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  1. #1

    Default What makes something funny?

    Can anyone think of any humor that doesn't have the element of surprise as the basis of the humor?

    ALL comedy, written or verbal, has to do with deception (setting up the joke) and surprise (the punchline). GOOD comedy requires timing and assessing your audience (they have to get the joke).

    "A rabbi, a priest and a journalist walk into a bar...." The punchline is always going to be what you didn't expect. The more surprising or unexpected the funnier (it doesn't even have to make sense, it just needs to catch you off guard). Hate the kind of humor you might find in a joke book, but it's just to illustrate a point. Taking seemingly unrelated things and connecting them in a new way is also surprising. This framework is necessary for anything that is funny. Narrative humor, cartoons, or any kind of humor, works using the same idea.

    Woody Allen isn't funny because of self mockery but its' the way he does it. One of his lines was "with a body of mine you don't get jealous." The self mockery isn't funny in itself, it's the implication (the surprise) that he has a great body. If he said, "with a body like mine, I rarely get dates." That isn't funny - even if it's self mocking.

    This also applies to slapstick. A guy is walking down the street minding his own business and then "BLAM!" a safe drops on him, or he gets a pie in the face.... Surprise you weren't expecting that! Whether you find this funny or not is another question, but plenty of other people do.

    When I was high school I used to have this habit of calling random people squirrel, squirrel-boy, ferret face, rat-boy, weasel hair, whatever. It made no sense whatsoever, but made people laugh anyways because it was completely unexpected.

  2. #2
    Senior Member INTJMom's Avatar
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    You're probably right. The element of surprise, or the unexpected twist certainly does seem necessary for humor to be considered funny.

    I would think there are probably a couple of other necessary elements, like the ability of the hearers to sort of relate to, or at least understand what is said.

  3. #3

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    oh and btw, I didn't come up with it on my own entirely. Expanded on Ape's post earlier in this thread. Elements of Good Humor Writing - Page 3 - INTP Central

    Also posed the same question here:
    What Makes Something Funny? - INTJ Forum

    If I don't get a good counterexample on these 3 forums over the next few days. I'll assume I have, along with Ape, come up with the grand unifying principle of comedy....

  4. #4
    Rats off to ya! Mort Belfry's Avatar
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    Q. What makes something funny?
    A. When there's somebody to laugh at it.

    Comedy is completely subjective and we all know that people laugh at different things. People who laugh at the idiots on the show "Jackass" might not be the most high brow of society, but it's still a form of comedy as horrible as that is to say.

    Not all comedy needs that set up of surprise, sometimes it's just a Holistic Spiralling of ideas that sound funny, like on a show like Seinfeld. In fact sometimes knowing what's going to happen is just as funny. The final quote in my signature by Homer Simpson saying, "Now that happy moment between the time the lie is told and when it is found out," is funny because you know exactly what's going to happen next.

    Of course there have to be things that the audience didn't completely expect otherwise they have just stayed inside their brains and thought up the comedy themselves, but that doesn't mean it needs to be played out as a surprise or a twist.

    Comedy has so many intricate levels that even a simple flailing of Kramer's limbs makes people laugh.
    Why do we always come here?

    I guess we'll never know.

    It's like a kind of torture,
    To have to watch this show.

  5. #5
    Junior Member Bovinity's Avatar
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    I think that's well known already that the element of surprise, and a sense of the absurd are both important factors in humor. I don't think it is the only one though... Like for example there was a video where someone set up roller coaster tycoon or something and made a huge elaborate track. Where the track ended you could see a bunch of happy pedestrians carrying balloons (that the roller coaster was obviously going to run over and scatter like bowling pins). So the end result was not a surprise, but the anticipation, as the machine made its slow way around the track, was what made the ending dramatic and funny. Also, while it's fine to note that most comedy has an element of surprise... I think it would be more interesting to examine what sort of surprise in particular is funny, because not all of it is (getting hit on the head with hammer may be a surprise to both you and a spectator, but you probably won't find it as funny as that person watching).

  6. #6

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    Quote Originally Posted by Bovinity View Post
    I think that's well known already that the element of surprise, and a sense of the absurd are both important factors in humor. I don't think it is the only one though... Like for example there was a video where someone set up roller coaster tycoon or something and made a huge elaborate track. Where the track ended you could see a bunch of happy pedestrians carrying balloons (that the roller coaster was obviously going to run over and scatter like bowling pins). So the end result was not a surprise, but the anticipation, as the machine made its slow way around the track, was what made the ending dramatic and funny. Also, while it's fine to note that most comedy has an element of surprise... I think it would be more interesting to examine what sort of surprise in particular is funny, because not all of it is (getting hit on the head with hammer may be a surprise to both you and a spectator, but you probably won't find it as funny as that person watching).

    I'm missing something. Did the roller coaster actually run over and scatter them? or did nothing happen? and what is a roller coaster "tycoon"?

  7. #7
    Junior Member Bovinity's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by meanlittlechimp View Post
    I'm missing something. Did the roller coaster actually run over and scatter them? or did nothing happen? and what is a roller coaster "tycoon"?
    Yes it ran them over. Roller Coaster Tycoon is a computer game.

  8. #8

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    Quote Originally Posted by Mort Belfry View Post
    Q. What makes something funny?
    A. When there's somebody to laugh at it.

    Comedy is completely subjective and we all know that people laugh at different things. People who laugh at the idiots on the show "Jackass" might not be the most high brow of society, but it's still a form of comedy as horrible as that is to say.

    Not all comedy needs that set up of surprise, sometimes it's just a Holistic Spiralling of ideas that sound funny, like on a show like Seinfeld. In fact sometimes knowing what's going to happen is just as funny. The final quote in my signature by Homer Simpson saying, "Now that happy moment between the time the lie is told and when it is found out," is funny because you know exactly what's going to happen next.

    Of course there have to be things that the audience didn't completely expect otherwise they have just stayed inside their brains and thought up the comedy themselves, but that doesn't mean it needs to be played out as a surprise or a twist.

    Comedy has so many intricate levels that even a simple flailing of Kramer's limbs makes people laugh.
    I think I need to see the context in which Homer said it. The line itself seems like a punchline for an earlier set up. Jackass/slapstick comedy is covered earlier I think and fits within my model.

    Post the full joke as best as you can remember it. I can't do it with fragments.

    Kramer's arms flailing is only funny in the context in which it happens, it's funny (surprising) because of the when and why he did it relative to the narrative when it occurred (ie timing). If he just flailed randomly on the street, it might still be funny, but not nearly as funny. But anytime someone flails like that, it's surprising and doesn't counter my argument.

  9. #9

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    Quote Originally Posted by Bovinity View Post
    Yes it ran them over. Roller Coaster Tycoon is a computer game.

    It sounds like the whole slapstick argument I made in the OP. The surprise of a safe falling on their heads or getting running over by a train. The difference is the execution of the train running over them was longer and more drawn out, but it's the same concept.

  10. #10
    Resident Snot-Nose GZA's Avatar
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    You seem to be talking about creating jokes. What about funny things in everyday speach?

    There is still the element of suprise to some degree, in that it isn't very funny when you know what someone is going to say. Funny in everyday conversation is a lot different from creating comedy, but I can't quite put my finger on it.

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