One of the least funny things you can do is explain a joke, and yet it’s also incredibly important to be able to do so. If you can’t explain why types of humor are funny, then you’re lacking the fundamental grasp on that humor that would allow you to wield it properly. Comedy is hard, and understanding all the different types of humor and why they work is key to both writing comedy and appreciating it. In this guide, we’ll go over some popular and well-known types of humor, and deconstruct their mechanics, plus give some notable examples from each brand. Of course, knowing is only part of the job. Check out this humor course for tips on becoming a stand-up comedian.
1. Slapstick Comedy
Slapstick is super easy to identify, because it’s one of the more physical variations of comedy. The humor in slapstick derives from its exaggerated physical gesturing, movements, and situations. It’s one of the sillier, simpler forms of comedy, and can be seen employed by the likes of Charlie Chaplin and Buster Keaton in early silent era films, and today in the Jackass movies and sketch comedy shows.
Deadpan is also called dry humor, and is defined more by its delivery than the actual content, though there are definitely certain types of jokes that work better delivered deadpan over others. Deadpan is exactly what it sounds like: delivering jokes without any noticeable change in emotion. In fact, the comedian should keep a rigid, monotonous, bored sounding tone, making the joke or observation come off as scathingly blunt or sarcastic. The humor in deadpan comes from the audience’s connection between the joke and the contradicting tone of its delivery. Some examples include the television show Curb Your Enthusiasm. Learn great (or not!) delivery in this course on good speaking habits for comedians.
Self-awareness can be comedy gold if it’s done correctly, and this is exactly where self-deprecating humor stems from. It’s a type of humor that relies entirely on belittling oneself. The humor comes in how mundane and relatable the topics of its jokes can be, with the comedian joking about things like their own bad habits, being socially awkward, how they always mess up dates, and so on. These are things that most common people can relate to, and so it becomes a tension reliever to laugh at our own problems encompassed by another. Louis C.K. is a stand-up comedian who uses self-deprecating humor very often.
4. Potty Humor
Maybe the lowest of the low brow types of humor, potty humor relies entirely on being gross. Also called toilet humor or scatological humor, for obvious reasons, it’s a type of humor that focuses on making the audience cringe. It’s often in poor taste, vulgar, and “crosses the line” for the sake of making people laugh. This type of humor can most often be found in children’s cartoons, or for the more risqué material, “adult” comedies.
5. Topical Humor
The go-to form of humor for many late night talk shows, topical humor is exactly what it sounds like: humor that focuses on topical events. This is the kind of humor you’ll see on The Daily Show or The Onion. It’s easy and accessible humor that makes fun of current events. The way it’s delivered, of course, can overlap with any of the types of humor on this list. The key is that it’s chock full of relevant pop culture references and nudge-winks to recent goings-on. Learn great public speaking skills – vital for a comedian – with this course on enhancing your speaking voice.
Often related to topical humor, but not required to be so, is satire. Satire is one of the most misunderstood and difficult types of humor, because it needs to be “smart.” Satire is not just the art of mocking something; it’s about using irony, sarcasm, and caricature to highlight the real-life vices and flaws about the thing you’re satirizing, while still making relevant social commentary about that thing. Perhaps the most famous example of satire is Jonathan Swift’s A Modest Proposal, a fake political pamphlet that used extreme hyperbole to point out his society’s poor treatment of the impoverished. The Onion is a popular modern day example of satire and topical humor, as it is a fake news site that mocks current events. Writing good satire can be tough, especially if you’re not an excellent writer! Start with this course on advanced writing techniques to improve your writing skills.
Parody is not satire, but it uses elements of satire such as sarcasm and irony. Parody is about mocking something through imitation. This can be done out of a distaste for the thing being parodied, or as a playful tribute. The mockumentary is a good example of parody. Mockumentaries are films done in the style of documentaries, but the things and people they document are not real. One example of this is Spinal Tap, a mockumentary about a fictional 80s metal band (who is portrayed as real in the “documentary”), which mocks the conventions of rock documentaries and the ridiculous culture surrounding rock groups.
8. Black Comedy
Black comedy, also called dark comedy or gallows humor, is a type of humor that focuses on serious, dark, and often morbid subject matter. It’s of the philosophy that when things are bad, sometimes the only thing you can do to maintain your sanity or faith in the world is laugh. “Good” black comedy should not make humor out of the devastating situations themselves, but use a combination of deadpan, self-deprecation, or satire to point out, mock, and ultimately laugh at terrible situations. Gallows humor is hard to do meaningfully, and can sometimes border on “shock value,” which is humor that aims to offend its audience just because it can. Daniel Tosh of the television show Tosh.0 is known for this kind of shock-based humor.
9. Surreal Comedy
Surreal comedy is about defying logic and using nonsensical situations and non-sequiturs to get a laugh out of people. It’s easy to equate it to slapstick, as the two can sometimes overlap, but surreal comedy leans much more towards the bizarre. Monty Python’s Flying Circus is an example of surreal comedy. Another thing some surreal comedy aims to do is zero in on a ridiculous aspect of something to the point of absurdity, seen in the sketch comedy show Tim and Eric Awesome Show, Great Job! This show satirizes and hones in on the already bizarre nature of public-access television and 90s commercials until it enters the realm of the surreal.
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