Repeated Listening

Repeated Listening

I have noticed that music CDs may be listened to very repeatedly without getting tiresome, but comedy CDs grow stale very quickly. In both cases the fact of repetition is the same, but the experience is very different. Have others had this experience? Seems curious.

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I would recommend posting that question at comedyclub.com.

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No, don’t ask them, they’re useless. I asked them if it was acceptable to play "An Bhfaca Tú Mo Bhalantine?" on piano accordion and they didn’t even have the courtesy to reply.

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A lot of comedy relies heavily on the element of unexpected surprise with the punchline. Repeated listening removes the element of surprise (although some things can be funny repeatedly), so it generally loses its punch. I think that you might find that listening to a familiar comedy CD with another person who isn’t familiar with it might actually bring you some of the original enjoyment, because even if you know the punchlines, you can enjoy watching other people react to them.

I think that part of our enjoyment of Irish traditional music is related to the unexpected twists and turns in tunes, but a melody is more like a story than a joke. And our brains are particularly good at pattern recognition, so even once you’re familiar with a tune, we enjoy recognizing the pattern. (Speaking for myself, I also really enjoy hearing different interpretations of a tune, because it’s both recognizable and new at the same time.)

One thing that I find particularly interesting is that even though I can play somewhere around a thousand Irish tunes, having learned them by ear, I can’t remember jokes to save my life! That is something that I find curious!

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It may have something to do with the way language and music are processed in different parts of the brain (with some overlap).

A surprise related to language and modeling of the world only works once, to stimulate pleasure in the language centers of the brain. Once you’ve heard it and remember it, it’s no longer interesting to hear it again. Meanwhile, the music processing area of the brain likes to hear shifts and surprises more than once to keep things interesting.

Going way out on a limb here, maybe it’s because the human auditory system is older and more keyed to interesting noises and surprises as a survival mechanism, before us primates had language to model the world.

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Different purposes, different psychological responses, different long-term feelings. I think it’s as simple as that.

I would argue that “the fact of repetition” is actually not the same. Music, even simple melody lines, offer a complexity that Comedy tends to shy away from. Comedy requires an underlying foundation of simplicity, as to not lose the logical flow behind it’s humor. A joke that gets too complicated becomes a riddle, and a riddle that becomes too complicated becomes a math/science problem. Music, on the other hand, becomes more interesting and entertaining when it can maintain an underlying foundation of complexity. See, you can keep certain musical elements simple while making others complex, in the same space. You put too many things in the same space in the middle of a joke and you easily lose the flow of the humor. The mind becomes so occupied with trying to remember information it looses the humor line.

Music and Comedy are just different. Matter of fact, Comedy is just a mood, a theme. Music is an entire medium. Music can be comical. But music can also be many other things that Comedy couldn’t even aspire to be. Because comedy isn’t a medium. It’s a mood, a theme. It will never compare to the multi-dimensional universe that is Music.

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Are there comedy CDs? I’d never heard of that. But I’m guessing that people who spend money on them aren’t buying them just to listen to them once, so maybe for some audiences repeated listening actually is a pleasure.

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@John Hill. Yes, there are comedy CDs. I have had George Carlin, Weird Al and Hey, Nunnie, Nunnie. Carlin and Weird Al were sold or given away years ago. Carlin’s resort to expletives and shock humor became tiresome very quickly. Al’s parodies, while humorous for a few listenings soon became irksome. An earlier poster noted that humor relies on unanticipated punchlines and once the punchline is known the humor is lost. This seems a reasonable assessment of recorded humor’s short life.

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There are definitely comedy CDs/DVDs, and comedy doesn’t just rely on expectations.

I’d struggle to agree that there is any strong (or rather, specific) neuropsychology underlying any language/music difference. Some can listen to or watch comedy over and over, and some can’t stand listening to the "same" music over and over, or over extended periods of time, so it won’t necessarily be a language/music divide. As for surprises, the brain simultaneously needs/likes them and it doesn’t. Surprises are useful for building our mental models, but a large goal of the brain is to minimise surprise in the long run. That would favour listening to anything (pleasurable) over and over. I know I’ll never get sick of some tunes, for example. And there are some comedy clips that crack me up no matter how recently I watched them previously.

But it does appear that, contrary to our minimisation of long-term surprise, the brain enjoys surprises that are tied to reward, and this definitely happens with music (things like suspensions leading to full chords, or syncopated rhythms etc), what Karl Friston refers to as "the allure of the predictably implausible". Maybe look into "epistemic foraging", which aims to explain why we are creative in a world where we’re expected to minimise surprise. Musical tension is then a rewarding epistemic offering of music, such that reward networks are activated by prediction errors because our model learns things about musical regularities.

