Surreal humour

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Surreal humour (also known as absurdist humour or surreal comedy) is a form of humour predicated on deliberate violations of causal reasoning, producing events and behaviours that are obviously illogical. Constructions of surreal humour tend to involve bizarre juxtapositions, incongruity, non-sequiturs, irrational or absurd situations and expressions of nonsense. [1]

Contents

The humour arises from a subversion of audience expectations, so that amusement is founded on unpredictability, separate from a logical analysis of the situation. The humour derived gets its appeal from the ridiculousness and unlikeliness of the situation. The genre has roots in Surrealism in the arts. [1]

Surrealism in television follows the theme that "everything seems bizarre, possibly nightmarish, and certainly dream-like." [2] [ better source needed ]

Absurd and surreal humour is concerned with building expectations and proceeding to knock them down. In these acts, even seemingly masterful characters with the highest standards and expectations are subverted by the unexpected or by plans in collision, which the scene emphasizes for our amusement. Similarly, the goofball or stoic character reacts with dull surprise, dignified disdain, boredom and detached interest, thus heightening comic tension. Characters' intentions are set up in a series of scenes significantly different from what the audience might ordinarily encounter in daily life. The unique social situations, expressed thoughts, actions and comic lines are used to spark excessive emotion, laughter or surprise as to how the events occurred or worked out, in ways sometimes favorable to other unexpectedly introduced characters. [3] [4] [ better source needed ]

Theatre absurd humour is usually about the insensitivity, paradox, absurdity, and cruelty of the modern world. Absurd and surreal cinema often deals with elements of black humour; that is, disturbing or sinister subjects like death, disease, or warfare are treated with amusement and bitterness, creating the appearance of an intention to shock and offend. [5]

Literary precursors

Edward Lear, Aged 73 and a Half, and His Cat Foss, Aged 16, an 1885 lithograph by Edward Lear Edward Lear and His Cat Foss 1885.jpg
Edward Lear, Aged 73 and a Half, and His Cat Foss, Aged 16, an 1885 lithograph by Edward Lear

Surreal humour is the effect of illogic and absurdity being used for humorous effect. Under such premises, people can identify precursors and early examples of surreal humour at least since the 19th century, such as in Lewis Carroll's Alice's Adventures in Wonderland and Through the Looking-Glass , both of which use the illogical and absurd (hookah-smoking caterpillars, croquet matches using live flamingos as mallets, etc.) for humorous effect. Many of Edward Lear's children’s stories and poems contain nonsense and are basically surreal in approach. For example, The Story of the Four Little Children Who Went Round the World (1871) is filled with contradictory statements and odd images intended to provoke amusement, such as the following:

After a time they saw some land at a distance; and when they came to it, they found it was an island made of water quite surrounded by earth. Besides that, it was bordered by evanescent isthmuses with a great Gulf-stream running about all over it, so that it was perfectly beautiful, and contained only a single tree, 503 feet high. [6]

Relationship with dadaism and futurism

In the early 20th century, several avant-garde movements, including the dadaists, surrealists, and futurists began to argue for an art that was random, jarring and illogical. [7] The goals of these movements were in some sense serious, and they were committed to undermining the solemnity and self-satisfaction of the contemporary artistic establishment. As a result, much of their art was intentionally amusing.

Marcel Duchamp's Fountain (1917), an inverted urinal signed "R. Mutt". Duchamp Fountaine.jpg
Marcel Duchamp's Fountain (1917), an inverted urinal signed "R. Mutt".

One example is Marcel Duchamp's Fountain (1917), an inverted urinal signed "R. Mutt". This became one of the most famous and influential pieces of art in history, and one of the earliest examples of the found object movement. It is also a joke, relying on the inversion of the item's function as expressed by its title as well as its incongruous presence in an art exhibition. [8]

Etymology and development

The word surreal first began to be used to describe a type of aesthetic of the early 1920s.

Surreal humour is also found frequently in avant-garde theatre such as Waiting for Godot and Rosencrantz & Guildenstern Are Dead . In the United States, S. J. Perelman (1904–1979) has been identified as the first surrealist humour writer. [9]

Surrealist humour appeared on British radio from 1951 to 1960 by the cast of The Goon Show : Spike Milligan, Peter Sellers, and Harry Seacombe. [10] [11] :37 The Goons' work influenced the American radio comedy troupe the Firesign Theatre from 1966 to 2012. [12] [13] The Firesigns wrote sophisticated comic radio plays, many of which were recorded on albums.

