It's one of the mysteries I suspect I might not come to find out by the time I die, even if I live a long life. There are many things that you can go out and get an answer to, but comedy is something that no one has explained yet.
Why do we find something funny? Why do we laugh? What purpose does it serve? I'm no closer to knowing than when I first looked into the question 15 years ago and read on it quite extensively.
The weightiest theories have to do with tension and venting, but these are not proven, and since laughter and comedy are at play in so many domains of life, it has not been made clear if these all stem from one cause of laughing, or if things have become mixed, or if they are separate.
Other animals don't laugh like we do, although some sociable animals, also "creatures of the nervous system" do something like laugh when they are scratched, tickled or otherwise subjected to certain bodily, as we also do from infanthood, first giggling and then laughing when tickled after around 4 months of age, and the laughter continues as long as the stimulus occurs and ends with it. Laughter at intellectual impressions begins later, often at times parents don't expect, when a child notices something, often something unexpected. For certain, we usually don't laugh at something once we become accustomed to it even if we first were struck with hilarity.
It seems to me most likely that pleasurable physical sensations like tickling cause a physical response - laughter is like a peaceful vent, an alternative to kicking back against a stimulus too powerful to be contained without physical motion, in contrast to other too powerful sensations that a person figths back against or flees from. The other alternative is suppression of the energy that tends to action, which is a developable but limited skill.
intellectual laughter, similarly, seems to happen when something is surprising or otherwise intellectually overpowering and the energy caused by the intellectual impression needs an outlet. Just as with physical interactions, scarry or disgusting intellectual reactions find outlets other than laughter, while pleasant surprises result in laughing.This laughter can be minute, or it can be prolongued. Why do we go into prolongued states of laughter when we find something just so funny, that can last minutes? Is it some kind of glitch that occurs in our minds? I've heard stories of rare cases where people laughed uncontrollably for much longer as well - hours or days - although I haven't looked into the truth of these.
A different type of intellectual laughing has nothing to do with surprise, although the first instance of a given subject will be accompanied always by some surprise: laughing to show one's acceptance of something one would rather not accept, to make the best of a situation based on our understanding of getting to whatever final outcome of a situation we prefer. For example, when a person (or oneself) makes a mistake or causes injury, or when something is uncomforatable, we laugh to show we are willing to accept it, to resolve something that would otherwise continue as tension awaiting a response. This seems to be more an instance of pretending to find something funny, a wilful trivializing which may or may not last long, although sometimes we really do laugh, which leads to the question of whether we are just laughing because we have fooled ourselves into actually thinking we think the thing is funny, or whether it really is. More broadly, this type of humor can be part of a philosophy of adapting and being content with things we find less than ideal. It also varies from culture to culture: Some cultures have a strict rule that force people to laugh at errors, even the most offensive, while others don't laugh much at all for the purposes of smoothing things over.
All three of these types of laughter - physical response, intellectual response, and social response - release tension, but the workings of how they are related I couldn't say.
The social acceptance mode of comedy can also be purposefully appropriated, it seems, to cast polical power relationships through defining. While laughing acceptance usually happens innocently, a person can also create mocking or discrediting jokes about an opponent which their audience will accept by laughing, whether they want to or not, because of social pressures of the situation, after which they will feel committed or obligated to hold up that opinion.
The drama form Comedy
This subject seems related to humor and helps explain it by evincing its complexity and the roles comedy plays in attitudes and the framing of "reality."
Comedy seems related most to "positive resolution" (while the jokes inside a drama are instances of intellectual humor) as most writers on it have noted. While humor can be found in any type of drama, Comedy has a happy resolution - often a marriage, reunion, or regaining, or something like it - and this of course causes people to decide to adopt a comedic attitude, one that wants to find ways to accept things that occur. This is contrasted with tragedy or horror or heroism, where the decision to responsd to something tends away from acceptance and towards combat or fleeing.
Relatedly, Comedies often deal with limitations people might call "realistic" while other dramas involve "unrealistic" characters like heroes, and in Comedy there is less portrayal of strinctly black and white moral characters or actions and our side of a story makes mistakes while the enemy or adversary also exhibits likeable or relatable characteristics. Comedy generally shows a more "common" understanding of things, where there is greater fluidity and ability to mix than in serious dramas, which portray decidedly uncrossable lines and definitions. So Comedy makes jokes about things that "should not be joked about" while these subjects in other dramas are sacrosanct. The relaxed attitude of the viewer allows them to find things funny that if they were more serious they would not be able to. The intellectual distance required for Comedy is not so close that negative actions are felt by them as seriously negative, but not so far that the subject is perceived as so insignificant they neither laugh or want to respond seriously.
It has also been suggested that the seriousness of an attitude about a subject and its "reality" are directly tied; that for something to be funny it must be "unrealized" somewhat. This "unrealization" may be caused by the triviality of a thing as it affects a person, or it may be brought on by a level of seriousness that a person no longer wants to bear it and so "escapes" to a degree in "unrealizing" it, or by a willingness to enter into the fantasy conception in which a subject is so defined.
Comedy is valuable to us as a way of giving to things a definition that is healthy for us, as is seriousness. We are also valued for and value other people for having a sense of humor. A sense of humor allows a person to be liked as much as the ability to be serious allows a person to maintain dignity. Both seem to be requirements for trust, along with the wisdom-based intelligence to govern when each is used. Without either a person gives up socialbility.
The ability to enter into a homorous attitude allows free play with subjects in a way that seriousness doesn't allow. When a group of people is in a comic mood, they can engage in "hostile" activity against each other, telling "offensive" or "insulting" jokes, playfight, playing with alternate relationship schemas and framings of reality, but this group play is not possible without seriousness because the things joked about must not pass their furthest acceptable limits, and they must not be made comic outside of the trusted group. Sometimes the group is only as large as a single friend or couple of friends, and sometimes it is as large as a culture that means no harm in jokes about a given subject while outside cultures will respond to these jokes with seriousnesly negative consequences.
Many societies have a largescale version of this type of socializing in festive periods when all normal rules are cast aside and people can experiement and give vent to tensions their society is at regular times takes a serious attitude about.
A strictly serious person makes these experiments and releases of tensions impossible: They would have to respond to with serious consequences. There are also festivities that give vent to serious attitudes, though: A notable example is scapegoating, where a person is attacked for "transgressions." This ceremony signifies the serious attitude toward the "wrong" and often a new start.
Some problems cannot be solved with the comic attitude, which show its limitations. When a person is dishonored or aggrieved by another, without a serious response they will lose something in their own eyes and in others' eyes. Sometimes there are peaceful ceremonies that partially treat this problem without the actions that would restore an acceptable power relationship and restore respect, but not always and these are not usually comedic - in these cases a comic attitued would have a further negative effect.
Whether in a drama or in a conception of reality, Comedy has a role to play in general philosophy in that it develops an ability to transform flaws, weaknesses, limitations and difficulties into strengths when overcoming those things would not be practical. Comedy provides means of peace and harmony and of greater intelligence.
In relation to truth, comedy is sometimes a way to or acceptance of truth, and sometimes an avoidance or fantasy created instead of it. Seriousness is the same. Both can accompany hypocrisy, conscious or unconscious. The difference is that comedy seeks peace at the expense of respect while seriouness seeks acceptable power relationships at the expense of peace.
As I said, there are related but different-seeming places where comedy exists, and a clear understanding of it hasn't be given.
This can be discussed on r/TTTThis.