Laughter, at its core, is based on aggression. If you replace the emotional tension that builds during a joke with sympathy instead of aggression, the audience will feel pity.

One way to understand this connection is through the concept of superiority. Many jokes and humorous situations involve a sense of superiority over someone else, whether it’s laughing at their misfortune, mocking their foolishness, or feeling a sense of triumph over an adversary. This type of humor often relies on a build-up of aggressive tension, which is then released through laughter.


The example of a drunk person falling on their face illustrates this point well. If we feel a sense of aggression or hostility towards the drunk person, perhaps because we see their behavior as foolish or irresponsible, then their misfortune may seem funny to us. We may feel a sense of superiority or triumph over them, which is released through laughter.

However, if we replace that aggression with sympathy or compassion, the situation takes on a different tone. Instead of feeling superior, we may feel pity or concern for the drunk person’s well-being. The release of tension that comes with laughter is replaced by a sense of sadness or empathy.

Positive Aspects

Aggressive humor can serve positive social functions, such as bonding groups together or challenging power structures.