There are two basic types of humor: verbal-based humor and content-based humor. With verbal-based humor you play around with the meanings of words and if you use different words than the ones initially used in the joke, then you will lose the humor.
We have looked at verbal-based humor or play on words in the last post. In this post, we will focus on content-based humor or what I like to call play on things.
Play On Things
With content-based humor, the humor is not in the words used themselves, but in the entire idea that is being conveyed. As such, a play on things passes the translation test. You can retell the joke in different words and the humor is still there.
Let’s have a look at some of the main types of content-based humor.
5) Using exaggeration or understatement
Exaggerations and understatements are one of the most effective ways to create humor. They create a mismatch between the actual situation and the words being said, which then produces the laughter.
Exaggeration by itself does not create humor and is in fact often used in normal non-funny ways. To make things funnier you have to exaggerate so much that it is obvious that you are exaggerating. That’s the key to exaggeration in comedy.
If you want to put an emphasis on someone being fat, then make the comparison as unrealistic as possible. This unrealistic comparison is what makes it funny. Say the guy weighted more than a pick-up truck or that he weighted two tons.
There are several ways of creating funny exaggerations, for example through the use of hyperboles, metaphors or analogies.
Hyperboles are extreme exaggerations in order to make a point. They are comparisons just like similes and metaphors, but very extravagant and over the top. They amplify what you are trying to say.
For example if you are trying to make the point that something is too expensive and unaffordable, you can say that it costs a gazillion dollars. Or when someone says that they are buried under a ton of paperwork, they don’t mean that the ceiling suddenly opened up and inundated the room with a bunch of paper. Instead what the person means is that they have to fill out a lot of boring forms.
“I knew a girl so ugly, I took her to the top of the Empire State building and planes started to attack her.” Rodney Dangerfield
“If it weren’t for pick-pocketers, I’d have no sex life at all.” Rodney Dangerfield
“All my wife does is shop – once she was sick for a week, and three stores went under.” Henry Youngman
“I have been a gigantic Rolling Stones fan since approximately the Spanish-American War.” Dave Barry
“Went to the paper shop – it had blown away.” Tommy Cooper
Metaphors, similes and analogies are also good ways to exaggerate the description of a particular scene or situation. These types of comparisons often paint vivid pictures in your head.
“Our primary living-room sofa looks like a buffalo that has been dead for some time.” Dave Barry
In the example above, in order to illustrate the point of how decrepit his sofa is, Dave Barry compares it to a dead rotting buffalo. Can you picture the dead buffalo and can you imagine how the sofa must have looked like? 🙂
Jokes also often rely on the use of stereotypes (about blondes, Scots, hillbillies…etc.). Stereotypes are a type of exaggeration.
“They say that a “True Scot” in North America is one whose ancestors came from Scotland – but who were born in North America to save the fare.“
The above joke uses the common stereotype that Scottish people are cheap, which is the premise of many ethnic jokes.
Understatements are the opposite of exaggerations in that they downplay the situation instead. They are correct in a literal sense, but fail to convey the magnitude or graveness of a particular event.