Why Do We Laugh When Someone Falls?

Auditions for tumblers inside. No experience necessary. Image courtesy of dreamhours @ morguefile.com

Recently, my mother and I were telling some old stories about friends who have taken a fall in our presence. And even though we’ve heard these stories before we still found ourselves bent over, holding our bellies and gasping for air. That got me thinking. I needed to blog about this and see if anyone else finds falling as funny as we do. (By the way, my sister also has our affliction. She laughs too and better yet, when she falls she calls me so we can laugh at her together.)

Has anyone ever laughed at you when you fell? I know they shouldn’t. I know I shouldn’t, but I do. Have you ever seen the footage of the woman texting on her phone and she trips and falls right into the big fountain? That’s good stuff.

But why do we laugh when someone takes a tumble? It isn’t funny. Someone could get seriously hurt. Is there some wiring in our brain that lights up like a Christmas tree when we see a person take a nose dive? Even as I sit here writing and thinking of stories where someone has plopped face first  in the dirt I’m chuckling. I think that makes me a bad person. Or at least someone with a twisted sense of humor.

Let me tell you a story: My stepfather, a big man of 6’3″ and who is unfortunately no longer with us (so this should be even less funny, but forgive me, it isn’t) auditioned for the Ringling Brothers and Barnum Bailey Circus right in his own basement. On a cold night, he made himself a cup of tea. Yes, tea. Even big men drink tea. Who knew? He held his tea, probably in anticipation of the warmth and joy it would bring, and headed down the stairs. Well, there must’ve been a little elf there he couldn’t see from his giant perch and my stepdad tripped. But not just tripped, boys and girls, he did a full fledged forward roll in the air – yes, head over heels, took flight, roll and never once spilled his tea. Not a drop. Now that is acrobatics at it’s finest. And you have to admit, kind of funny.

In fairness to my dearly departed stepfather, I’ll share my own story. Now, I didn’t exactly fall, but I was at the home of my then boss. He was hosting a summer party for all the employees. It was a sunny day. The sky was a vibrant blue. I kept my sunglasses on inside. Well, who knew that one cannot see the black strings of a screen door while inside walking out, still wearing those sunglasses? And I, with my mission to return to my friends in the sunshine, walked with purpose toward the screen door while holding my paper plate piled high with food. I never slowed down. I plowed into the screen door at full speed sending me and my food in various directions. I hit the door so hard, it took me a minute to figure out why everyone was suddenly kneeling on the gruond picking up food. It was my food! When I finally rejoined those on the deck I was met with a resounding applause. I took a bow and did the only thing I could do. Laughed.

So, my faithful reader, do you laugh when someone falls or is it just my crazy family who gets joy from other’s misfortune? Has anyone ever laughed at you when you fell? Why do you think we do this? I’d like to know.



5 thoughts on “Why Do We Laugh When Someone Falls?

  1. After reading your blog, I was reminded of a story that I don’t think you ever heard. Maybe you’re right, our sense of humor is a little twisted, but I digress:
    Back in the day when it was necessary to wax your linoleum floors to make them shine, your grandmother decided to try a new product that guaranteed your floors would shine like glass. She experimented with it on the bathroom floor first. Oh it shined like glass alright. What they didn’t tell you was that your floor would be as slick as glass!!
    After the floor dried, your grandmother wanted to see the results. Together we went to see the shiny floor. However, my mother made the mistake of walking into the bathroom to get a closer look. It was all over but the shouting now. Once she got in she could no longer get out. As she stood there, her legs suddenly parted and boom, she was on the floor in a split formation. Her only salvation was she had the side of the tub to hang on to. It was a comical sight to watch her hanging on to the tub trying to stand up but each time her legs would go in different directions and boom, she was on the floor again. Several attempts were made but alas, she couldn’t get off the floor. My mother is living proof that what goes up, must come down!!
    By now, I was laughing so hard I could barely breathe. She would still be in there if I didn’t go in the bathroom on my hands and knees, had her latch on to me and literally towed her out .
    Even now I’m laughing telling this story. If no one else sees the humor in this, I would have to say our sense of humor needs some serious “tweaking”!!

  2. Maybe it’s a nervous reaction in its own way, but, as your mom illustrated beautifully, sometimes a fall can appear quite comical. As you said, as long as no one gets hurt.

  3. You know, I never thought of it like that. It could be a nervous reaction or a reaction of relief that the person is okay, because I can’t stress enough, even though I didn’t do a great job of it in the post, no one was hurt during the falling. I happen to be someone who, when the stress is over regardless of the stress, I laugh. Just ask the ladies in my yoga class.

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