What makes comedy funny or not funny?

Elsewhere on the web, I recently commented on a discussion about stand-up comedians and why they are funny or not. Humour is inherently subjective, so I couldn’t hope to speak for everyone’s tastes. However, I can at least look at my own tastes and why I find them amusing.

Nothing is sacred
Frankie Boyle is one example that comes to mind: he spares nobody and nothing, not even himself or Glasgow. What makes this so funny is that he can be downright outrageous. Another great example was George Carlin: since I’m an atheist, I think his “Religion is Bullshit” sketch is quite accurate. God is supposedly all-knowing, all-wise, all-powerful and all-benevolent…but he needs money! The humour in this case comes from somebody not being afraid to say out loud that something is completely absurd and why.

In the discussion I mentioned above, I also mentioned The Goon Show. While it was a radio show and not stand-up comedy, it is an example of extremely surreal humour, such as the “What time is it, Eccles?” exchange. Here it is. It’s so bizarre you can’t help laughing. Or take the Trololo meme: Mr Khil was so ridiculously happy while singing complete nonsense that it was hilarious.

Parody works by not taking the original work too seriously, and if done well, it can be hilarious. An excellent example of parody that comes to mind is the Trolling Saruman video. What made that so funny was that they were poking fun at the Lord of the Rings by using the Trololo meme, and also because they did a very good job of putting it together.

Gallows humour
Sometimes, you laugh at something because it’s better than crying about it. A lot of paramedics, firefighters and other such trades end up doing this, simply to stop the job from getting to them. Back in 2008 and 2009, a lot of comedians in Ireland cracked jokes about the economy going down the drain. Why is this funny? Because it can help to deal with whatever it is that’s just happened.


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About Philip

I'm a physics graduate, sci-fi writer, budding game designer, and amateur human.

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