The Humor Project was designed to find comic relief in a time of great stress while undergoing our biggest project of all: Zenith. In class, we experimented with a variety of comedic improvisation exercises, studied various professional pieces of visual, written, and spoken humor, learned comedic terms and techniques, and scripted and delivered an original performance. Our assignment was to choose between stand up comedy, a comedic narrative, a commencement speech, and satire to perform in front of our class.
My group, which consisted of me and five friends, decided to follow the root of a comedic narrative mixed with a satire. We pre-recorded a mockumentary about a secretive community of flat-earthers. We were inspired by humorists like Key & Peele along with Jimmy Tatro for their execution of sketch comedy that seemed to fit with the theme of our project.
I am so grateful to have been able to work with the talented people I did because it made this entire process so enjoyable overall. There were times when we couldn’t even keep going because the improvisation is so funny. This project really allowed us to be creative and free in our attempts to make an audience laugh and I’m really proud of what we accomplished.
Here is the final product:
In the expansive world of comedy, there are many individuals who use tools and techniques effectively in order to produce a genuine comedic response from their audience. As expected, different styles of comedy can provoke different emotions from viewers. Personally, I am inspired by comedians who use original and offensive material about themselves or someone opposite of them in a creative way.
One comedian who I find truly enticing is Jim Gaffigan. Gaffigan is widely known for his use of self-deprecating humor and constant material about food. He first came to success after his appearance on The Late Show with David Letterman. He really focuses on the hyper-visibility of mundane events in life. He seems to overanalyze everything that we never really pay attention to in a way that is relatable. I feel that his main goal is to appeal to the general mediocrity of society that we tend to ignore in order to appeal to our own egos. One significant tool that mirrors these ideas is the Non-Hero Tool. This outlines the idea of an ordinary man taking actions that he’s not at all equipt for in hopes to still win. In one of Gaffigan’s performances, he talks about how he bombed a performance opening for the Pope. He mentions how he did not prepare at all for the performance so he did his studying on Philadelphia before the show. He ended up going into it confident until he brought up a sore subject that evoked a lot of booing. He kept going, ignorant to the fact that half of the crowd was in the process of leaving him harsh threats on his twitter and that’s an incident he will never live up. He also uses an abundance of situational humor through his experiences in public, anecdotes, verbal irony, defusing anxiety, and black humor. All of these techniques combine together to translate into Gaffigan’s effortlessly awkward humor that relates to his audience at levels that at times may be too deep.
Another well-known set of comedians who showcase similar comedic techniques at times are Key and Peele. This duo of humorists are well known for their comedy sketches that go viral in the world of comedy. The first episode of their comedy show aired in 2012, and ran up until 2015. Their success sprouted from their focus on racially-charged issues that made audiences laugh while challenging their thinking. In one of their most famous sketches, “Substitute Teacher”, an African American teacher comes into a classroom of white students and mispronounces all of their names. In this sketch, the duo used banter, exaggerism, situational irony, and satire. These techniques are pretty different than those of Jim Gaffigan, probably because of the backgrounds and upbringing of these separate comedians. Key and Peele commonly riff off of situations that have happened to them in the past, similar to Gaffigan, except for the fact that a lot of people may not have experienced those same events to Key and Peele. They seem to highlight topics that help to spread awareness to their audiences about the experiences of a victim in a comedic way, whereas Gaffigan uses his personal experiences to show his audience that we’re all the same. Regarding successful tools, it is clear that Key and Peele seem to use the Straight line/wavy line mentality where everything seems to be normal, but isn’t.
Overall, I believe there is a lot to take from both of these humorists. I really appreciate the realness of the material of Key and Peele, as i feel that it is important to touch on relative information in a way that will be understood by an audience. That’s why there are so many politically driven comedians, because they can use humor to shed light on what is actually happening in our country. And often, these sources of news are the most straightforward and change provoking.
After learning about the techniques of Jim Gaffigan, I am immensely inspired by his use of diffusing anxiety, as I feel that it gives a realistic idea of what our brain tells us when we are experiencing an awkward interaction. His whole sets seem to be based on internal thoughts being externalized, which is a very unique idea that explores the vulnerability of self. He seems to be really good at making everyone in the audience realize that they probably feel just as bad about themselves as he does, but in a funny way. Another technique that he uses is situational humor, which spends a lot of time picking about the mundanity of anecdotes in his day to day life. It’s so hilarious when you realize how ridiculous some of the things that you do subconsciously are. And what makes it funny is that you don’t realize that you’re doing them until someone points them out.
