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Wellisch ’26: Humor is an indispensable social tool, but it’s not accessible to all

“All of us run the risk of a joke not landing; we dance with the fact that we might not get it right and persist anyway.”

Your stomach starts cramping and laughter erupts out of you: It’s easy to tell when a joke is good. Humor can be harnessed to diffuse awkward situations, flirt, demonstrate humility, express political opinions or, most importantly, authentically bond with those around you. Humor is undeniably one of the most valuable and multifaceted social skills. Even so, humor is not equally accessible to all — so Brown must be a place where everyone feels they can take advantage of this tool.    

Humor promotes well-being and helps people nourish genuine connections. When we laugh, our brains release endorphins, which reduce levels of the stress hormone cortisol and increase personal satisfaction. Studies reveal that laughter can also positively impact muscle tension, heart rate and blood pressure. Furthermore, the use of humor is connected to stronger interpersonal relationships and benefits in the corporate setting. Stanford University experts have identified humor as an essential tool for successful leaders, encouraging positive feelings and creativity in coworkers.

Along with its physical and psychological benefits, humor should be valued for its highly individual nature. From witty to self-deprecating to cynical, everyone’s humor is a unique amalgamation of styles shaped by their personal experiences. Despite the ubiquitous role of humor in our lives, there is no formula for how to be funny. This means humor stands out as an emblem of one’s unique character. As such, humor is one of the best ways to authentically express one’s personality. 

Yet stepping into the comedic arena requires courage. It is always a risk to tell a joke; thus, humor teaches us how to be valiant. Not only could a joke or story fall flat, but one also runs the risk of unintentionally offending others. As a nation, we witnessed the potential danger of this  on stage during the 94th Academy Awards ceremony earlier this year. While hosting, comedian Chris Rock made a joke that unintentionally touched on Jada Pinkett Smith’s alopecia, an illness that causes hair loss. Rock’s punchline resulted in Will Smith slapping him on national television. Even as a well-established comedian, Rock crossed a line while attempting humor. All of us run the risk of a joke not landing; we should dance with the fact that we might not get it right and persist anyway. Aiming to be funny leads to becoming more bold, fearless and confident.  

Even if one wants to be courageous, our societal norms often make it harder for some groups to harness the social power of humor. Historical sexist stereotypes tell us that women are not funny. The license to tell jokes is far more commonly afforded to men. Despite men and women both ranking humor as one of their most desired characteristics in a significant other, a 2006 study revealed that men seek women who enjoy their jokes, while women search for men who make them laugh. We elevate humor as a desirable trait, yet gender discrepancies reveal different approaches to that appraisal. Thus, as much as humor is an important skill, it is not equally valued in everyone. 

Moreover, not every culture elevates humor to the same extent. Several studies have concluded that Western cultures hold more positive connotations with humor when compared to Eastern cultures. Some Eastern ideologies such as Confucianism emphasize the importance of being serious and reserved, thereby devaluing humor as an attribute. In these cultures, community members may fear that humor will taint their social status. Therefore, some cultural groups are less likely to take the risks required to realize the physical and psychological benefits of humor.  

We should all feel like these benefits are within our reach. However we’ve been conditioned, Brown should be a safe space where everyone can espouse humor as the beautiful social skill that it is. Sheltered by our college community, we have the chance to be brave and step into the comedic arena. Tell the joke that has been sitting in the back of your head for weeks. Try out the impression you’ve been too scared to share with your friends. The more we allow everyone to embrace this world of levity and the benefits it provides, the stronger and healthier our communities will become. So, let's unleash our loud laughter and give everyone the space to harness the power of their humor. 

Yael Wellisch ’26 can be reached at yael_wellisch@brown.edu. Please send responses to this opinion to letters@browndailyherald.com and other op-eds to opinions@browndailyherald.com.



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