Tuesday, June 2, 2009

Spontaneous Humor

Seventy-two percent of laughter deriving from spontaneous conversational humor (Martin 12). Spontaneous conversational humor, unlike jokes, is highly dependent on context. Spontaneous conversational humor can be broken down into eleven categories:
  1. Irony – Irony is literary device, in which there is an incongruity or discordance between what one says or does and what one means or what is generally understood. For example, in a confusing situation the speaker says: “That is as clear as mud.”
  2. Satire – Satire is a form of aggressive humor that pokes fun at social institutions and public policy.
  3. Sarcasm – Sarcasm is a form of aggressive humor that aims at individuals as opposed to institutions. For example, a person sits at her desk and she notices that one of her co-workers is talking loudly on his phone. When the co-worker hangs up, she says, "I think you should talk a little bit louder next time—the entire office didn't hear it."
  4. Overstatement and Understatement – Overstatement and understatement are forms of speech in which a greater expression or lesser expression is used than what would be expected. For example, a person has just finished the hardest workout of his entire life, he is a moment away fainting from exhaustion, and a friend comes by and sees him sweaty, huffing and puffing, and says, "Tired?" and he answers, "Just a little."
  5. Self-deprecation – Self-deprecating humor is humor which depends on the observation of something negative about the person delivering the observation. Many speakers use self-deprecating humor to avoid seeming arrogant and to help the audience identify with them. For example, many modern day comics build much of their acts around their own perceived unattractiveness, weight, age, and lack of appeal to the opposite sex.
  6. Teasing – Teasing is a humorous remark directed at the listener. Unlike sarcasm, the intention is not to seriously offend or insult.
  7. Replies to rhetorical questions – Rhetorical questions are not meant to be answered. Answering a rhetorical question creates incongruity and a reversal of expectations. For example, one person says, “How high is the moon?” Expecting no response and a clear expectation that the person understands what has been communicated, the other person replies, “It varies between 356,000 and 407,000 kilometers in distance from the surface of the earth, its average distance being 384,400 kilometers.”
  8. Clever replies to serious statements – These are clever and nonsensical replies to a question that was meant to be serious. For example, a talk show hosts asks an actress if her current boyfriend is a serious boyfriend. She replies that he is always joking around and not serious at all.
  9. Double entendres – A double entendre is a figure of speech in which a spoken phrase is intended to be understood in either of two ways. In most cases, the first meaning is straightforward, while the second meaning is less so and often sexual or inappropriate. Although most double entendres are sexual in nature, an example of a non-sexual double entendre is “Why was the garbage man sad? He was down in the dumps.”
  10. Transformation of frozen expressions – Changing well-known sayings and clich├ęs into unique sayings. An example is when a bald man is reminiscing about life: “Hair today and gone tomorrow.”
  11. Puns – Using a word that brings up a humorous second meaning. This humor is usually based on a homophone, a word that sounds the same but has a different meaning. An example of a pun is “Immanuel doesn't pun; he Kant.” Here “Kant” is a play on the word "can't", in the name of philosopher Immanuel Kant.
(Long and Graesser 35-60 and Martin 13)

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