The idea of the non-hero tool really appeals to me because I feel like it’s easily forgotten how lame we all are (sadly) under all of the effort we put into maintaining our perfect image. In modern society, it’s more acceptable to carry ourselves in a proper way that totally put our true emotions in a cage, so when someone is able to talk about these awkward flaws in themselves, it’s easy to feel connected to that person because we have a newfound respect for them. I think this tool will be extremely helpful while trying to write and perform a comedy sketch for the humor project because the material I write can be more vulnerable than what’s normal and disregarded on a random day.
Having seen an abundance of Key and Peele sketches, I feel that I will be able to use a lot of the same techniques they perform so effortlessly but in my own way. I really admire their use of exaggerism because it takes a situation that would normally provoke laughter in those who recognize the irony and repurpose it to appeal to the variety of humor preferences. By playing up these jokes, more and more people will be able to watch and realize that they have experienced this before, but it would’ve been inappropriate to laugh at the given time. I also love the use of satire and making fun of events that may use some black/blue humor. It turns a commonly offensive situation into one that can be laughed at because of how ridiculous it is. For example, they do a parody/spin on the show Undercover Boss, because of the forced nature of the show that people have often made fun of. By taking something that is well known for being overdramatic, like Hallmark, it is easy to have a platform to make it over the top in a scenario that would never actually happen.
For my humor project, I will definitely use the techniques shown by both of these humorists in order to build my relatability and trust with my audience. In addition, I will keep in mind techniques used in Key and Peele sketches that appeal to the hidden humor in everyday life in hopes that people will get to see a fantasy idea of a comedic world that only exists in humor sketches. Overall, studying humor encourages me to use satire, irony, exaggeration, and other techniques to provoke laughter in my audience.
Following World War II, there have been many popular novels that were written as an objection to conformity. Two examples of novels that fall in this category are Rhinoceros by Eugene Ionesco and Slaughterhouse-Five by Kurt Vonnegut. Rhinoceros is an absurdist play that follows the life of one man, Berenger, who rebels against conformist ideas of the mind which lead the rest of the characters in the book to become rhinos. Ionesco satirizes the vulnerability of a whole society by turning the majority of the townspeople into a pack of rhinos, ridiculing the popular ideas that people subconsciously follow. Slaughterhouse-Five is an anti-war novel that uses a non-linear storytelling method about one man who is “unstuck” in time. Along the way, he shares stories of his time as a chaplain’s assistant in the army, a war prisoner of the Germans, a father, and many other identities. Under the idea of being unstuck in time, the author hopes to explain the newfound numbness to new experiences that war veterans experience due to the weight of the situations they have experienced in war. Between these two pieces of work, there is a lot of parallels when it comes to the story arch of the main character trying to avoid falling victim to the orthodoxy of everyone else surrounding them. They both also use many humor techniques as comic relief based on the many instances of absurdity seen in either story that make us sit back and question our own lives and our chances at being dehumanized by the media. Rhinoceros and Slaughterhouse-Five employ unconventional narratives and absurdity to define their protagonists’ complex relationship to free will.
When reviewing their acceptance to fate in both of the novels, there is an evident sense of calmness and neutrality in the minds of both main characters. When the first rhinoceros is spotted pummeling through the center of a middle class suburb in France in the Play Rhinoceros, Ionesco chooses to use repetition and situational irony to convey the relatively undisturbed citizens of the town: “[Jean:] Oh, a rhinoceros! [Logician:] Oh, a rhinoceros! [Old Gentlemen:] Oh, a rhinoceros!” (Ionesco 25). Ionesco uses repetition to clarify the absurdity and calmness seen by all of the townspeople after spotting the first rhinoceros. It seems as though everyone is surprised to see it but then carries on with their day as if nothing happened after it passed. At first, everyone seems to forget about the rhinoceros occurrence, and as the play continues, more and more of the character who first reacted to the whole incident were also identified to have transitioned. However, this whole time, Berenger remains stagnant in his idea that the whole transformation is a conscious act of succumbing to external peer pressure. Throughout Slaughterhouse-Five, Vonnegut also uses the technique of repetition as the main character, Billy Pilgrim repeats the phrase “So it goes” after anyone dies: “Toward the end of the maneuvers, Billy was given an emergency furlough home because his father, a barber in Ilium, New York, was shot dead by a friend while they were out hunting deer. So it goes” (Vonnegut 32). The repetition and defusing anxiety communicated in this quote outlines Billy Pilgrim’s view on life and death. It isn’t uncommon for war veterans to be numb to pain and death because of how much they see it in the field. However, I believe that this mindset also defines his character by showing that life is more of a movie that he is not in control of rather than a game that he can manipulate, which he clearly dislikes. Pilgrim’s desire to own his free will is very evident but unattainable, which leaves him feeling purposeless. Both novels use a sense of defusing anxiety and irony to make something grand seem like nothing at all. I believe that this provides a clear idea of the messages of both of these novels because of the static tone that I picked up from the language used.
