Humor

This semester we were challenged to take part in a Humor unit. This unit involved looking at famous humorous works such as Rhinoceros by Eugene Ionesco and Slaughterhouse-five by Kurt Vonnegut. The Humor Project was the project assigned to us at the end of the semester. Using all of the comedy techniques we had learned, we were asked to create our own humorous work to present to the class. I valued this project because I found it interesting to break down why we find things funny. It helped inform me about a topic I otherwise would have been oblivious to.

One of the requirements for this project was an analysis of two humorists. I instead chose to look at two tv shows as that more accurately reflects my project. The two shows I decided to look at were New Girl and The Office.

For my humor analysis, I chose to look at two of my favorite TV shows, “The Office”, and “New Girl”. These shows are both extremely engaging and will have you laughing out loud, but what’s the secret? Why do these shows make us laugh? Each of these shows incorporate so many different humor techniques to make us laugh. In the Office, metaphorical relationships are so critical to what makes us want to laugh and cry at the same time. For example Jim and Pam exhibit a metaphorical relationship at the start of the show when they are coworkers, but are essentially a married couple. Both shows use blue humor fairly often to make us laugh. They are not afraid of talking about sex, or body parts or functions. Banter is critical in both of these shows and is what keeps us engaged and on our toes. We can see banter between many of the characters throughout the show that keeps us laughing. Anecdotes can be seen clearly in both of these shows but are used in different ways. The Office has the unique position of including personal interviews that can help lead the story along in surprisingly funny ways. They can reveal information that another character does not know or include the characters personal anecdote or response to someone else’s. New girl uses anecdotes but they are more like the characters monologues. For example, Jess finds herself in all sorts of embarrassing situations which she then tells in entertaining anecdotes. In the Office, Jim plays several practical jokes on Dwight such as putting his stapler in jello. These jokes add a flair of fun and personality to the show. New girl contains a lot of witty humor and cutting remarks. All of the different personalities of the characters in the show results is a lot of wisecracks and situational humor. Ultimately, what I believe makes both these shows funny and is suggested by psychology today in their article “The Office: Why we laugh” is the awkward situations the characters find themselves in. There are some situations which are so uncomfortable your only option is to laugh. The comedic timing and extreme level of awkwardness these characters reach is ultimately what makes you burst out loud laughing. Especially in the Office, in order to get out of these awkward situations people use the comedic strategy of defusing anxiety, which often makes the situation even more awkward and essentially elevates it. The two main characters in these shows, Michael Scott (Steve Carell) and Jessica Day (Zooey Deschanel), take on unique personalities that make them over the top funny. Michael Scott is a unconventional boss of a paper company in Scranton Pennsylvania. He has no family and treats his employees with no filter and does not respect any ones boundaries. One of the comedy techniques Carell uses for this character is the Freudian slip. Michael Scott is always saying things that he is not supposed to and getting in trouble for that. He speaks his mind, and his thoughts tend to be childish and involve a lot of blue humor. Michael Scott says the things you simply do not say, which makes him extremely funny. Jessica Day is a completely different character. She is young, living in the city, at an awkward age in between living completely on her own and having roommates. She rooms with three guys which off the bat sets up for awkward situations.

I think after looking at these two extremely successful TV shows and characters, what I have seen is that awkward situations make us laugh. When we get uncomfortable enough we laugh. Personally, I have found that when I get stressed or frustrated enough I start laughing because that is the only way to express the emotion you are feeling. It’s the famous laugh cry. I find this kind of humor especially funny as I find awkward situations super excruciating and something I like to avoid at all costs. I also love the use of anecdotes in these two shows and think storytelling can be such an effective way to make people laugh. I am especially drawn to the more absurd stories as I think they work more effectively in making people smile at their ridiculousness. When looking at a sitcom, there is also an importance in making a character lovable and also someone completely unstandable. This is mastered in the Office with the character Michael Scott and something I strive to imitate. Giving characters multiple dimensions is also what makes them so entertaining. The reliability of humor is also so important in a successful tv show. We want characters that we can understand and relate too. Both New Girl amd The Office do this so well. Although we laugh at these absurd characters, there is something so relatable we can see in each them that reflects our own lives. In our fake show I aspire to create a realness that also elevates the absurdity of the situations the characters find themselves in. Banter is another comedy tool that I am drawn to in many of these tv shows. When the characters go back and forth with witty conversation it keep the audience engaged and ready to laugh. From a young age, my parents have introduced me to the concept of banter and how much it can improv a scenario that may otherwise seem boring. The Office is a prime example of this. These people are working in a small office, there is only so much that can happen there and yes they have nine seasons. This is a testament to how much of an impact the characters dialogue has on the show itself. As we are attempting to mimic Keeping up with the Kardashians, the banter our show contains might be more extreme and may contain yelling. Another comedy technique I would like to include is practical jokes. Since this is a reality Tv show the characters might play some of these pranks fn each other. A famous example of when I think of practical jokes is famous youtubers. These young people live in giant houses and are basically paid to play extreme practical jokes on each other. Although this may seem like a more simple form of comedy it is something people enjoy and will come back to watch more and more of. I am super excited to combine all of these different comedy techniques into one coherent TV show. I think that if we really focus on each of them we could come out with a product that is funny and keeps us and the audience laughing. These tools are excellent guides to creating something funny that also carries technical aspects of humor and can help us pinpoint what makes people laugh and find different scenarios entertaining.

