Ilan Stavans and Frederick Luis Aldama explore the meanings of laughter and humor through a series of funny, insightful conversations. The conversations focus on how laughter functions as a social tool. They also explore what laughter represents in different social situations. As it states in the preface, “our inability to tickle ourselves tells us about the psycho-social-implications of laughter.” Meaning that humor is not the only source for laughter. We laugh for various reasons. Many have to do with the social situations where humor might not even be present. Why do we want to laugh when social interactions become awkward? Why do we internalize our humor instead of saying all the jokes that come to mind?
The book consists of five different chapters—the chapters function as shifts between the conversations dealing with different views on what laughter represents and what humor represents. The book opens with a clear summary to their themes and main points. The first chapter consists of funny exchanges between Aldama and Stavans on the sources of humor. They discuss the way humor is represented in media, art, and philosophy. The second chapter discusses ridicule—this chapter weaves their ideas of ridicule through religion, death, Cervantes, Plato, and several other subject matter. They dissect what they personally find funny as an attempt to understand why they laugh. Stavans then proves his expertise on Don Quixote of La Mancha. In this chapter, they discuss the issues with translating humor between cultures, race, and language. Chapter four introduces several ideas about jokes and why we laugh at them. They discuss the issues of racism and prejudices found in jokes. Do we always have to be politically correct when it comes to jokes? Not always… especially, if you do a good job with the joke. They discuss what humor does to film and, again, talk about the issues with humor translating between languages and cultures. They provide concrete, relevant examples for the translation of humor. An informative discussion occurs on films like Casa de mi padre and Machete. Why was it so hard for people to find Casa de mi padre funny? Because its humor didn’t translate to the American audience. As Aldama argues, unless you are familiar with telenovelas or Mexploitation, then many of the jokes are going to go over your head. The closing chapter dives into of taboo subjects and what might just be too offensive.They contemplate these issues and consider the consequences from offensive humor.
“Humor is a breather. It interrupts life as routine.”
If you are anything like me, you might have a hard time internalizing your laughter. I find myself laughing constantly making a joke out of pretty much anything. This book shed some light on what the laughter might represent. For me, the more uncomfortable the situation, the more I joke around. The more stress I have in my life, the more I find myself laughing with other people. Laughter is a social activity. It feels best around others. The conversations in Laughing Matters are loaded with different views on humor and laughter. Stavans and Aldama don’t leave any funny stone unturned. If you are curious how humor and laughter function in art, literature, and media, this book will answer all your questions. You will laugh and not cry… well, maybe tears of laughter.