April 11, 2012

Theory of Comedy: By Thomas Michael Harty

Theory of Comedy

I think there are basically 3 reasons why people laugh:

1) The Superiority Principle

People tend to laugh when they see or hear a story about someone
experiencing pain or embarrassment. This is the source of most sitcom
jokes and any comedy routine with a pratfall. In stand-up, examples
include self-deprecating comedy and monologues about unpleasant
experiences.

2) The Taboo Principle

Speaking the unspeakable, dirty jokes, etc. Probably the form of humor
that requires the least effort and is the first resort of lazy
comedians. The humor derives from the shock, which leads to the next
principle.

3) The Surprise Principle

This covers puns, non-sequiturs, shaggy-dog jokes, sight gags, and in
my opinion, is at the heart of any really good joke. These are the
hardest jokes to write, but are often the funniest. The other 2
principles are really just special cases of this one.

The challenge of comedy is to write a short story or statement that
ends in a surprise, and the better the surprise can be concealed, the
funnier the joke is. A good joke is like a ninja, striking quickly and
without warning. I am somewhat embarrassed that I actually wrote that
sentence.

Well, if you're reading this, I'll probably see you at open mic sooner
or later. I'll do my best to ensure you won't see me coming.

Thomas Michael Harty
Contributing Writer