Jokes, Life after Death, and God has two main tasks: to try to understand exactly what a joke is, and to see whether there are any connections between jokes, on the one hand, and life after death and God, on the other hand. But it pursues other tasks as well, tasks of an ancillary sort.
This book devises a general and comprehensive, but brief, theory of jokes. The author begins with critiques of other writers’ views on the subject. 1) Ted Cohen thinks that such a theory is impossible. 2) Ronald Berk, on the other hand, provides just such a theory. And 3) John Morreall provides a general theory of laughter, which may include some things which can be used in a general theory of jokes. 4) Neil Schaeffer, too, provides a general theory of laughter, which makes a big point out of what he calls the “ludicrous context”; but he does include a chapter on jokes. 5) Christopher Wilson offers a general theory of jokes in which he focuses on form and content. And 6) Thomas Werge, in reflecting on the comic, suggests a general theory of jokes which identifies their matter, form, agents, purposes, and beyond these, the underlying shared relational context, which makes it possible for jokes to arise. 7) Bill Fuller’s message is that there is more funniness coming out of two or more heads than out of one, just as Socrates’ message was that there is more clarity coming out of two or more heads than out of one. 8) Umberto Eco feels that monks should laugh, just as ordinary people do; for laughter not only refreshes our seeking spirits, it also illuminates the truth we seek. 9) Simon Critchley, in his reflections on humor, notes that jokes bring on a kind of everyday anamnesis, that they are anti-story stories, that they are like prayers, that they are like philosophy; and that they require a certain underlying context, which is implicitly recognized by both teller and listener, and which renders possible the tension needed to make the punch line work. 10) Martha Wolfenstein, pursuing a psychological analysis of children’s humor, proposes that the underlying motive for telling jokes remains the same from childhood to adulthood, i.e., to transform painful and frustrating experiences so as to extract pleasure from them; and that the agent or productive cause of jokes is the repressing unconscious, as suggested by Freud.
As John Morreall has argued, neither the Superiority Theory (as in Plato, Aristotle and Hobbes), nor the Relief Theory (as in Spencer and Freud), nor the Incongruity Theory (as in Kant, Schopenhauer and Kierkegaard) appears to work as a general and comprehensive theory. Moreover, these writers talk more about humor and laughter than about jokes. To be sure, a joke is a type of humor. Thus, to say something about humor is to say something, though of a generic sort, about jokes. Similarly, to say something about the laughter caused by humor is to say something, though generic, about the laughter caused by jokes. Most of the authors considered in chapter one are concerned with jokes, and not only with humor as such. Section 11 of chapter one puts together, out of the combined contributions of these authors, what can be considered the beginnings of, some thoughts toward, a general and comprehensive theory of jokes. This task the author illustrates in a concrete way, by looking at individual jokes of different sorts; not, however, without inviting the reader to enjoy these jokes. The author looks particularly at Jewish jokes, Christian jokes, and Islamic jokes (jokes in three major religious traditions), jokes about philosophy and philosophers (philosophers ought to be able to laugh at themselves and at what they do), yo mama jokes (out of a healthy curiosity), Italian jokes and Slovak jokes, all of which makes for a clearer understanding of exactly what a joke is.
The analysis of general theory is then followed by some views on the morality of jokes and joke-telling, and an analysis of the connection between jokes and life after death, on the one hand, and God, on the other. Throughout the book Bobik offers innumerable examples to heighten our understanding and entertain us.