The success of these two shows really helped to show me what works in making people laugh.

For our humor project, Makeda and I decided to tackle a show similar to keeping up with the Kardashians. The show would be based on Makeda’s family.

Yelling with the Yezalaleuls (aprox. 3 min)

Aida, Makeda, Yoni, Katie, Grace, Kyra, Leisha

Beginning

Leisha gets the mail

Aida: I never thought about this before, but like honestly… what does the fox say??

Grace: omg truee.

Leisha: You have been cordially invited to celebrate the taxidermy licensing of Nick-Rick-Bobby-Sloppy-Toppy III

*looks at camera annoyed*

family is happy and Makeda is fake clapping

Makeda (confessional): Guess somebody forgot about my jiu jitsu white belt ceremony tonight…

cries on camera

Car Scene

Katie’s driving & Aida’s in the front seat

Leisha, Makeda, and Grace are in the back seat

Grace and Makeda singing: 92 bottles of Voss on the wall 92 bottles of Voss take one down pass it around 37 bottles of Voss on the wall!…

Katie: do you guys think we should get Uncle Nicky a Dora balloon or a Spongebob balloon?

Aida: Are you being serious? This isn’t Up. And you know he’s afraid of balloons.

Dramatic music starts; Queue “fight”

Katie: What are you talking about? Are you forgetting about that time in Papua New Guinea when he showed us his balloon magic?

Aida: You mean the time he fed his dog helium and walked him around??

Makeda in the back is freaking out

Leisha is annoyed

Katie: You’re being ridiculous he never did that.

Aida: OH-I’M… *gets out phone* 911 we have an emergency…  

Aida jumps out of the car while it’s moving

Katie continues to drive

Katie (confessional): I just don’t understand why she had to do that. She was acting really immature.

Dinner Scene

Katie, Leisha, Makeda, & Grace show up to the door

Uncle Ricky opens the door: Salutations my- *looks up at ballon* *faints*

Aida (confessional): Told you.

Katie, Leisha, Makeda, & Grace walk right past Uncle Ricky’s body

Cut to everyone at dinner table except Aida.

*Aida walks in with someone*

Katie: who’s that?

Aida: Oh no one, just my massage therapist.

Queue dramatic music

Makeda (confessional): How could she?? She knows we have a family massage therapist.

Katie is tense

Makeda is taking pictures

Aida (confessional): I had to let them know…

Grace: Where’s the bathroom?

Uncle Ricky: Ah yes, the Barack room, it’s down the stairs and then second door to the right.

Grace sees door with Barack Obama’s face on it

Grace: Ah, this is what he meant when he said the Barack room…

Back to dinner table

Aida and David are seated

David (confessional): Hi my name is David and I’m a- *gets cut off*

Aida: Barata, David! Barata!

Katie (confessional): I think I’m going to have to use the child leash on her again.

Leisha (confessional): I’ve filed for emancipation.

*Back to Grace in the bathroom*

Grace is acting like a news reporter in the mirror

Grace (confessional): Sometimes to calm myself down, I’ll act like Anderson Cooper… It works like a charm!

*Back to dinner table*

Makeda: Wow Uncle Nick-Rick-Bobby-Sloppy-Toppy, that meal was delightful!

Uncle Nick: much obliged!

Makeda (confessional): I hope his taxidermy is better than is cooking. That meal was nAsTy.

All of the family looking out onto the horizon

Uncle Nick: thank you all so much for coming and helping me celebrate this new start to my life!

