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November 2009
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Humour Devices that You Can Use to Evoke a Comic Effect

Unlike the stand-up comic who can use visuals, tone, timing, facial expressions, physical comedy, and so forth, to create laughs, the humorist or comic writer must use words to evoke amusement or laughter. There are no visuals or props. So, the humorist or writer of humour must know how to write well—in order to communicate something that the reader can imagine and find funny.

Yet, the ability to write well is not enough to make people laugh. The humorist or writer of humour must also know how to use various humour devices to create comic effect.

Here are 13 humour devices a writer can use to create a comic effect:

  • Satire. Using this device, the writer mocks or ridicules folly or vice, either the person who committed the act, or the folly or vice itself.
  • Parody. When the uses the writer uses this device, he/she imitates or mimics an artistic work for the purpose of satirizing or ridiculing ideas, subject matter, artistic work, or artist.
  • Lampoon. It is a bitter satire in verse or prose. Also known as invective.
  • Irony. There are three types that the writer can use to evoke comic effect. First, the writer can use verbal. Something is said or written that really means something else. Secondly, the writer can use situational irony. The actual outcome is different than the intended or expected outcome. Thirdly, the writer can use dramatic irony. This occurs when the writer allows the audience or reader to know more about a character or situation than the characters in the story.
  • Overstatement. This is also called “exaggeration” or “hyperbole.” It is a popular humour device. Essentially, the writer exaggerates the truth to evoke laughter or amusement.
  • Understatement. The writer deliberately understates something to mean the opposite of what he/she is communicating or suggesting, in order to create a comic effect. Writers often use this humour device to indicate that something is less important than it actually is. Understatement is the opposite of hyperbole or exaggeration.
  • Absurdity. Also known as farce. The humorist writes about unlikely or improbable situations, or ridiculous, far-fetched situations. For instance, screwball comedy.
  • Wordplay. The most common type of word play is a pun.
  • Metaphor and smile. To evoke laughter or amusement, the writer can make a comparison between two different things using “like” or “as.” This is called a simile. The writer can also write something funny by using a metaphor, comparing two dissimilar things without using “like” or “as.”
  • Truth. Events or incidents or behaviour that really happened can be funny or amusing. Life is absurd at times. The truth is often hilarious, especially in retrospect.
  • Anecdote. Telling a short story that makes a point can be funny.
  • Juxtaposition. The writer contrasts thoughts, feelings, attributes, actions, situations, and so forth, by placing them side by side to evoke amusement or laughter.
  • Incongruity. There is a disconnect between what the reader or audience expects and what actually occurs. There is a contrast between what one hopes and what actually happens. Or there is an unlikely connection. For instance, a tall, sexy young lady falls in love with a fat, old man. Essentially, for incongruity to succeed as a humour device, there must be an element of surprise, or the unexpected must happen.

You require a sense of humour to write humorous material. You also need to know what makes others laugh. And you need to be able to write well. And finally, you need to learn how to use the various  humour devices—such as satire, irony, and exaggeration—to write funny material.

To learn more on how to write humour or comedy, read” How to Write Funny”, edited by John B. Kachuba, and published by Writer’s Digest. Also, read “Comedy Writing Secrets” by Mel Helitzer and Mark Shatz.

Next, I will explain how to sharpen or develop your sense of humour.


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