Both protagonists seem to inhabit a world that they don’t fit into. As a majority of the characters in Rhinoceros seem to have already undergone transformations into rhinos, Berenger faces threats to his free will when he is warned by his acquaintances that “people who try to hang on to their individuality always come to a bad end!” (Ionesco Act 3). In other words, individuality is heavily looked down upon in this world. Rhinoceros creates a dystopia where everyone eventually gives into the transition from being a human to being a rhino and Berenger is the only one refuting that. Similarly, Billy Pilgrim in Slaughterhouse-Five attempts to explain his situation in life by writing articles in the news about the aliens who abducted him and gave his life purpose, which angers and disgusts Pilgrim’s daughter Barbara, who believes her father to be insane:
“All moments, past, present, and future, always have existed, always will exist. The Tralfamadorians can look at all the different moments just the way we can look at a stretch of the Rocky Mountains, for instance. They can see how permanent all the moments are, and they can look at any moment that interests them. It is just an illusion we have here on earth that one moment follows another one, like beads on a string, and that once a moment is gone it is gone forever” (Vonnegut 27).
This snippet of Pilgrim’s thoughts is key in understanding the unconventional narrative of Billy Pilgrim and how he faces experiences. It shows that rather than following one story path, Billy exists in all aspects of life at the same time. Therefore, he is merely a spectator of his own life. Nonetheless, it becomes clear to us that this is a special case when his daughter Barbara responds to seeing his writing in the news by locking him in his room and deciding that he has gone crazy. Of course, it seems absurd that anyone would ever be abducted by aliens in real life, but Pilgrim seems to have a pretty vast knowledge of the creatures he met and the guidance that he received from them. In both circumstances we are able to visualize the strength that both of these characters posses in order to maintain their individual thoughts in an orderly world.
At the end of each work, the determination of both of the main character remains strong, making us think that they have come to terms with their oddities and choose to continue to think differently because the world is theirs anyways. Nearing the end of Rhinoceros, Berenger decides to voice his uncommon opinion while arguing with one of his good friends who began to show signs of transitioning: “But if one really doesn’t want to, really doesn’t want to catch this thing, which after all is a nervous disease––then you don’t catch it, you simply don’t catch it!” (Ionesco 76). This highlights the mental challenge within the process of transitioning to a rhinoceros. Berenger tells himself this to reassure that he won’t fall victim to the same dangerous narrative of conformity. For Billy Pilgrim, more reassurance was needed for him to understand why he had to undergo these life circumstances that he was not a fan of:
That is a very Earthling question to ask, Mr. Pilgrim. Why you? Why us for that matter? Why anything? Because this moment simply is. Have you ever seen bugs trapped in amber?
Well, here we are, Mr. Pilgrim, trapped in the amber of this moment. There is no why. (Vonnegut 77)
This dialogue between Pilgrim and the Tralfamadorian suggests that human-centric senses of reality and importance is highly skewed based on the negatives of life. Vonnegut parallels Earth and another planet as a way to put our lives into perspective. In this life, we get so caught up in the present, without realizing that it probably won’t even matter in a few years. Regardless of the liking for their individuality, both characters share an unconventional narrative that leaves them in a place that is unexplainable to anyone else. In addition, they both do a great deal of soul searching to determine why they feel so strongly about the perseverance of their unique identities that don’t seem to mesh well with anyone that they interact with.Rhinoceros and Slaughterhouse-Five each question the nature of free will; Berenger’s determination and the unconventional narrative storyline of Pilgrim’s life allow us to view our own lives in the same absurdist perspective in order to determine if power or the lack thereof is what truly defines our character. In Ionesco’s Rhinoceros, the main character Berenger is illustrated to be the image of rebellion against the societal norms of the town he lives in. As the world around him falls to an absurdist fate, he is able to examine existentialism in a way that encourages him to follow his own path. Furthermore, in Vonnegut’s Slaughterhouse-Five, the main character known as Billy Pilgrim declares his puzzle piece life early on, which provides a stunning visual interpretation of how trauma affects war veterans. After thoroughly dissecting both of these authors, I have noticed not only the humor techniques used but also the anecdotal story frames implemented in order to translate back to the real world. I am able to step back and compare the transitional period of those who became rhinos to my life experiences where the people I used to call my friends became someone new when introduced to a new set of societal expectations. Likewise, I can appreciate the use of aliens describing why life is the way it is because of its similarity to the ways that I establish reality in my own life: through dreams. In the end, both of these literary works use tools and techniques to focus on one specific incident of the absurdity of conformity in life, in hopes to inspire their audience to apply similar logic and thinking to their own lives.