The old 'uns are the best

Revealed: the origins of comedy

Comedy began around 4 million years ago, as pre-humans laughed at each other’s faltering attempts to walk on two legs, scientists have claimed.

Evolutionary biologists suggest that these early humans laughed if they saw one of their group stumble as sign something was wrong – but not too serious.

The theory would explain why even children find slapstick instinctively funny today.

American  researcher Matthew Gervais, who led the new study, said: ‘Becoming bipedal means there was a greater chance of tripping and falling. Essentially, the suggestion is that slapstick and humour evolved from that time.

‘When we laugh at slapstick, we are laughing at the same things that amused our early ancestors. That’s why we find them funny.’

The Sunday Times reports that the next elements of human behaviour that sparked laughter were ‘flatulence, excretion  and sexual mischief’ – using the laugh as a way to diffuse social stress

Language appeared 2million years after the first laugh, and as our intelligence grew, laughter could be used for less innocent purposes, such as mockery.

Gervais’s study is published this week in the Quarterly Review of Biology.


Published: 20 Mar 2006

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