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Completely Unscientific Ways to Define Comedy

Marketing Strategy

Why Comedy Is the Most Effective Way to Advertise...

The following is a grab bag of ways to define comedy. Some capture the heart of it; others brush up against an all-encompassing explanation. And just like great comedic characters, some of them fail miserably.

Humor plays an important place in our society. It holds up a mirror, forcing us to confront reality.

The world is a tragedy to those who feel, but a comedy to those who think.

― Horace Walpole

Feeling intelligent is important in comedy. If someone else looks foolish, we feel intelligent. We feel superior. We say to ourselves, thank God that’s not me!

Tragedy is when I cut my finger. Comedy is when you fall into an open sewer and die.

― Mel Brooks

Challenge your characters. Challenge them to act. Take away every possibility for them to succeed. Be sure they’re completely overmatched for the task. Throw every obstacle imaginable in their path. Never let them give up. That’s comedy.

Comedy is acting out optimism.

― Robin Williams

Comedy shows what it’s like being human – characters doing their best, stumbling through life, misinterpreting the world or themselves.

Life doesn’t make any sense, and we all pretend it does. Comedy’s job is to point out that it doesn’t make sense, and that it doesn’t make much difference anyway.

― Eric Idle

Peter McGraw’s Benign Violation Theory defines something as funny when two conditions are satisfied: the joke violates the way we think the world should work, and it does so in a way that’s not threatening. If a joke is too benign or non-threatening, it’s boring. If the violation is too strong, it’s offensive.

Comedy is tragedy mellowed by time.

― Carol Burnett

Many comedians believe a joke is funny when there’s an “incongruity” present. It’s the inconsistency between what people expect to happen and what actually happens. Or another way of saying it: It’s the difference between how the world is and how it ought to be.

When you use incongruence for the setup, twist it for a surprise ending.

The secret to humor is surprise.

― Aristotle

Humor flowers in the spaces between words.

It's not a joke show. (The Office) There are funny lines and funny moments but again the comedy is born of the human experience and awkward pauses are a great part of what it is to be human.

― Rainn Wilson

When something bad happens, you get angry. But when it comes to humor, there’s little agreement. Sometimes funny… is just funny.

Analyzing humor is like dissecting a frog. Few people are interested, and the frog dies of it.

― Unknown

And we’ll end with possibly the least funny thing in the world, The Encyclopedia of Humor Studies.

Mike Johnston is a production executive and advertising creative in Seattle. He is available for freelance consulting, writing and directing. Contact Mike


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