Surrealist humour is predominantly approached in cinema where the suspension of disbelief can be stretched to absurd lengths by logically following the consequences of unlikely, reversed or exaggerated premises. Luis Buñuel is a principal exponent of this, especially in The Exterminating Angel . It is a prominent feature in the television and cinematic work of the British comedy troupe Monty Python (1969–2015). Other examples include The Falls by Peter Greenaway and Brazil by Terry Gilliam. [14] [15]

Today's Internet meme culture is also influenced by surreal humour. [16]

Analysis

Drs. Mary K. Rodgers and Diana Pien analysed the subject in an essay titled "Elephants and Marshmallows" (subtitled "A Theoretical Synthesis of Incongruity-Resolution and Arousal Theories of humour"), and wrote that "jokes are nonsensical when they fail to completely resolve incongruities," and cited one of the many permutations of the elephant joke: "Why did the elephant sit on the marshmallow?" "Because he didn't want to fall into the cup of hot chocolate." [17]

"The joke is incompletely resolved in their opinion," noted Dr. Elliott Oring, "because the situation is incompatible with the world as we know it. Certainly, elephants do not sit in cups of hot chocolate." [18] Oring defined humour as not the resolution of incongruity, but "the perception of appropriate incongruity," [19] that all jokes contain a certain amount of incongruity, and that absurd jokes require the additional component of an "absurd image," with an incongruity of the mental image. [20]

See also

Related Research Articles

Joke Display of humor using words

A joke is a display of humour in which words are used within a specific and well-defined narrative structure to make people laugh and is usually not meant to be taken seriously. It takes the form of a story, usually with dialogue, and ends in a punch line. It is in the punch line that the audience becomes aware that the story contains a second, conflicting meaning. This can be done using a pun or other word play such as irony or sarcasm, a logical incompatibility, nonsense, or other means. Linguist Robert Hetzron offers the definition:

A joke is a short humorous piece of oral literature in which the funniness culminates in the final sentence, called the punchline… In fact, the main condition is that the tension should reach its highest level at the very end. No continuation relieving the tension should be added. As for its being "oral," it is true that jokes may appear printed, but when further transferred, there is no obligation to reproduce the text verbatim, as in the case of poetry.

Surrealism International cultural movement started in 1917

Surrealism was a cultural movement which developed in Europe in the aftermath of World War I and was largely influenced by Dada. The movement is best known for its visual artworks and writings and the juxtaposition of distant realities to activate the unconscious mind through the imagery. Artists painted unnerving, illogical scenes, sometimes with photographic precision, creating strange creatures from everyday objects, and developing painting techniques that allowed the unconscious to express itself. Its aim was, according to leader André Breton, to "resolve the previously contradictory conditions of dream and reality into an absolute reality, a super-reality", or surreality.

<i>The Goon Show</i> BBC Radio show broadcast between 1951 and 1960

The Goon Show is a British radio comedy programme, originally produced and broadcast by the BBC Home Service from 1951 to 1960, with occasional repeats on the BBC Light Programme. The first series, broadcast from 28 May to 20 September 1951, was titled Crazy People; subsequent series had the title The Goon Show.

Theatre of the Absurd

The Theatre of the Absurd is a post–World War II designation for particular plays of absurdist fiction written by a number of primarily European playwrights in the late 1950s. It is also a term for the style of theatre the plays represent. The plays focus largely on ideas of existentialism and express what happens when human existence lacks meaning or purpose and communication breaks down. The structure of the plays is typically a round shape, with the finishing point the same as the starting point. Logical construction and argument give way to irrational and illogical speech and to the ultimate conclusion—silence.

Absurdist fiction

Absurdist Fiction is a genre of literature that arose in the 1950s and 1960s predominantly in France and Germany, prompted by post-war disillusionment.

