Why are farts funny?

Gas-based humour is an age-old source of amusement. Flatulence also serves to bond spouses together.

Clas-Göran af Björkesten, clinical instructor in internal medicine, do we all experience flatulence?

“All of us produce intestinal gas. In some people, the gas is released in a more inconspicuous manner, while in others the release may be excessively noticeable. In certain individuals, gas is more efficiently absorbed back into the body, or it exits the body in conjunction with defecation. Others produce such copious quantities of gas that their abdomen swells up considerably.”

What makes releasing gas so relaxing for yourself but unpleasant for others?

“Most gases smell. Sulphur can be smelly, as can the methane produced in the intestine. The release of gas makes you feel better, as the amount of gas in the intestine and the related distension are reduced. Should the gas remain stuck in the intestine or occupy a larger area in it, people are unable to release it. In such cases, the swelling may be harmful.”

Why do beans, peas and onions cause flatulence?

“Beans, peas and onions contain a lot of carbohydrates that are not absorbed in the small intestine. As a result of fermentation, they form gas in the large intestine. In certain people, this fermentation is more abundant and, thus, produces more gas, or at least more subjective symptoms.”

Anu Korhonen, professor of area and cultural studies, why are farts funny?

“The funniness of farts is associated with uncontrollable physicality. Farts are a part of concealed physicality that pushes through to the surface. To paraphrase Mikhail Bakhtin, it’s part of the grotesque body.”

How long have people been laughing at toots?

“Fart humour of some kind can be associated with any period from which there are sources. Attitudes toward the male fart have been more permissive compared to the female fart. The former has also been perceived as a criticism of rationality, revealing the madness of refinement. It has served as a suitable interjection in masculine conversation.”

What positives has humanity gained from fart humour?

“In early jokes, one of the most important roles of the fart was to demonstrate our shared humanity and to add a modicum of equality between people: we are at the mercy of our bodies and capable of laughing together.”

A bachelor’s thesis completed in the field of communication at Tampere University in the spring posits that farting is allowed in a stable relationship. Is this dynamic a historical concept?

“In the humour material of the Middle Ages and modern history as well, farts appear as a signifier of familiarity within relationships. At the time, it was thought that people shall be one flesh when they are marriedLiving on such intimate terms, farts become familiar and more acceptable.”

The article has been published in Finnish in the 6/2020 issue of the Yliopisto magazine.

Anu Korhonen

Anu Korhonen

Professor of area and cultural studies