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The Definitions of Comedy

What makes something funny? Comedy is perhaps the most versatile and unforgiving of all genres because ‘funny’ isn’t a universal constant. A multitude of contextual, experiential, societal, and cultural factors can impact what inspires laughter from one person to the next. There are, however, a handful of concepts that tend to be present in just about every piece of comedy. Here are a couple:

Absurdity ( Keabsuran )

Absurdity deals in the illogical, ridiculous, preposterous, or in the immortal words of Monty Python, just plain silly. Presenting a warped version of reality can be funny. Just don’t take it too far, you don’t want it to get disturbing… or lethal: legend has it that the ancient Greek philosopher Chrysippus died from laughter after watching a donkey get drunk on wine.


Comedy is all about playing against expectation. If you are able to make people think that they know which direction your piece is going then turn it around on them, you’ll more than likely be able to make them laugh – it’s reflexive!


A lot of modern comedy tends to be deeply ironic. The word translates as ‘feigned ignorance’, and describes the expressing your meaning, intention, or attitude through language or behaviour that signifies the opposite (typically sarcasm). Irony tends to be a little dry, and benefits from a strong deadpan delivery. Traditional dramatic irony, where your audience is aware of the consequences or implications of a character’s situation or actions while the character is not is also rife with comedic potential.


Literally translating as “to fall on one’s butt,” scientists and philosophers have debated for millennia why exactly it is so funny to see somebody get distracted and fall off a bike. Some say that this kind of laughter is a primordial expression of empathy (which is why we don’t laugh when a person really gets hurt), others say its funny just because it is. Nonetheless, pratfalls are the soul of slapstick, which has dominated most of the broad, popular comedic genre all the way from Punch & Judy shows to The Three Stooges. When in doubt, you can always start tossing those banana peels around.