More Humor Discussion with Some Examples

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Hi SEers. John is with you today. On the third of December, I wrote about different kinds of humor. You can go HERE if you want to read the post. I ended with the idea that I would try to find some examples of the humor listed. Well, I did find some but not all. Since I’m back on the job on January 4th, I’ll try to find more. Let’s go to four from the list of nine. I listed the item as described in my other post, so some examples may be contrary to what I originally wrote. Okay, with that disclaimer, here goes.

Surreal/Satire humor– Using humor to make a broader statement unrelated to real-world actions. Monte Python used this form almost exclusively. Regarding use in writing, I think it would be hard to do surreal humor in a book without sounding silly. Therefore, this humor type may be only suitable for movies.

I found one famous example of surrealism in literature: A Modest Proposal by Jonathan Swift. In this essay, Swift pretends to propose that people should eat children to take care of the hunger problem and overpopulation at the same time: Swift says, “I have been assured by a very knowing American of my acquaintance in London that a young, healthy child well nursed is at a year old a most delicious, nourishing, and wholesome food, whether stewed, roasted, baked, or boiled; and I make no doubt that it will equally serve in a fricassee or a ragout.”

Observational humor, also called situational humor– Being able to take everyday life and highlight humorous aspects. Most TV sitcoms use this type of humor. In writing, the best use is usually in scenes of dialogue back and forth but works in narration too.

A situation can be downright hilarious when it’s adequately described. The situation, whether real or imaginary, is just funny. Throughout literature, there are many examples of observational humor that leave readers laughing. Often observational humor is based on perspective, as in this example from The Accidental Tourist by Anne Tyler: “Ever consider what pets must think of us? I mean, here we come back from a grocery store with the most amazing haul – chicken, pork, half a cow. They must think we’re the greatest hunters on earth!”

I had difficulty narrowing down many literary examples of observational humor but found an article about Jerry Seinfeld in the New York Post. He uses observational humor almost exclusively. Here is an example.

Jerry speaking. “According to most studies, people’s number one fear is public speaking. Number two is death. Death is number two. Does that sound right? This means to the average person, if you go to a funeral, you’re better off in the casket than doing the eulogy.”

How about an observational joke from an unknown source.

It’s the World Cup Final, and a man makes his way to his seat next to the pitch. He sits down, noticing that the seat next to him is empty. He leans over and asks his neighbor if someone will be sitting there. ‘No,’ says the neighbor. ‘The seat is empty.’ ‘This is incredible,’ said the man. ‘Who in their right mind would have a seat like this for the Final and not use it?’ The neighbor says, ‘Well, actually, the seat belongs to me. I was supposed to come with my wife, but she passed away. This is the first World Cup Final we haven’t been to together since we got married.’ ‘Oh, I’m so sorry to hear that. That’s terrible….But couldn’t you find someone else, a friend, relative, or even a neighbor, to take her seat?’ The man shakes his head. ‘No,’ he says. ‘They’re all at the funeral.’

Bodily humor– This is the one favored by kids. It is a matter of using bodily function as the point of humor. In writing, narration is the best use, but the overall effect benefits from dialogue.

I found a reference in the publication The Conversation in an article written by James Spiegel, Professor of Philosophy & Religion at Taylor University. I quote Professor Spiegel.

“Fart jokes have also found their way into some of the classics of Western literature. One of the most well-known appears in Chaucer’s Canterbury Tales. In the Miller’s Tale, Nicholas and Absalom are vying for the same girl, and Nicholas decides to humiliate his rival. So he waits at the window for Absalom to beckon the girl. And just when he does, Nicholas’ rear protrudes to ‘let fly a fart with a noise as great as a clap of thunder, so that Absalom was almost overcome by the force of it'”

Dark humor – A humorous spin on an unappealing or depressing subject. Writing dark humor can be done in dialogue and narration.

As highlighted by Emma Baldwin, “Black Humor,” Poem Analysis, 12 January 2021, “Catch-22 is the source of numerous examples of gallows humor, or black humor. Take a look at this quote from Catch-22 in which John Yossarian is speaking. He says: “Insanity is contagious. This is the only sane ward in the whole hospital. Everybody is crazy but us. This is probably the only sane ward in the whole world, for that matter.” In these lines, Yossarian is speaking to Chaplain Tappman. he’s explaining the insanity of the hospital and, in effect, the insanity of the war that put them all there. The theme of “insanity” is one of the more present in the various chapters of Catch-22.

