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Humor: Definition, How It Works & Examples In Writing

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Giggles, snorts, guffaws, snickers, we’ve all shared our bevy of laughs.

But there’s a vast difference between those who can enjoy comedy and those who can create it.

Learn more about humor to employ it in your writing and captivate your audience appropriately.

What is Humor?

Humor is a literary device that induces amusement and laughter.

It is often a physical more than a mental reaction, causing the audience’s nerves to react, even if it is triggered via mental stimulation.

Humor can be created by combining just about any element of art and literature, as it is usually a subversion of expectations.

Also Known As:

  • Incongruity
  • Wit
  • Surprise

Simple Definition of Humor

Humor is using words or actions to make the audience laugh.

Why is Humor Used?

Podcasts monetize humor significantly, bringing fun and laughter into people’s lives often while they are engaged in mundane activities like a commute.

Comedy-type humor is a great way to help people relax at the end of a long workday.

Types of Humor

Not only does humor come in many types, but it is also created using many types of tools.

What follows is only a small offering of the types of humor available for writers to employ.

Slapstick Humor

Slapstick humor is a type of comedy that is very physical.

One of the most famous creators of slapstick humor is Charlie Chaplin, known for his insane stunts.

Other slapstick comedians include the Three Stooges or clowns at circuses.

Physical, over-the-top comedy all Dallas under slapstick humor.

Dry Humor

Dry humor is often associated with the more British flavor of disposition, where someone shows little to no emotion while delivering a joke.

Associated with bluntness, it comes in contrast with more heavy-handed humor.

Wordplay Humor

Wordplay humor is often associated with Shakespeare, radio plays, or even candy wrappers.

Usually only working in the language it is created in, wordplay humor relies on the unique structure of the language it exists in to convey the joke.

Witty Humor

Witty humor may look like improvisation. It’s fast, quick, and may take a moment longer to sink in than it took to say.

How Do You Identify Humor?

Identifying humor can be oxymoronic. In theory, it should be simple.

Anything that makes you laugh counts.

But poorly executed humor, subtle humor, satire, and many other flavors of humor may not elicit belly laughter while still counting.

In general, identifying where a writer may have been using humor can mean looking for a place where a phrase may not be meant literally.

How Do You Use Humor in a Sentence?

Using humor in a sentence is simply a matter of subverting expectations to get a reaction out of your audience.

What is the Most Popular Example of Humor?

Enduring Nickelodeon Spongebob is likely one of the most popular humor properties to persist, as its influence continues to dominate years after its peak as a television program.

Other Examples of Humor

  • Simpsons

The Simpsons is a long-running cartoon often spoofing contemporary issues, famous figures, familial problems, and countless other relatable issues.

  • Puns are possible due to quirks in language.
  • Irony has many uses in humor, especially situational irony.

Other Modern Examples of Humor

  • Robin Williams

Robin Williams was a comedian known for his incredible improvisation and high-energy performances.

Examples of Humor for Kids

  • Joke books are often written for kids to read. These can contain puns, funny scenarios, cartoons, and other jokes for them to enjoy.
  • Live entertainment for kids is often comedic to best hold their attention. This can engage them by repeatedly activating their nervous system by eliciting laughter.

Examples of Humor in Writing

  • Television constantly uses humor. Programs like Saturday Night Live are composed of units called sketches which are small, humorous segments that depict funny scenarios. Other shows called scripted comedies, such as Modern Family, are great examples of humor writing.
  • Social media is where lots of humor writing is shared in the modern age. From Tweets to Facebook, celebrities and everyday people can share their thoughts on social media to great acclaim.

Examples of Humor in Literature

  • Pride & Prejudice by Jane Austen is an example of a book with a lot of humor in it. Much of the spirit is situational, meaning that it is best understood once the plot and characters of the book are understood. The characters are frequently bickering about love and gender in a context best comprehended through a cultural context relevant to the time the book was published in.
  • Douglas Adams’ Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy is an amusing book that has spawned several sequels and a film. This silly science fiction book features aliens that love poetry, humans that desperately cling to towels, and save the day with cups of tea.

Notable Writers Who Used Humor

Using humor creates a distinct voice that sets these writers apart for their work.

Their books left lasting impacts on their readers, largely due to the laughter elicited from their writing.

