The etymology of the word “comedy”, is known to have two origins: a)”komos+odi”(crowd + song), which means the song of the boisterous crowd. b)”komi+odi”(peasants + song), which means the song of the peasants. The comic, is the funny element, the one which causes laughter.
In his work Wit and its relation to the Unconscious/Humor, Freud lits the different kinds of comic, ranging from witticism, to naivety and humor. More specifically, he defines humor as the contribution to the comic through the mediation of the Superego. The Ego in humor, remains incorruptible, which is a triumph of narcissism.2
On the contrary, wit (witz in German), which is the formation or a certain combination of words, is defined as that contribution to the comic that is given by the unconscious. It is a construction, which enables witticisms to reach two effects: on the one hand it shows the listener a double face and on the other hand, it urges him to adopt two considerations; one is connected to the unconscious and seeks to penetrate it, thus highlighting an unconscious desire, when the second one remains on the surface and illustrates wit as the linguistic production of the conscious. Moreover, wit not only leads to the pleasure of the speaker, but also that of the listener. So, here we have a triple -instead of a double- relationship (as in the case of humor), a relationship that consists of the speaker, the object of witticism and the listener.
In Seminar V, Lacan mentions that the value of wit differs from that of humor insofar as it is based on the “non-meaning”, that deep down, contains every use of meaning.3 That is to say, that every meaning is, at anytime, possibly questionable, since it is based on the use of the signifier.
Wit therefore bears more similarities with irony, which is the mode of expression par excellence of the schizophrenic. While humor acknowledges the Other and records itself onto that perspective, irony on the contrary, turns against the Other, aiming to highlight that language is only “in appearance”. Thus, we can conclude that the psychiatric clinic is humorous (for instance, one can “mock” the lunatic), since it recognizes the Other and is incorporated into the existence of established speech and meaning.
In his definition of comedy, Aristotle defines the comic as some kind of wrong or ugliness that does not however cause pain, as is the case in tragedy. Through the use of comic speech, we note for instance the same mythical heroes of tragedies, managing speech in a different way, thus avoiding the tragic outcome. The same words and reactions, which nail down the audience in tragedy, assume a different form in comedy, get overthrown and finally, cause laughter.
But what is it that causes this laughter and pleasure?
Freud called it the “emotional/affective economy” of humor and believed that the source of pleasure comes from the non-spending of feelings. For example, the bad feelings that one would expect to have, when watching a difficult situation unfolding (e.g. tragedy), are replaced by something that stops them, through a humorous burst.
In regard to these, Lacan states that the basic source of the comic is in fact related to a reference to the Phallus. In every comical narration, what is in fact emerging is the phallic object. Later on, in Seminar VIII,4 referring to the speech of Aristophanes, Lacan mentions that it isn’t by chance, that Plato chooses a “clown” to talk about love.
Finally, in Seminar XXV,5 Lacan generalizes the use of the comic in love life, mentioning that what is important there, is the comic itself. He gives the example of a man seeking his lost object in his partner, which is merely a way of falling in love with himself. Lacan goes on to say that life itself is comic and that is quite intriguing that Freud chose to use a tragic myth, that of Oedipus, to describe what is at stake in the erotic game.
1 Aristotle, Poetics, trans. J. Sikoutris, Athens: Estia, 1991, p. 46.
2 S. Freud Wit and its relation to the Unconscious/Humor, Athens: Plethron, 2009, p. 311.
3 J. Lacan, The Seminar, Book V, trans. C. Gallagher, www.lacaninireland.com, p.14.
4 J. Lacan, The Seminar, Book VIII, “Transference”, ed. J.A. Miller, trans. B. Fink, Polity, 2014.
5 J. Lacan, The Seminar, Book XXV, www.lacaninireland.com, pp. 7-8.