The Firesign Theatre American surreal comedy group

The Firesign Theatre was an American surreal comedy troupe who first appeared on November 17, 1966, in a live performance on the Los Angeles radio program Radio Free Oz on station KPFK FM. They continued appearing on Radio Free Oz, which later moved to KRLA 1110 AM and then KMET FM, through February 1969. They produced fifteen record albums and a 45 rpm single under contract to Columbia Records from 1967 through 1976, and had three nationally syndicated radio programs: The Firesign Theatre Radio Hour Hour [sic] in 1970 on KPPC-FM; and Dear Friends (1970–1971) and Let's Eat! (1971–1972) on KPFK. They also appeared in front of live audiences, and continued to write, perform, and record on other labels, occasionally taking sabbaticals during which they wrote or performed solo or in smaller groups.

A punch line concludes a joke; it is intended to make people laugh. It is the third and final part of the typical joke structure. It follows the introductory framing of the joke and the narrative which sets up for the punch line.

British humour

British humour carries a strong element of satire aimed at the absurdity of everyday life. Common themes include sarcasm, insults, self-deprecation, taboo subjects, puns, innuendo, wit, and the British class system. These are often accompanied by a deadpan delivery which is present throughout the British sense of humour. It may be used to bury emotions in a way that seems unkind in the eyes of other cultures. Jokes are told about everything and almost no subject is off-limits, though a lack of subtlety when discussing controversial issues is sometimes considered insensitive. Many British comedy series have become internationally popular, serving as a representation of British culture to international audiences.

Four Surrealist Manifestos are known to exist. The first two manifestos, published in October 1924, were written by Yvan Goll and André Breton, the leaders of rivaling Surrealist groups. Breton published his second manifesto for the Surrealists in 1929, and wrote his third manifesto that was not issued during his lifetime.

Absurd or The Absurd may refer to:

An absurdity is a thing that is extremely unreasonable, so as to be foolish or not taken seriously, or the state of being so. "Absurd" is an adjective used to describe an absurdity, e.g., "Tyler and the boys laughed at the absurdity of the situation." It derives from the Latin absurdum meaning "out of tune", hence irrational. The Latin surdus means "deaf", implying stupidity. Absurdity is contrasted with seriousness in reasoning. In general usage, absurdity may be synonymous with ridiculousness and nonsense. In specialized usage, absurdity is related to extremes in bad reasoning or pointlessness in reasoning; ridiculousness is related to extremes of incongruous juxtaposition, laughter, and ridicule; and nonsense is related to a lack of meaningfulness. Absurdism is a concept in philosophy related to the notion of absurdity.

An elephant joke is a joke cycle, almost always an absurd riddle or conundrum and often a sequence of such, that involves an elephant. Elephant jokes were a fad in the 1960s, with many people constructing large numbers of them according to a set formula. Sometimes they involve parodies or puns.

A non sequitur is a conversational literary device, often used for comedic purposes. It is something said that, because of its apparent lack of meaning relative to what preceded it, seems absurd to the point of being humorous or confusing.

Anti-humor is a type of indirect and alternative humor that involves the joke-teller's delivering something that is intentionally not funny, or lacking in intrinsic meaning. The practice relies on the expectation on the part of the audience of something humorous, and when this does not happen, the irony itself is of comedic value. Anti-humor is also the basis of various types of pranks and hoaxes.

After Magritte is a surreal comedy written by Tom Stoppard in 1970. It was first performed in the Green Banana Restaurant at the Ambiance Lunch-hour Theatre Club in London.

Comedy (drama)

Comedy is entertainment consisting of jokes intended to make an audience laugh. For ancient Greeks and Romans a comedy was a stage-play with a happy ending. In the Middle Ages, the term expanded to include narrative poems with happy endings and a lighter tone. In this sense Dante used the term in the title of his poem, the Divine Comedy.

There are many theories of humor which attempt to explain what humor is, what social functions it serves, and what would be considered humorous. Among the prevailing types of theories that attempt to account for the existence of humor, there are psychological theories, the vast majority of which consider humor to be very healthy behavior; there are spiritual theories, which consider humor to be an inexplicable mystery, very much like a mystical experience. Although various classical theories of humor and laughter may be found, in contemporary academic literature, three theories of humor appear repeatedly: relief theory, superiority theory, and incongruity theory. Among current humor researchers, there is no consensus about which of these three theories of humor is most viable. Proponents of each one originally claimed their theory to be capable of explaining all cases of humor. However, they now acknowledge that although each theory generally covers its own area of focus, many instances of humor can be explained by more than one theory. Similarly, one view holds that theories have a combinative effect; Jeroen Vandaele claims that incongruity and superiority theories describe complementary mechanisms which together create humor.

