The forms that we have described in the previous post are the basic ways of structuring humor. However they can be enhanced with special helpers to make the jokes even more funny.
Good tellers of jokes and humorous stories tell them in such a way as for the audience to be able to visualize all the little adventures in their heads. Visualization can be done through very detailed and vivid descriptions, but also through the use of metaphors and similes.
In order to create a picture in someone head’s, you need to be as descriptive as possible. Be detailed and specific and use as many adjectives as you can. Instead of saying it was a small car, say it was a diminutive, red Honda Civic that was nearing its expiration date. See how that second description creates a better picture than the first?
Sometimes being detailed and descriptive doesn’t create the image that you want and you need some other way to create the desired effect.
With metaphors and similes you describe an abstract concept by comparing it to something more familiar. These are often added by comedians in order to create funny pictures in your head.
Your brain often thinks through analogies, basically by using familiar concepts to try to picture and find relationships between objects that are a bit more fuzzy or unknown. These types of comparisons are often done using metaphors or similes.
That’s why putting in metaphors and similes can have such a powerful effect.
With a metaphor you are saying that one thing is another thing in a figurative way. This is the highest level of comparison. With a simile you are saying one thing is like another thing.
“My friend is LIKE a baby.”
“My friend IS a baby.”
Notice how each of them has a slight difference in meaning. A metaphor is usually a much stronger way of putting that comparison.
The choice of metaphors and similes gives the joke a special meaning and often reveals hidden aspects of the opinion you hold about the subject of your joke.
“An organization is like a tree full of monkeys, all on different limbs at different levels. The monkeys on top look down and see a tree full of smiling faces. The monkeys on the bottom look up and see nothing but assholes.“
The author of the above joke uses a mix of similes and metaphors in order to paint a picture in your head. This then brings out the point of the joke in a much better way than if a different technique was used.
The use of over-the-top metaphors or similes is what adds the humor. They can often be used in other forms of storytelling in order to make a huge impact (but more on that in a later post on storytelling).
“I believe it was Shakespeare, or possibly Howard Cosell, who first observed that marriage is very much like a birthday candle, in that ‘the flames of passion burn brightest when the wick of intimacy is first ignited by the disposable butane lighter of physical attraction, but sooner or later the heat of familiarity causes the wax of boredom to drip all over the vanilla frosting of novelty and the shredded coconut of romance.’ I could not have phrased it better myself.” Dave Barry
Another thing that can sometimes add humor is alliteration. This is basically the repetition of the sound of the first consonant throughout a sentence.
“Peter Piper picked a peck of pickled peppers.”
Warning: use sparingly! 🙂
Another device you can use to add humor in certain instances, but which should not be used too often is rhyming. Rhymes can add humor, but if you use them too often, you will end up sounding silly instead of witty.
Most jokes don’t take just one form, but are a combination of forms.
If you look at most jokes, they combine a lot of different forms: double entendres, incongruities, reverses…etc. All these could be found in a funny one-liner.
To make something funny, you can combine all the different joke forms. You can play around with words and their meanings, add exaggerations or use one form to create another.
Let’s go back to the initial post on joke forms and look at the different one-liners I posted there. At the beginning, did you try to surmise why the jokes could be considered funny (at least to some people)? Now that you know more about joke forms can you make a better guess?
Let’s have a look:
“Do not argue with an idiot. He will drag you down to his level and beat you with experience.“
This I would chart down to incongruity. The words “idiot” and “experience” are not very congruent. 🙂
“War does not determine who is right – only who is left.“
Here you have a little play on words (“right”) and also a reverse.
“I chased a girl for two years only to discover that her tastes were exactly like mine: We were both crazy about girls.” Groucho Marx
This is a classic reverse. Groucho leads you on with you thinking about tastes of girls, but then hits you with a big realization. 🙂
“I had a flight attendant on the last flight who was so old, after she demonstrated the oxygen mask she left it on.” Bob Hope
This is a good example of an exaggeration showing that the flight attendant was really old.
