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Anti-Humour - The New 'Alternative Comedy'?
Question:"What did the little boy with no arms or legs get for Christmas?"
Offensive? distasteful? Or funny? If you like this joke then you are one of a growing number of people to appreciate 'anti-humour', a new genre of humour gaining cult status in both the UK and US. Purposely countering comedy tradition, many say it is overtaking observational humour to become the new ‘alternative comedy.’
Wikipedia describes it as ‘a type of indirect humour that involves the joke-teller delivering something which is deliberately not funny or lacking in intrinsic meaning'. Originally an underground phenomenon, anti-humour now has a countless number of fans including mainstream comedians such as Bill Bailey and Jimmy Carr. Websites dedicated to jokes (such as comedy central's site) have caught onto the penomenon and have begun including an anti-humour or anti-joke section. But is anti-humour the future of comedy or just a passing phase?
In effect an ‘umbrella’ term, Anti-humour takes under its wing a number of joke-telling styles. Below are some examples,
The mundane ending relies on introducing an unexpectedly commonplace ending.
Q:What is the difference between a boy and a girl?
A:The boy is eight times more likely to be convicted of murder.
Or in the unanticipated use of technical or circumlocutional language as in the popular ‘Johnny big head’ joke below,
Johnny comes back from school crying and says, "Mommy all the kids in the school say I have a big head."
His mother replies, "No you don't Johnny. You have a hideously deformed head. The other children are merely hiding the truth to protect your feelings."
Nonsense jokes are funny because they have no meaning or are illogical or absurd.
A guy decides to buy a new ceiling fan, but the salesman says, "Well I'm all out of tuna fish."
So the guy says louder, "I want a ceiling fan."
But the salesman says, "I told you, I'm all out of tuna fish."
The guy frustrated, yells, "I WANT A CEILING FAN!"
Then the salesman takes his earplugs out, and says, "Oh I'm sorry, I couldn't hear you. I thought you were a guy who wanted tuna fish."
Dark humour attempts to shock the recipient, often taking something harmless and extracting humour by giving it a sinister twist (such as the dead baby jokes currently popular),
Q:Why did the Jolly Green Giant get kicked out of the garden?
A:Statutory rape of a guard.
A shaggy dog story is an elongated and involved joke with a feeble or nonexistent ending. Its humour relies on its anti-climactic punch line. Take a look at this example ( http://www.badpuns.com/jokes.php?section=shaggy&name=shaggydog )
Although there is no doubt that there has been a recent upsurge in the popularity of 'anti-humour', it could be argued that the origins of the genre have been around since modern comedy began. Probably one of the oldest jokes on the comedy circuit is ‘The Aristocrats’. Based on a short story involving a travelling family (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Aristocrats_(joke)), it encompasses all the above categories of ’anti-humour’ and is considered a kind of ‘secret handshake’ amongst many comedians. So popular is it in fact, that in 2005 a documentary film was based on it, featuring comedians such as Whoopi Goldberg, Billy Connelly and Eric Idle. Nevertheless, it's recognition only recently is another example of the popularity anti-humour has gained of late.
Anti-humour is unashamedly a rebellion against the classic joke. By subverting the traditional ending and/or increasing it's shock value, it turns the classic joke on its head, mocking it with it‘s own format. One wonders whether anti-humour always existed, as a kind of relief to comedians tired of worn out jokes. Maybe it was a way to bring humour back to comedy, so it wasn’t work anymore.
However, Todd Jackson writer of comedy blog http://www.dead-frog.com sees anti-humour more as a progression in comedy audience's tastes,
“It's for and from sophisticated audiences who know comedians and their tells well enough that it becomes funnier to watch humour eat its own tail than hear a tried-and-true punch line.”
He references a New York Times article that talks of the general public being much more self-conscious about being funny and in this way suggests a similarity between observational humour and anti-humour.
Anti-humour appears to be keeping fresh what is clearly well-worn territory. In the way that some conceptual artists bring life to what is an old establishment by taking a traditional format and subverting it, one could say that anti-humour is breathing new life into a tired comedy tradition. Just as all art forms naturally progress, anti-humour appears to be the next step for comedy. Particularly popular with young people and one site paving the way for the genre is www.itsnotfunny.co.uk which has some really a good / bad examples of anti humor that are submitted by university students from all over the country. It seems that anti-humour will only gain popularity over the next couple of years and that it is undeniably here to stay.
Interestingly, Jackson mentions that his online aristocrats joke database now also includes some aristocrats jokes that include a straight and clean version of the family’s act. It seems that even in the case of anti-humour, subversion can be subverted.
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