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Humour is caused by a gap between nominal and actual state of being or between visual and audio elements. From this contrast springs something preposterous and absurd, that doesn’t evoke any pity in its form of presentation. The comical premise describes the gap between developed expectations and the abrupt confrontation with the unexpected. Sensing this paradox or disproprtion a tense expectation discharges and fulminates into a nothing. The associated act of realisation is expressed through laughter.

The intended effect of humour is based on the unmasking of hidden, painful truths, the breaking of taboos, or the realization of something known: Because of the exaggeration of the character or situation, the audience is distancing itself. At the same time, it may thereby realize the core of truth contained.

There are three kinds of humour: situation-based, dialogue-based and physically-based humour. While physical humour (slapstick) is universally understandable, situational and linguistic humour differ according to their cultural context.
Once a situation is brought into a humorous unbalance it takes on a life of itself and finally escalates.

Humour techniques

Humour is created by

  • inappropriate behaviour
  • exaggeration (or understatement)
  • stating the opposite
  • adulterating abbreviation
  • production of a ‘skewed’ context or use of a ‘lame’ comparison
  • establishing a contrast between reality and imagination
  • isolation of cause and effect
  • mix-up, misunderstanding, misapprehension, coincidence
  • set-up of an embarrassing situation
  • cussedness of the inanimate, constantly producing new variations of failure
  • provocation of tremendousness
  • shift of boundaries or frame of reference, change of perspective
  • repetition and crescendo, e.g. running gag of dead-pan-humour when situations are stretched until they plummet into the absurd

Comic characters

A shifted perception reveals the comic characters as there’s a big discrepancy between self- and outsight image. This creates a distance between the comic character and the audience – the humour is only experienced by the audience not the character.

The comic character’s ideologically restricted view of the world reveals his comic perspective. This could be an intrepid naivety, an absolute honesty, paranoia, inveterate indecisiveness, greed, ignorance, unfounded pessimism or optimism, shyness, fastidiousness, overall mistrust, fixation on somebody or something, reflexive impulsiveness, a neurosis, hypochondria, megalomania, forgetfulness or a curse that’s been put on the character.

Comic hero

The comic hero is characterised by an ignorant invulnerability and the complete lack of any self-doubting. What ever she does, what ever happens to her, she always comes back and triumphs at the end. Another characteristic is her infatuation with which she pursuits her ‘want‘ in an unlimited exaggerated opinion of herself and with holy seriousness. Objectively speaking the ‘want’ is trivial, banal, or completely futile. By pursuiting her biased understanding of happiness in spite of the opposition of the environment she becomes the chevalier of fortune, an imposter and an involuntary hero.

Comic constellations

Comic constellastions arise from the combination ‘normal’ and ‘extreme’: either the ‘normal’ world is perceived in an ‘abnormal, i.e. comic/weird way or an ‘abnormal’, i.e. comic/weird world is presented as completely normal. The ‘normal’ or comic concept will prevail here.


A ‘normal’ protagonist

  • finds himself caught in a comic environment
  • has to deal with a comic character
  • is surrounded by comic characters>
  • transforms into a comic character by mistake or accident (a typical example are body-switch stories)
  • is transferred to a culturally alien world, e.g. because of a disciplinary relocation. A country bumpkin comes to a big city or a city person turns up at a one-horse-town. Both result in a culture clash.

A ‘comic’ protagonist

  • gets himself into a normal environment. Either the comic protagonist is able to fit into his new environment or he’s able to make the environment adapt to him.
  • has to deal with other comic characters which creates collision between their different comic perspectives.

Types of laughter

  • The liberating laughter after building up of tension brings comic relief to the audience.
  • The cathartic laugher identifies the audience’s emotionally charged laughing with the character. By laughing together the audience feels a bond with the character.
  • The destructive laughter is laughing about someone without any sympathy. By laughing about a character the audience turns against him. One example is the schadenfreude.
  • The banishing laughter expresses the ambivalence or discomfort of the audience because of subversive, politically in-correct or taboo-breaking humour.
Further ReadingFurther Reading
  • Giglio, Keith: Writing the Comedy Blockbuster: The Inappropriate Goal. 2012.
  • Sedita, Scott: The Eight Characters of Comedy: A Guide to Sitcom Acting & Writing. 2014.
  • Vorhaus, John: The Comic Toolbox. How To Be Funny Even If You’re Not. Los Angeles, 1994.
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