“A drunk was in front of a judge. The judge says “You’ve been brought here for drinking.” The drunk says, “Okay, let’s get started.”” Henry Youngman
This is a simple truth, where the word “drinking” is taken literally.
“Honesty may be the best policy, but it’s important to remember that apparently, by elimination, dishonesty is the second-best policy.” George Carlin
This is a reverse. Most people are not expecting anything about dishonesty after being led on with honesty.
“We live in an inherently sexist society, in the sense that a lot of women who get ahead do so through the sexualisation of everything.” Omid Djalili
An obvious reverse. 🙂
“People who lose sleep over the stock market are lucky. I lose money.” Melvin Helitzer
I bet you weren’t expecting the second sentence, so this is an example of a reverse.
Through combinations of forms you can produce different styles of humor, like sarcasm, satire or parody.
Sarcasm is a very big style of humor that is often based on irony. It can also be used to mock someone. The biting type of humor that sarcasm represents is best reflected in the original Greek meaning of the word: “to tear flesh”.
This is how an article in Scientific American defines it:
“Sarcasm involves constructing or exposing contradictions between intended meanings. The most common form of verbal irony, sarcasm is often used to humorously convey thinly veiled disapproval or scorn. “Pat, don’t work so hard!”, a boss might say upon catching his assistant surfing the Internet.“
Irony and sarcasm often form a big part of a certain genre of comedy called satire.
Satire is used to make fun or denounce something in a playful way. It is often a staple of social commentary.
This is the style used by such guys as Jon Stewart or Stephen Colbert. They use satire to make social commentary on current events and the news and create a laugh in the process.
You can’t spell the word “message” without a mess, and neither can you get into Mesopotamia without creating one! 🙂
Satire can be done in different ways, one of which is parody.
Parody is an exaggerated imitation of the style of a particular person or group of people. It’s meant to poke fun at them.
Stephen Colbert uses this heavily. His character in the “Colbert Report” was that of a faux right-wing political pundit (the ones you often find on Fox News).
What are some good source materials for jokes?
The best source of funny material is real life. If you look at most comedians or funny people in general, much of the things they say consists of anecdotes from their lives or social commentary.
Look into funny things that happened to you, reinterpret serious things that happened to you in a funny way, examine absurd daily situations and then spin them in a way as to make them a source of humor. All of these are great sources of humorous anecdotes.
Another great source of materials are newspapers, not only as inspiration for social commentary rants, but also for the headlines themselves.
Look at the headlines below. All of them come from real newspapers:
“Juvenile court tries shooting defendant.”
”Reagan Wins on Budget, But More Lies Ahead”
“Republicans turned off by size of Obama’s package.”
You see, newspaper headlines can be a great source of humor. 🙂
Statistics are also great. You can create an entire humor routine just around statistics and if you look at some of the top late night TV anchors, they often do.
“According to a new geographic literacy study 4 out of 10 American students couldn’t find Iraq on a map; however 10 out of 10 Mexicans could find the U.S. without a map.” Jay Leno
There are all kinds of normal statistics that you can spin, but also some weird stats. People take statistics and surveys about all kinds of random things.
So using statistics from the link above, complete the joke:
“One in five americans has confessed to peeing in the pool”… now complete the joke 🙂
Did you know that thirty percent of Republican voters want to bomb Aladdin’s made up country?
You don’t even need to form it in any special way. Sometimes just stating the statistic itself can send your message across in a powerful and funny way.
Whether you use newspapers, statistics or some other source as the basis of your jokes, it’s always about the spin that you give it. Framing an issue in different ways can bring out different reactions, and a joke is just one form of a frame.
A joke serves not only as a way to create laughter in other people and making them feel good, but it is also a way to get your opinion across and to get people to see the absurdities of the world. Being able to craft a joke in the right way, gives you enormous power and influence over people. Use it well.