Wednesday, June 23, 2010

Analysing the "surprise" element in humor

I had written a short essay where I gave a general ode to great comedians out there that were perfecting their craft. In this posting, I will alert the reader to a great "old school" comedian from the 80's named Emo Philips. Many of you already know who he is because he is famous but there are still countless others that may not be aware of who he is but should. Too often an "eccentric" or "weird" artist gets over looked for the real talent that they possess. In the case of Emo, he was an excellent writer. The reader needs to overlook the annoying voice and mannerisms to fully appreciate the talent that he possesses. There is a well known maxim in comedy that says that without a "surprise" there is no humor. Thus the audience member laughs when he/she "gets" the joke. It's one of the fundamental things in comedy that great comedians do. Notice in the construction of the jokes how he sets up the premise which forces you to assume something about his story only to have the punchline not only shatter that assumption but have it re-interpret another compatible/different story. The casual observer of comedy may never really take time to deconstruct the body of a joke but if you ever do, you will beging to appreciate the skill that is needed to pull it off. Notice several things with Emo Philips:

1- The efficiency of his words. He says enough to let you get the joke and doesn't add unnecessary words.
2- The visual language that adds to the story or joke.
3-The timing or delivery of his jokes
4- The clever and unique use of punchlines.

Until I began to take comedy a bit more serious, It was easy to overlook the subtle techniques that are used by great comedians. In the case of Emo Philips, he is the master of crafting clear premises with surprise punchlines. Enjoy


  1. Timing is everything! Its a real talent if you can develop it. Respects to those who have.

  2. I recently wrote a book of humorous essays I am passing around to agents right now. This (the element of surprise) is something I was conscious of while writing, so it was interesting to see you outline it here. I think I will learn a lot from reading your blog.

  3. Cool. I'm going to highlight different artists that specialize in different things for example soon, I will focus on another comedian that is good at sacrcasm and interpreting things literally to a fault. I'm glad that it was of use to you. On the weekends I tend to do more personal,random stuff to personalize the blog.