There are many theories of humor which attempt to explain what humor is, what social functions it serves, and what would be considered humorous. It would be very difficult to explain humor to a hypothetical person who did not have a sense of humor already. In fact, to such a person humor would appear to be quite strange if not outright irrational behavior.
Verbal humor often requires the use of thinking. When a character says something, or even a comedian, the audience has to make sense of what is said. This differs largely from visual humor, where an audience really isn’t required to think about what they are seeing. It happens right before their eyes, there is nothing to question, although, there can be scenes where visual humor is drawn out, but there is always an aha moment. In categorizing humor, we separate visual and verbal humor, though sometimes these two must be partnered together. Based on the texts of Aristophanes, Menander, Plautus, and Terence we learn the earliest forms of humor used in comedies. From there, we explore the kinds of verbal humor in films from Chaplin, Mae West, The Marx Brothers, Frank Capra, and Bob Hope and what elements are still occurring in today’s comedies. Verbal humor uses the sounds of words together, play on words-such as puns, our knowledge of words, and our expectations in conversations. Obscenity is one form of verbal humor that can either be especially crude, or it can be subtle, usually involving play on words and the intentions of the character who said it. A large part of verbal humor also is determined by the delivery of the line by the character. For instance something said by an "upperclass" character might not be as humorous if insted said by a "lowerclass" character or vice versa. Puns show a character/writer’s brilliance, and require an audience’s brains to be on its feet in order to appreciate the pun.
2. Types of Verbal Humor
1) Pun: a play on words, in which a word of multiple meanings or a word of similar sound but different meaning is used to create the joke. Examples:
Heard about the fight down town? It was called a shopping maul. An old teacher never dies. They simply lose their class.
2) Joke: Something said or done to evoke amusement or laughter. Mostly joke means an amusing story with a punch line. Example:
A mother mouse and a baby mouse were walking along, when all of a sudden, a cat attacked them. The mother mouse goes, "BARK!" and the cat runs away. "See?" says the mother mouse to her baby. "Now do you see why it's important to learn a foreign language?"
3) Parody: to copy or imitate for comic affect the style of something or someone else. By its nature parody exaggerates and mocks the original. It only works if the person or thing being copied is well known to the audience. Example:
The variations on The Ten Commandments.
I've seen 'Ten Commandments' for Cooks, Children, Wives, Husbands, Shopkeepers...
4) Satire: to expose silliness, foolishness or stupidity through ridicule. Satire attacks with the aim of alerting its audience and to make way for reform. The form has its roots in antiquity and is seen today in many forms. The television comedies 'The Simpsons' and 'South Park' use satire.
5) Innuendo/Double Entendres: an indirect, often derogatory hint. The speaker appears innocent and the innuendo is ‘discovered’ in mind of the listener. The most common of these are sexual innuendos. Examples:
Mae West's:‘Is that a gun in your pocket or are you just pleased to see me?’ The use of the word ‘it’ as in ‘Comedians do it standing up.’
6) Malapropism: either intentional or unintentional misuse of a word created by using one of a similar sound for another. Examples:
My sister has extra-century perception.
He was a man of great statue.
7) Spoonerism: an either intentional or unintentional transposition of sounds of two or more words. Examples:
'nosey little cook' instead of 'cosy little nook'
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