As much as we could try to deny it everyone loves watching people trip or fall over. The success of shows like “You’ve Been Framed” depend on this, what could be perceived as, cruel sense of humour, but is it really a cruel sense of humour? It may initially seem that we find people hurting themselves funny; however, when looked at closer it isn’t really the hurt that makes most of us laugh. What makes us laugh is the person’s reaction, and thinking about what they would be thinking at that point.
To demonstrate this look at the everyday occurrence of somebody tripping slightly on a raised pavement tile. The person doesn’t need to fall but we still find it funny. What is hilarious is the reaction of the people who did it; they can either continue walking and hope no one sees them (which is funny because you did, although probably my least favourite response), or they could acknowledge they tripped by turning around and giving a little chuckle, or possibly even by going back and looking at what tripped them. I once saw a women do the classic one step back and stare at the ground, to then proceed to shake her head and point simultaneously at the nothingness that had tripped her. Frankly with that performance I would have given her a role in EastEnders. It’s these kind of people that make me laugh the most at tripping, the ones that think “if I’m going to look and idiot I’m going to town with it”
There is of course a slightly cruel element to the humour as well, not in that someone hurt themselves is funny, but the embarrassment of the person appeals to many peoples sense of humour. Largely for me though it is always the reactions; watching how people deal with situations like that is something rather brilliant.
Another thing that can appeal to us in people tripping or falling is the unlikelihood of some of the events. For example the moment in Vicar of Dibley where Geraldine steps in the puddle that is deeper than she is tall. In general we like to see people taken by surprise and remark “what was the likelihood of that?”.
On the complete flip side we also like watching the clearly obvious unwind. You know where there’s water involved someone is going, and you know the girl walking while texting and heading towards a sign is quite likely to walk into it. The predictably of the events make us laugh possibly more than any other; not only do we find the reaction makes a hilarious event, but also the anticipation of the event.
So most of us aren’t cruel people who like to watch people hurt themselves. We just find humour in the way people deal with the sudden public incidents of tripping, and falling. Is there really anything wrong with that?