Another good example comes from Chapter 22 and an exchange held between Yossarian and Clevinger. Here is the exchange of dialogue:

“They’re trying to kill me,” Yossarian told him calmly.

No one’s trying to kill you,” Clevinger cried.

Then why are they shooting at me?” Yossarian asked.

They’re shooting at everyone,” Clevinger answered. “They’re trying to kill everyone.”

And what difference does that make?”

How about you? Do you know of any references to these four types of humor in a book you have read? If not,  a comment about humor would be good as well. Let us know your thoughts in the comments.


64 thoughts on “More Humor Discussion with Some Examples

  1. Pingback: Final Examples of Types of Humor | Story Empire

  2. A most interesting post, John. Humor is so subjective. What makes one bust a gut doesn’t even bring a smile to the next. But the examples you listed here are pretty Universally funny, I think. You’ve given us some great points of humor to study. Like many others have said, writing humor isn’t my strong suit, and I have lots to learn. Thank you for sharing!

    Liked by 1 person

  3. I try to give my characters lighter moments between the perils, but I could never intentionally use any of the options you recommend. Most of my “humor” (if I can even call it that) comes in the form of dialogue or unfortunate, embarrassing situations. I love that you’ve found so many examples of different types that I can study. Thanks, John.

    Liked by 1 person

  4. Terry Pratchett included a lot of humour in his Discworld novels. Sometimes the events were humorous because they were absurd, but I think a lot of the humour came from subverting tropes – often fantasy but other tropes too. Some of the characters or plots were funny because they were a satire on real life, or other fictional work like Shakespeare’s plays or Lord of the Rings.

    Liked by 1 person

  5. I am always happy when someone says they laughed at something I wrote. I’m happiest when I was trying to be funny. IT isn’t always the case. I enjoy humor, John. I think we need it, and I was raised with the idea that having a sense of humor was as important as having skills and knowledge. I appreciate humor done well. Thanks for taking time to help us understand humor better.

    Liked by 1 person

  6. I enjoy humor in writing, but timing is important. Sometimes my characters might say something the reader finds humorous, but it’s usually not anything I planned. As the author, I tend to laugh the most while reading my first draft. Thanks for sharing, John!

    Liked by 1 person

  7. I love humor in writing, humorous cartoons (try The Far Side if you don’t like “obvious” humor and prefer the dark and sophisticated), movies, even songs, and couldn’t get through the day if I didn’t find at least a few things funny. I mean, think about it, our entire political situation (esp. since 2016) could be viewed as farce. Thanks for this great overview, John. I believe humor and having a sense of humor is one of mankind’s greatest gifts and keeps us from going nuts. Well, keeps some of us from going nuts.

    Liked by 1 person

  8. I agree with Gwen. Some people are naturally funny. I’m not one of them. Forced humor tends to be silly, so I don’t try it in my writing. However, there are some things I find humorous that most people wouldn’t. I guess it’s all subjective.

    Thanks for the examples.

    Liked by 1 person

  9. Pingback: More Humor Discussion with Some Examples | Legends of Windemere

  10. Thank you for this great post, John. Some folks are naturally hilarious, and I think the same is true of writers. I’m not one of those gifted souls. But with my WIP, there’s a scene that makes me laugh every time I read it. I didn’t intend it to be humorous. It just is (for me, at least). I wonder if the mysterious writing muse sneaks in humor when she needs a break. Laughter can wake us up and turn on the lights. 😊

    Liked by 2 people

    • I think you are right about sneaking in humor. I think we all find things that make us laugh. I also think there are times when we write the laugh parts are spontaneous and do come from a spot that at times is mysterious. Thank you for the thoughtful comment, Gwen.

      Liked by 1 person

  11. Hi John, Now I told you I don’t like humour, and yet I see that you have included two books here that I have recently read, Catch 22 and A Modest Proposal, and also Canterbury Tales, which I love. So, I obviously do like humour, but it needs to be dark and clever.

    Liked by 2 people

  12. Humor is one of the hardest things to write. I’m happy when something I’ve written has a touch of humor about it, a bit of gentle wit, but would never try for anything major for fear of falling flat.

    I also choose very gentle ways of acknowledging the humor – a smile or a gentle snort is better than actual raucous laughter. The reader is free to feel it more.

    Liked by 3 people

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