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Provine writes: “I forge recklessly into the paleohumorology fray, proposing my candidate for the most ancient joke—the feigned tickle. (Real tickling is disqualified because of its reflexive nature.) The ‘I’m going to get you’ game of the threatened tickle is practiced by human beings worldwide and is the only joke that can be told equally well to a baby human and a chimpanzee. Both babies and chimps ‘get’ this joke and laugh exuberantly.”

Here we should underline the subtlety of Provine’s argument: ticklish laughter is not yet properly comic because it is too much of an automatic or neurological reaction. The joke first enters the scene with a distancing from reflex, when the tickling play is itself played with and made into a spectacle, when the suspended, not the real, gesture gets a laugh. The Ur-joke, the zero-degree of comedy, the pretend tickle may also be seen as a primordial manifestation of culture as a virtual space detached from immediate reflex and natural instinct.

I am really struggling to understand this. Can you please explain the part "The joke first enters the scene with a distancing from reflex, when the tickling play is itself played with and made into a spectacle, when the suspended, not the real, gesture gets a laugh. The Ur-joke, the zero-degree of comedy, the pretend tickle may also be seen as a primordial manifestation of culture as a virtual space detached from immediate reflex and natural instinct. "

This is an excerpt from http://cabinetmagazine.org/issues/50/schuster.php

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It's basically saying that, when parents play a game with their children where they "pretend" to tickle them, kids find it funny even before they are tickled.

"The first joke enters the scene"... this is referring to the beginning of the "joke" - when a parent sets up the premise that they are going to tickle the child by saying something like "I'm going to get you" with a humourous tone.

"A distancing from reflex" means that this stage of the joke - the "threat" of tickling - is not physically induced in any way because there has been no physical contact or tickling at this stage.

The writer is saying that the humour involved - what makes kids laugh at this - is not the physical act of being tickled, but the build up, the anticipation of what is coming, the spectacle that parents put on by slowly creeping up and telling them that they are going to tickle them.

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