But "unexpectedness" (or the modality in which it occurs) doesn’t explain everything. I have poems that I love as much as Out on the Ocean (which is a pretty predictable jig with no broken expectations) or the Bucks of Oranmore, and I will read them at regular intervals for the rest of my life, much I’ll keep playing these tunes forever. But they’re not surprising or unexpected, nor do they contain anything unexpected. Sure, you’ll hear someone introduce something new at a session or in a recording (a new variation of a part of Colonel Fraser, say) which may or may not be enjoyable. But it’s not the unexpectedness itself that explains why you enjoy something (you don’t need unresolved chords for a piece of music to be pleasurable).

The answer could possibly be found in what Friston (again) calls second-order predictions, or "predictions about (the precision of) predictions". It may be that it’s enjoyable to be able to predict how accurate your predictions are (the "allure" above). Much like staying home on a Friday night instead of going out as you planned. Or why that weekly session never gets old. Or certain tunes etc. Pleasure, then, is derived from fluctuations in the entropy of this second-order model, perhaps: being able to predict that you will be able to predict deriving joy from something, say, or to predict that lovely chord or B part coming up.

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Wait, that weekly session doesn’t get old?!

I’ll have a pint of what Piwomir is drinking, please! 😉

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You’re welcome down to both of them. 🙂 I’ll get ye a pint.

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There is some comedy that holds up to repetition. Bob Newhart records. Most of Laurel & Hardy and W.C. Fields, 2-3 Marx Brothers movies. "The Three Amigos", "Young Frankenstein". "Who’s on First". "Four Candles". A few more.

I wouldn’t put any of them on continuous play though, unlike "The Star Above the Garter" and many others.

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I can listen to Billy Connolly or John Pinette over and over. It’s less about what they say than how they say it. Same goes for music.

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My father often asked, "where would an orchestra conductor be if he wouldn’t play a piece because somebody in the audience heard it before"?

I’ll posit this … most of us have made the assumption that we can listen to some tunes over and over and it never gets old. Is that really true? I find even the best of them, like fine whisky, lose their cache if I overindulge. Some like our Rev have suggested that they enjoy hearing tunes in new ways, new twists. True enough. Couldn’t that be a kind of confession that a tune, like a joke, repeated the same way too often, has gone stale. I’ll even suggest that there is a big difference between active and passive enjoyment. Tunes I’ll play every time I pick up an instrument are sometimes the ones that make me hit the "next" button my car sound system. Activities I enjoy doing can be really dull to watch (think bass fishing here). Conical bore mentioned the primate survival mechanism. Maybe as humans we cherish the familiar and, simultaneously, the stimulating. Puzzling huh?

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For me it’s not just comedy but any spoken word, including song. I think it’s the semantics, the meaning.

I bought most of the Planxty albums on vinyl and copied them onto cassette for the car. After a while I did cassettes of just the tunes and wore those out. Years, decades, later I dug out the vinyl and made mp3 CDs for the car. I enjoyed revisiting the songs, but often hit Next for them. No need for making up a version without the songs - Next (or not) is easy and I have 100 times the number of tracks on tap.

Repetition of song in languages I understand nothing of is fine, if it appealed to me initially. I don’t recall skipping tracks in Irish or Scottish Gaelic.

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When I was young there was a time when nearly everybody I knew seemed to be able to recite the full dialogue of every Monty Python sketch. That was funny wasn’t it. 🙂

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"And now for something completely different."

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Just as an aside, we all know that humour doesn’t always translate well, depending on the person, and the content. Sometimes the "joke" is easily understood, but is not funny to the recipient/audience.

I know an Italian violinist, and we’ve played music together quite a few times. Like me, he likes his beer! At a Fiddle Hell event, he asked if I wanted another pint, and I jokingly said to him, "OK then, Mr Nicoletti-Spaghetti."

On chatting later on, he said that although alliterating names can be funny, that one was most certainly not. Not offensive, but just not funny. He explained why. He said, "well, it’s just like me calling someone "Vince Mince".

He’s got a point 🙂

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@ Jim Dorand - Your name play is very much like what I encounter at my workplace where it is ubiquitous for full adults to address another full adult with, young man or young lady… these adults are in there 50s or more! Zounds! How does such vacuous stupidity come to pass?

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@Boy From County Cook - Three Amigos is classic. It is where I learned the great word, "plethora" so many years ago! Tried to watch some Marx Brothers as a teen in the 70s, found them intolerable. Lelise Nielson, great stuff there.

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I used to be able to listen to Monty Python(mentioned above) over and over and the same with comedians like Billy Connolly.

Maybe because they had their own specific personalities, lilts in their voices, accents etc and so on. Also, there was an element of music involved too.

I know what you mean though. I’m not lover of stand up comedy at the best of times although I do enjoy humour in many situations but it’s usually the more subtle variety.