Comedy Genre of dramatic works intended to be humorous

Comedy is a genre of fiction consisting of discourses or works intended to be humorous or amusing by inducing laughter, especially in theatre, film, stand-up comedy, television, radio, books, or any other entertainment medium. The term originated in Ancient Greece: in Athenian democracy, the public opinion of voters was influenced by political satire performed by comic poets in theaters. The theatrical genre of Greek comedy can be described as a dramatic performance pitting two groups, ages, genders, or societies against each other in an amusing agon or conflict. Northrop Frye depicted these two opposing sides as a "Society of Youth" and a "Society of the Old." A revised view characterizes the essential agon of comedy as a struggle between a relatively powerless youth and the societal conventions posing obstacles to his hopes. In this struggle, the youth then becomes constrained by his lack of social authority, and is left with little choice but to resort to ruses which engender dramatic irony, which provokes laughter.

Ridiculous

To be ridiculous is to be something which is highly incongruous or inferior, sometimes deliberately so to make people laugh or get their attention, and sometimes unintendedly so as to be considered laughable and earn or provoke ridicule and derision. It comes from the 1540s Latin "ridiculosus" meaning "laughable", from "ridiculus" meaning "that which excites laughter", and from "ridere" meaning "to laugh". "Ridiculous" is an adjective describing "the ridiculous".

Ash Lieb is an Australian artist, writer and comedian, known for his surreal humour and art. Born in Ballarat, Ash Lieb began exhibiting art at eight years of age, and at the age of fifteen, wrote his first novel, The Secret Well. Throughout his career, Lieb has created a diverse range of artworks, books, short films, and comedic performances, which have often possessed philosophical or psychiatric undertones.

References

Citations

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  2. "Surrealism".
  3. "Didn't See That Coming".
  4. "TheStoic".
  5. "Theatre Of The Absurd Humour Often Relies On A Sense Of Hopelessness And Violence". 123HelpMe.com. Retrieved 1 May 2019.
  6. Lear, Edward. Nonsense Songs, Stories, Botany, and Alphabets.
  7. Buelens, Geert; Hendrix, Harald; Jansen, Monica, eds. (2012). The History of Futurism: The Precursors, Protagonists, and Legacies. Lexington Books. ISBN   978-0-7391-7387-9.
  8. Gayford, Martin (16 February 2008). "Duchamp's Fountain: The practical joke that launched an artistic revolution". The Telegraph . Retrieved 5 February 2017.
  9. McCaffery, Larry (1982). "An interview with Donald Barthelme". Partisan Review . 49: 185. People like SJ Perelman and EB White—people who could do certain amazing things in prose. Perelman was the first true American surrealist—ranking with the best in the world surrealist movement.
  10. McCann, Graham (2006). Spike & Co. London: Hodder & Stoughton. ISBN   0-340-89809-7. (a) pp.4, 5, 61; (b)p.183, (d) pp.180, 181, (e)p.203
  11. Wilmut, Roger; Jimmy Grafton (1976). "The Birth of the Goons". The Goon Show Companion - A History and Goonography. London: Robson Books. ISBN   0-903895-64-1. ...one puzzled planner was heard to ask, 'What is this "Go On Show" people are talking about?
  12. "FIREZINE #4: Under the Influence of the Goons". Firezine.net. Winter 1997–1998. Archived from the original on June 27, 2006. Retrieved October 28, 2012.
  13. Ventham, Maxine (2002). Spike Milligan: His Part In Our Lives. London: Robson. ISBN   1-86105-530-7.
  14. Vogel, Amos (2005). Film as a Subversive Art. New York: Random House. ISBN   0-394-49078-9.
  15. Williams, Linda (1992). Figures of Desire: An Analysis of Surrealist Film. University of California Press. ISBN   0-520-07896-9.
  16. Hoins, Megan (2016). ""Neo-Dadaism": Absurdist Humor and the Millennial Generation". Medium.
  17. Chapman, Antony J.; Foot, Hugh C., eds. (1977). It's A Funny Thing, Humor. Pergamon Press. pp. 37–40.
  18. Oring 2003 , pp. 20–21
  19. Oring 2003 , p. 14
  20. Oring, Elliott (1992). Jokes and Their Relations. University Press of Kentucky. pp. 21–22.

Cited works