When I was in High School, "Roggin's Heroes" was a very popular syndicated television show that was, in essence, an even lower brow (if that's possible) version of "America's Funniest Home Videos". Basically, it was people wiping out.
And God help me, I nearly died of laughter by the end of every episode.
In it's most literal sense, schaudenfreude is the German word that symbolizes the sense of innate humor in laughing at the misfortune of others. And over time, in America's culture, it has evolved, for all intents and purposes into chuckling at people falling down.
When I was a kid growing up I would salivate when finding out that Johnny Carson was going to have Bob Uecker on his show, or Letterman guesting Joe Garagiola or Marv Albert (pre scandal, of course). They brought baseball bloopers with them, and they were more often than not, a hoot.
(A personal favorite of mine was former Pittsburgh Pirate Dale Berra tripping over home plate while jogging by after a home run. Pick up your feet, Dale.)
Obviously, Schaudenfreude is intensified when it happens to people in elevated places, and the higher the better. It brings those on a pedestal a little closer to the floor with the rest of us. And let me tell you there is nothing more satisfying than watching your boss, smugly cruising by, leaving early again and rubbing it in, only to stumble up the steps to the door and lose his keys through the gap in between the stairs in the process.
"Hellblazer" character John Constantine states in the story arc, "The Red Right Hand" that schadenfreude was the purest emotion he'd ever felt.
I, with my glaring deficiencies, lack of confidence and anxiety issues, need this ocassional day to day schaudenfreude to keep psychologically moving. It's a type of balance keeping, or natural correction. Whether it's that baseball bouncing off of the top of Jose Canseco's head and going over the wall for a home run, or some jerk neighbor having a timed sprinkler in his front lawn going off in his face as he's headed to the mailbox, it does one thing for me.
It reminds me that we are all human.
And we can all laugh.