Why is falling funny?

Even if you try not to, most of us have laughed at someone falling down. Why is it so funny when people fall down? Everyone has a different sense of humor but this sort of schadenfreude when someone trips is almost universal.


William F. Fry, who is psychiatrist and laughter researcher at Stanford University, says that a "play frame" is part of why we find falls so funny. A "play frame" puts an event in a nonserious context. The article uses to examples to illustrate the difference between a serious and nonserious fall.

The distress of someone falling out a high window and dying would make the situation serious and not at all humorous.  On the other hand, someone walking down the street, tripping and falling while falling around might seem pretty funny. This is because they probably were perfectly fine after the fall, just embarrassed.

Another key factor is incongruity. Tripping or falling is unexpected in life. The article explains that "despite our innate empathetic reaction...our incongruity instinct may be more powerful," and this could cause an onlooker to laugh. We might laugh because it is a surprise when someone suddenly falls over.

Henri Bergson, a philosopher, theorized that society trains people to laugh at "careless or eccentric" behavior to establish the rules of the society. When people fall, they probably were not paying close enough attention to their surroundings or were being stupid so this is a plausible explaination.

In conclusion, falling is funny when it is unexpected but (at least appears to be) not serious.



Funny you wrote about this today because walking around the corner of Mcclanahan's I slipped on a grooved slope of pavement. I nearly fell flat on my face only to look up into a girl in a car window laughing at me. We shared a nice laugh and I was quite embarrassed. I bet I would've made her day had I not caught myself and ended up something like this.

That's interesting. Considering most, if not all humor, is derived directly from incongruities with that which we perceive to be "correct" or "normal". Falling seems to be in this category though I never did think of it quite like that until now.

This is actually really funny because my friends make fun of me because I fall all the time. They laugh and I laugh too because I know, for the most part, I'm not going to get seriously hurt. When I see other people fall I laugh too but then I feel bad about it afterwards because I understand their embarrassment. Interesting post!

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