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The Language of Humour

 Humour (originally temperament) is an elusive, inexplicable phenomenon essential for sanity – often the best medicine for all psychological ills. We know that it provides relief from aggression, twisted logic or boredom while connecting or bonding us to others. It can make us more aware of ourselves. We can learn by laughing at our failures.  It celebrates the ordinariness of our existence; the minutiae of life.  Seinfeld is all about “nothing”.  Barry Humphries claims his humour stems from the suburbs “where nothing actually happens”. 

Jane Austen contends,  "What are we here for, if not to provide sport for our neighbours, and to laugh at them in our turn?"   You may prefer Wittgenstein's: "If people never did silly things, nothing intelligent would ever get done".  

Plato and Aristotle felt that laughter was a powerful weapon that could threaten authority and  undermine the state. 

David Marr provides this example:

Politicians who deal in panic wear out their welcome. The grubby business of terrifying the electorate over and over again takes its toll. Howard was the most professional politician I expect to see at work in my lifetime, and nothing was more professional than his manipulation of Australia's fears.

But a decade of this left him rather shop-worn. So many scares had come and gone, failing to deliver on their bleak promises. His last days in office (2007) caught the disenchantment perfectly. Sydney was locked down for a gathering of world leaders – and into this great security panic drove a team of comedians in Arab dress. Howard looked foolish. Australia laughed all the way to the polls. Panic can't take a joke.  From Panic, Marr, 2011.

Richard Flanagan claims that humour is the justice that the law never is.

But what makes things funny?  Perhaps the most primary observation is that it is very subjective; what you find funny, others might find corny, banal, or even trite.  While comedy has been around since at least 411 B.C. (Aristophanes’ Lysistrata), stand up comedy is a recent gig dating from the early 19th century.  Jerry Seinfeld made about 5 million dollars a year from live performances and grossed over 150 million from his TV show based on his life.

“Humour can be dissected, as can a frog, but both die in the process.” (E.B. White)  Humour can be overt, burlesque, thigh slapping or subtle, pensive and thought provoking.  However there are some universal attributes of humour.   

Self Deprecation:  The stand-up presents themselves as a loser, a victim, a masochist. A good comedian takes their own failures to make fun of them.  Those who come on as egotistical and cool, seldom survive.  In most of Seinfeld’s episodes, all four main characters, end up with egg on their faces.  Sending yourself up helps the audience to identify with you.  

Timing: Delivery is everything; subtle intonations, pauses that allow just enough reflection before the punchline.

Shared nature of experience:  There needs to be a lot of common ground between the stand-up and the audience and much of the humour is based on mutual values, icons and cultural mores. 

Pun: puns are another satirical device which employs two meanings relying on the different uses of a word. Puns can be used to set the tone of the satirical piece — whether it is light hearted or serious in its intention. 

Irony has the ability to heighten and hold the reader’s interest by giving pleasure, relief, humour and stimulus. It is an inclusive device seeming to take the responder into the composer’s confidence. Irony is seldom malicious or spiteful.

Unexpectedness, surprise, shock,

Good comedy subverts and startles us, forcing us to re-examine life.

Contrast — Irony places unexpected opposites side by side.

Juxtaposition — Putting together two contrasting or opposing ideas.

Incongruity or contrast — Putting together two events, characters, things or conversations to highlight opposition and expose folly or vice.

Paradox - An apparent absurd or contradictory statement eg: “The first shall be last “.

Oxymoron - the placement of opposing words next to each other —eg: bitter sweet..

Hyperbole or Caricature — the deliberate distortion of a target by exaggerating or emphasising a salient feature. Fully blown, vices, banalities, ludicrous actions can be ridiculed when they are overstated.

Understatement - Sometimes the satirist will try an opposite effect by treating a serious subject in a trivialising manner. By understating something the composer demonstrates that they are in control of the situation and appear calm and reasonable.

Tone: The overall tone of satiric passage is light hearted, jocular or mocking. Satire seldom preaches or teaches didactically so it attempts to sugar coat its message by entertaining the audience. It is much more likely to get its message across.

Black Humour – Treating death or a serious or tragic incident trivially or jokingly. People in highly stressful life and death situations often resort to black humour to cope.  It can make people change their minds.     Dark humour helps us to deal with despair.

Crudity, vulgarity, obscenities  - For some reason, perhaps because they are a leveller and puncture pompous or pretentious people, vulgarity or bodily functions are often the focus of humour.


Toilet humour:

This can be some of the most banal and tasteless humour, or it can be ridiculously funny because it brings us all down to the same level.

Graffiti – the poetry of the simple minded.

The famed response to a critic attributed to German composer Max Reger:

           “Sir I am seated in the smallest room of my house.  I have your review before me. In a moment, it will be behind me”.

Churchill: On being told that the Lord Privy Seal was waiting to see him, he announced from the toilet:  I am sealed in my privy and can only deal with one shit at a time.

A Texas business man arriving at Heathrow Airport late one cold foggy night commenting to his taxi driver:  They tell me that London is the asshole of the earth.

The taxi driver replies:  Yes, I’ve heard that too, and I suppose you’re just passing through?

Constipation

A man is complaining to another of his problems, when the second one simply asks, why don’t you just let the matter drop?

A mathematician simply works it out with a pencil.

Means you don’t have to “give a shit”.

Toilet Dispensers

 

Nixon Tapes:  Seize one

US dollars dispensed here

Another fine abrasive by 3M.

U. of __________ Diploma

Australia 1975 – Get your free photos of Mal here!  To develop, just wipe your ass!

Please be seated through the entire performance.

A word about the performance – it stank!

Remember, the job’s not done until the paperwork is done!

How many animals can you fit on a toilet ?

One pussy and 1000 hares.

Urinals:

 

No Man is an island, but when you piss, urination!

This is where all the pricks hang out.

This is where all the big knobs hang out.

Farts:

Tail wind

Shit without the mess

Smell so even the deaf can appreciate them.

Cut down on paperwork

Why not wipe your ass and call it a shit?

Fool in King Lear: Truth’s a dog to kennel; only whipped out when the Lady Brach stinks by the fire.

The oldest fart jokes I heard in primary school:

A young man calls on a young maiden, and while she is upstairs getting ready, is invited into the parlor by her father.  The dog Fido sits at the boy’s feet.  Feeling nervous the boy lets go a suppressed fart.  The father shouts: Fido!  Relieved that the dog is getting blamed, the next urgent fart is also released.  The father again shouts Fido!  Comfortably now releases a rip roaring fart, but this time the father roars, Fido, get away, before he shits all over you!

 

An elderly man goes to the doctor with the complaint that he has a lot of wind, but it is soundless and odorless.

The doctor requests a sample and when produced, nods understandingly and prescribes some medication.

A week later the man returns with the complaint that his farts now smell a lot.  The doctor responds with; “now that we’ve fixed you sinuses, let’s see what we can do with your hearing.







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