What do you turn to when you want to laugh? What kind of humor do you like, and how do you talk about it? To start this lesson off, watch the following humorous video from “The Flight of the Conchords,” a musical comedy duo from New Zealand.
If you want to read a transcript of the lyrics, find it here:
Intro Discussion Questions:
What was the “story” of the song?
Did you find it funny?
Satire (n) – Satire is a technique used by comedians to expose and criticize foolishness and corruption of an individual or a society by using humor, irony, exaggeration or ridicule. It usually uses characters that have such exaggerated negative qualities that they point out what negative qualities exist in society, but are often not remarked upon, or are too subtle to notice under most circumstances.
Example: Stephen Colbert plays a conservative American political commentator who is so wrapped up in his ego that he can’t even imagine anyone thinks differently than he does. His show is classic political satire.
Deadpan (adj.) – Comedy delivered “with a straight face,” i.e., the person telling the joke does not indicate that it is funny. “Pretending to be serious.”
Example: At first, I didn’t know she was always joking because she always seemed so deadpan; then I realized she was actually making fun of everything all the time.
Facetious (adj.) – joking or humorous, particularly when there is some doubt as to whether a person is joking or serious.
Example: When he told me that he missed the meeting because his house burned down, I thought he was being facetious at first.
Black Humor (or Gallows Humor) (n) – Jokes or humorous remarks that are made about unpleasant or worrying subjects such as death and illness.
Example: I don’t want to see a comedy about someone on Death Row; I don’t like black humor.
“Despite my ghoulish reputation, I really have the heart of a small boy. I keep it in a jar on my desk.”
― Robert Bloch, writer of horror books.
Stand-up Comedy (or “Stand-up”) (n) – A form of comedy in which a comedian stands on stage and delivers a humorous monologue to an audience.
Example: Many comic actors, like Jerry Seinfeld, started their careers in stand-up comedy.
Sketch Comedy (n) – a series of short comedy scenes or vignettes, called “sketches”, commonly between one and ten minutes long, performed by a group of comic actors in which they play different characters each time.
Example: “Saturday Night Live” has been performing sketch comedy for over 40 years, and many of the actors on the show have gone on to achieve significant fame.
Slapstick (n or adj.) – comedy based on deliberately clumsy actions, humorously embarrassing events, or exaggerated physicality.
Example: Sometimes Rowan Atkinson, as his famous character Mr. Bean, makes brilliant use of slapstick comedy.
“Cracks (one) up” – make a person laugh hard, sometimes even when they don’t want to.
Example: Almost every joke Louis CK makes cracks me up.
“Cracks a joke” – another way to say “make a joke.”
Example: Sometimes I wish you would be serious instead of cracking a joke every time something makes you uncomfortable.
“Had me in stitches” – made a person laugh hard
Example: That Saturday Night Live sketch about the woman who freaks out about surprise parties had me in stitches.
“Keep a straight face” – not laugh, or express in any way that you find something funny.
Example: As I gave a presentation to my colleagues, Joe was in the first row making silly faces at me. It was hard, but I managed to keep a straight face the whole time.
Synonyms for “laugh:” Giggle, chuckle, snicker, guffaw, crack up, titter
- What first comes to mind when you hear the word “humor?
- What do think makes something funny?
- What are some of your favorite funny TV shows and movies?
- What are some of your favorite funny writers?
- Do you ever watch sketch comedy?
- Do you ever watch stand-up comedy? If you got the chance, would you like to see stand-up comedy performed live?
- Do you think that having a sense of humor is important?
- Do you think humor helps you see or navigate the world differently?
- Do you see humor in things other people don’t?
- Do you have a private sense of humor with people who are close to you?
- Do you think that humor is a kind of intelligence, or requires intelligence to do well?
- Do you think there are bad or mean types of humor?
- Do you think some people find inappropriate things funny? Do you ever find them funny, and how do you feel about finding them funny?
- Do you know anyone who has a particularly interesting sense of humor?
- How much of humor do you think is lost in translation between languages? Is anything “universally funny?”
- Can you tell me a joke from your native country?
- Do you think people sometimes try to be funny or use humor to mask unhumorous things?
- Do different generations find different things funny?