Rick Riordan

Riordan’s books include a plethora of retellings of classic myths from several pantheons, perhaps most famously from the Greek and Roman traditions.

While these myths have traditionally been a topic that has been difficult to teach to young students, Riordan penned a bestselling series by filtering these tales through a lens of humor that made his series a hit.

Roald Dahl

Dahl, famous for books such as Charlie and the Chocolate Factory and Matilda, wrote silly books that often vilified adults while creating ridiculous scenarios that allowed children to come out on top.

In between the zany plots, he inserted countless bits of his commentary on the absurdities of everyday life.

Much of his books would jab at the British mannerisms, and faux politeness, insisting that life would be much better should folks simply say as they mean and go about their day.

Terry Pratchett

Pratchett’s irreverent books consistently created waves as his constant asides and footnotes interrupted his own stories.

He seemed to be getting in the way of telling his thoughts, but in a way that was so funny that it only added to the experience of reading his work.

In this way, owning the chaotic nature of his writing greatly benefited him and made his style one of the most distinctive of the turn of the millennium.

What is the Opposite of Humor?

The opposite of humor is seriousness, also known as sobriety.

This means total and utter seriousness, without a trace of irony or mirth.

Sobriety may be used in the most serious of communications, including legal proceedings, business communications, and medical procedures.

Humor vs. Sobriety

In literature, sobriety can be used to significant effect in a work that usually utilizes humor to emphasize a shift in tone.

This is often used to emphasize a loss of innocence in fiction or a period of mourning after a death.

A character that usually defaults to joking and tricks will be quiet, serious, and reserved.

However, seriousness can also be overdone and wrap back around to funny when misused, as again, humor comes from the subversion of expectations.

A dour salaryman at a carnival will look rather silly, even if he would look quite somber in a courtroom.

Other Related Literary Devices to Know

Humor doesn’t work alone, and it’s one of many literary devices that used to be less than sincere when creating a narrative. Check out these related literary devices and use them to strengthen your humor and build your craft.

  • Satire: Satire is used to mock reality, often real people. Historically, it’s been a great tool to humble institutions and individuals in need of humbling via ridicule.
  • Irony: In its simplest terms, irony is a departure from expectations. In literature, this can take on a myriad of forms.
  • Prose: Prose exists in opposition to the tightly formatted structure of poetry. The prose is where most modern written communication is conducted. Prose, due to its versatility, leaves much room for humor to play in, as it can be composed of a wide variety of expectations, rules, and styles.
  • Euphemism: A euphemism is a term that circumvents some of the discomfort associated with a word by using another word or term to describe it or skirt around it. A common use for euphemisms is when speaking of adult topics around children. A famous euphemism is ‘the bird and the bees. Humor, a device constantly playing with expectations, rules, regulations, and what is considered prim and proper, thrives in the negative space created by euphemism. Euphemisms are created out of the feeling that there is a need for a taboo topic to be avoided, which is the prime ground for humor to thrive upon.
  • Coincidence: In fiction, coincidence is a way to create meaning for something, especially out of two seemingly unrelated elements. Coincidence is the connection between things that have no other apparent connection, such as two strangers sharing a birthday. In a narrative, this is sometimes used to significant effect towards theme, drama, tragedy, or many devices. Coincidence can be a great way to strengthen humor by bolstering the sheer absurdity by thrusting the hilarity of one in a billion chances into reality.

Frequently Asked Questions

Comedy has been around as long as there have been humans to laugh, and likely even much longer than that.

Who Popularized Comedy of Humours?

Ben Johnson popularized the Comedy of Humours in the 16th century.

In this context, the humor described also refers to the humor often referenced in the context of medieval medicine.

What was the First Comedy?

Aristophanes is referred to in the Western world as the Father of Comedy, as his plays are the oldest surviving records of comedies.

However, even the existence of these plays indicates that many works preceded his own.

Even his early works were recorded to have won awards at drama competitions, indicating that a longstanding theater tradition was already established in Greece long before he began his career as a playwright.

The Value of Humor

Even in the most serious of works, traces of humor and lightness exist.

Consider incorporating small traces of humor into your work to interject one of the oldest pieces of human connection into your work.

Humor can take countless forms and can be engendered using countless tools.

Play around with what makes sense using your medium and your voice.

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