Waves of laughter : comic surfing on Bergson’s mechanical inelasticity

Wilkie, I ORCID: https://orcid.org/0000-0002-2579-3073 and Diddams, N 2021, 'Waves of laughter : comic surfing on Bergson’s mechanical inelasticity' , Comedy Studies, 12 (1) , pp. 91-103.

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Access Information: This is an Accepted Manuscript of an article published by Taylor & Francis in Comedy Studies on 11th December 2020, available online: http://www.tandfonline.com/10.1080/2040610X.2020.1850107.


Bergson’s concept of ‘mechanical inelasticity’ from his influential essay Laughter (1900, 2010, 5) remains a staple of comic theory. Bergson’s focus was on what impels laughter in social contexts. In viewing the raising of laughter as a process, i.e. as an interaction between the creator of the event and the recipient, we consider what resonance Bergson’s key theoretical notion of ‘mechanical inelasticity’ retains for twenty-first century comic practitioners and spectators of comedy. Suggesting, firstly, why ‘mechanical inelasticity’ has, perhaps, become fixed as Bergson’s primary comic conception, we then posit that Bergson’s highlighting of human properties in ‘la vivante flexibilité d’une personne’ (1900, 1924, 12), has more resonance for comic performance. We subject Bergson’s more famous definition of ‘raideur de mechanique’ (ibid) to scrutiny to conclude that the resolutely predetermined, stubbornly inflexible and machine-like operates in a too fundamentally inhuman way to contain much theoretical or practical value for performers, students and audiences of comedy alike. At the start of his essay, Bergson states that laughter is a ‘living thing’ (1900, 2010, 2) with a logic of its own. To understand it, he states, ‘we must put it back into its natural environment, which is society’. In order to update Bergson’s theory of laughter for a 21st century comedic milieu we try to capture the ways in which laughter moves playfully within a group of people, particularly in relation to comic performances and audiences. Finally, we propose another (resolutely non-mechanical), kinetic and energetic way in which Bergson’s theory continues to ‘perform a useful function’ (1900, 2010, 60). This is achieved through ‘the form of… [the]…significant undulations’ (ibid) that connect the notion of the ‘wave’ (ibid) that energises comic effect and creates the laughter affect upon which comic performers ‘surf’.

Item Type: Article
Schools: Schools > School of Arts & Media
Journal or Publication Title: Comedy Studies
Publisher: Taylor & Francis
ISSN: 2040-610X
Related URLs:
Depositing User: Dr I Wilkie
Date Deposited: 15 Dec 2020 14:26
Last Modified: 11 Jun 2022 02:30
URI: https://usir.salford.ac.uk/id/eprint/59111

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