Humor Toolkit II

14.09.2021 |

Episode #5 of the course Humor: Science of how to be funny by David Urbansky


Welcome back! Today, we’ll learn about three useful tools that are often employed to make things funny. Please be warned, if you don’t like shock and/or dark humor, skip this section.


Physical Comedy

Physical comedy, slapstick, and madcap refer to funny actions done with your body or face.

Monty Python’s “Ministry of Silly Walks” sketch is a perfect example. In it, the comedy is strictly limited to the walking. Faces and other gestures are totally normal, which further emphasizes the silliness of the walks.

Jim Carrey is undoubtedly one of the great masters of physical comedy. Not only does he have insane control over his face, but in the classic Ace Ventura films (see Ballerina Clip), he combines facial expressions with physical goofiness and hilarious voices.

In Lesson One, we talked about a study showing that overall physical humor is the most appreciated across all age and education groups. No wonder Jim Carrey is so beloved!



Analogy is comparing two different things and finding their similarities. The things compared should be very different, since opposites work best. It’s not as much fun to compare water to wine as it is to compare smoking to farting.

One sophisticated way to use analogies is to keep one part hidden and only hint at it. In George Orwell’s book Animal Farm, he compares farm animals to the Russian Revolution. Once the reader understands this, every animal fart becomes funny, as it is connected to the hidden part of the analogy. Orwell never explicitly says “You realize that this is really about the Russian Revolution, right?” If he did, it wouldn’t be funny anymore; the fun is generated through the unspoken shared secret.

Another example is Steve Martin’s “Smokers” routine comparing smokers to farters. He only connects smokers to farters at the beginning of the joke, then never mentions it again, keeping one part of the analogy hidden.

Here are a few more examples of jokes using analogies:

• Boobs are like the sun. They keep you warm and make you happy but stare directly at them and you’re in trouble.

• “My boss is like a baby, he screams and wakes me up every half hour”

• “A good speech should be like a woman’s skirt: long enough to cover the subject and short enough to create interest.” —Winston Churchill



Hyperbole is an exaggeration that goes beyond reason into the absurd. See for yourself by comparing the following statements:

1. “That joke is so old, the last time I heard it, I was like five years old.”

2. “That joke is so old, the last time I heard it, I was riding a dinosaur.”

The second version is clearly an absurd exaggeration, making it much funnier than the first one.

More examples of hyperbole:

• “Yo mamma’s so fat that when she fell, I didn’t laugh, but the sidewalk cracked up.”

• “Yo mamma’s so fat that when she goes camping, the bears hide their food.”

• “She’s so dumb, she thinks Taco Bell is a Mexican phone company.”

• Will Ferrell taking “the world’s best cup of coffee” a bit too literally in Elf.


Shock and Dark Humor

Shock and dark humor are surprising and can be very funny in the right context. Sex, swearing, violence, or anything gross or taboo can trigger laughter and are popular go-tos for stand-up comedians.


The more taboo or shocking your material is, the fewer people it will appeal to. Many people have limits of what can be joked about. These limits can be based on:

1. Religion. Think of the Danish newspaper that published cartoons of Muhammad in 2005. Many Islamic countries did not find that funny and worldwide protests left 250 people dead [1]!

2. Culture. Can you make fun of other groups of people based on their origin, age, skin color, or profession? Can you make fun of serious topics such as cancer, death, and abortion?

3. Time. Tragedy + Time = Comedy. If you make fun of too-recent tragic events, your audience may not find it funny. In 2001, the World Trade Center in New York was destroyed by terrorists. Only a few weeks later, comedian Gilbert Gottfried made a joke about the attacks in front of a US audience. The audience shouted: “Too soon!” (acknowledging that it could be made fun of but not just yet). This could have been a career ender, but Gottfried covered his mistake by telling the dirtiest joke in the world: The Aristocrats. This joke is more of a template and can be told in different ways. It involves as much shock and profanity as possible to make the point that there is absolutely nothing in this world that can’t be made fun of. Please be warned should you decide to listen!

Great! You have now learned about eight comedic tools. Tomorrow we’ll look at another five. This will give you a complete overview of your available tools, getting you ready to craft your own jokes.

“Analyzing humor is like dissecting a frog. Few people are interested, and the frog dies of it.” —E.B. White


Recommended book

How to Write Funny: Your Serious, Step-By-Step Blueprint for Creating Incredibly, Irresistibly, Successfully Hilarious Writing by Scott Dikkers



[1] Jyllands-Posten Muhammad Cartoons Controversy

[2] How to Write Funny: Your Serious, Step-By-Step Blueprint for Creating Incredibly, Irresistibly, Successfully Hilarious Writing by Scott Dikkers


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