Katie: of course Nicholas anytime

Katie is holding Aida by a child leash and she’s trying to escape

Makeda is practicing her jujitsu

Grace is talking to herself in the mirror  

Leisha is starting the car and driving away

Battle of Ideologies

Imagine a life with no essential purpose. It is up to the individual to put meaning and rationality into a meaningless and irrational world. Think of the immense pressure to define ones value, in a place were none is given. This theory is known as existentialism. Humans have struggled with the nature of their existence for centuries, in order to make sense of it, many unique theories have come to light highlighting certain aspects of existence that make and keep us human. The book, “Slaughterhouse-five”, by Kurt Vonnegut, and the play  Rhinoceros by Eugene Ionesco, dive into this question and come out with very different perspectives. While these books struggle with existence, they keep the reader engaged with playful satire. This use of satire is effective because it not only causes the reader to laugh, but also think critically about the relationship between two different philosophical ideas and the danger of conformist thinking. In Slaughterhouse-Five, fate is already decided and ultimately there is nothing that can change the past, present, or future. This clashes significantly with the absurdist play Rhinoceros, which explains that free will is what stops us from conforming and keeps us human. Although these works both challenge opposing philosophical topics, they agree on the use of satire to make people reflect critically about the role of choice in human life.

These works rise many questions, but one of the most prominent is can we fight fate? How much influence do we really have in this life? This question is approached differently by each author. Rhinoceros argues that people are subject to their own rules and abilities. Slaughterhouse five disputes this by saying there is nothing that can change the path set before an individual. In an attempt to stay human and not succumb to the fate of his friends, who had turned into Rhinoceroses, Berenger, the protagonist in Rhinoceros says “I’ll put up a fight against the lot of them, the whole lot of them! I’m the last man left, and I’m staying that way until the end. I’m not capitulating!” (107). This quote demonstrates the fighting spirit and fierce belief in free will that exists in Rhinoceros. Despite the fact that all his friends have been transformed and he should have no hope, Berenger still fights for a better future. He believes in his power to create change and not give into conformist ideals. In contrast, in the novel Slaughterhouse five Billy Pilgrim has no influence in what happens in his life. An example we see of this is the serenity prayer, an adage that comes up several times in the novel. It reads “ God Grant Me, The Serenity to Accept, The Things I Cannot Change, Courage, To Change the Things I Can, And Wisdom Always, To Tell the, Difference”, “Among the things Billy Pilgrim could not change were the past, the present, and the future.” Page 60.  This quote is a clear illustration of the predeterministic ideals in Slaughterhouse Five. By not having influence in his life, Billy is not able to take responsibility for his actions, and the horror he was a part of.

Making us laugh and think critically, satire is an effective tool used in both of these novels. Satire is powerful as it brings to light issues that might otherwise be considered taboo or uncomfortable to talk about. For example Slaughterhouse five, a novel predominately about World War II, uses a form of satire, wit, to explain the reality of war, and how“…there would always be wars, that they were as easy to stop as glaciers” Page 3. This simple statement rings truth in the readers ears and inspires action. Action to stop the cycle of passiveness and stop giving in to what we believe we cannot change. This also invokes irony, as in the entire novel Billy Pilgrim is powerless and has no influence in his life’s direction. Another place we see irony is in Rhinoceros. The essential metaphor of people turning into rhinoceroses is satire in itself. It takes a concept that is often overlooked, conformity, and shoves it in our faces whilst making us laugh. We can also find these doses of truth tucked away while we are laughing. For example when Berenger is asking Jean where he can find the weapons, Jean responds “Within yourself. Through your own will.” (1.1.604-606) Making you reflect on your own motivation and individuality, Ionesco does an excellent job using satire to make people think critically.

Using compellingly different philosophical ideals to illustrate the danger of passiveness, Slaughterhouse five and Rhinoceros challenge people to take a look at themselves and their participation in their own lives. It is easier to go along with the crowd and do what one is told instead of fighting for what they believe in. Slaughterhouse five explains the dangers of acceptance and not taking control of what you can. A phrase seen over and over in this novel is “so it goes”. These three little words have so much power as they show the mindset of someone who cannot change any part of their lives. This phrase just accepts any situation and makes it okay even if it is absolutely not. The irony of when this phrase is most often used, after a death, gives it more of a gut punch when read. It makes the reader think about how often people accept what they cannot change without a question. Especially in the context of this book, written shortly after World War II, it forces people to evaluate their role in giving in. Instead of questioning what was going on around them, people allowed horrendous acts to happen that can not be taken back.  Rhinoceros achieves this same goal with the absurd nature of the play. In a later section of the play, Berenger, the protagonist argues that “your duty is to… you don’t see where your real duty lies… your duty is to oppose them with a firm, clear mind.” (Page 93)