Laughter is a human thing, a virtue belonging only to humanity and God, that perhaps God gave to humans as consolation for having made them intelligent.

—Marcel Pagnol

The first filmmaker elected to the Académie française, Marcel Pagnol was one of the greatest comic directors who ever lived. So this comment deserves our attention, as does its likely source, the French philosopher Henri Bergson. In Laughter: An Essay on the Meaning of the Comic (1900), Bergson defined laughter as distinctively human (he did not mention God), necessarily social (we rarely laugh alone), and most important, cognitive. “The comic demands something like a momentary anesthesia of the heart,” Bergson argued, in contradiction to the prevailing nineteenth-century view of laughter as an emotional reflex. “Its appeal is to the intelligence, pure and simple.”

These philosophical ruminations may seem removed from the subject at hand: a new Netflix series called The Chair. But rest assured, they are related. Co-created by Amanda Peet, a 40-ish Hollywood actress, and Annie Julia Wyman, a 30-ish Ivy Leaguer, this six-part series purports to be a satirical comedy about a struggling English department in a fictional small college called Pembroke, located somewhere in deep-blue Massachusetts. According to the press reports,

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