significance, is that it can be used to challenge our own beliefs and not just those of our nitwit neighbors. If anything can keep us from slipping into the great void, it's that part of the mind that recognizes folly where flawlessness was thought to be. If not, we'll die trying.