More Teqhniques and Forms

AUSSIE HUMOUR – More Techniques and Forms


Contributed by Ian M Johnstone


Surprise and ‘Pleasure in Others’ Misfortunes!’

Two common characteristics of humour are surprise and schadenfreude, or    pleasure in others’ misfortunes.  The definition offered by Thomas Hobbes in his book,  Human Nature, written in 1650 includes these two elements.

Laughter is nothing else but sudden glory arising from some sudden conception of some eminency in ourselves, by comparison with the infirmity of others or with our own formerly.

The notion of surprise includes the unexpected, new, inventive, peculiar, odd, outlandish, bizarre, strange, foreign, barbarous, grotesque, queer, absurd, nonsensical, ludicrous, ridiculous, foolish, silly, idiotic, incongruous, ironic, inconsistent, farcical and confused.  Professor Harry Heseltine puts forward the following propositions:

All comedy derives from confusion of any and every variety, a subversive lack of order which yet shows itself capable of being resolved back into order.

Robert Frost once described poetry as a temporary stay against confusion.  I would describe comedy as a temporary surrender to and pleasure in confusion.  (‘Managing the Unmanageable: The Chicken, Stork and Banana Skin’, published in the special issue of the Australian Journal of Comedy Vol. 3 No. 1, (1997),  p. 94)

Similarly, James Thurber wrote in the New York Post 29 February 1960 ‘Humour is emotional chaos remembered in tranquillity.’  It is worth recalling that we use the same word funny to mean both laughable and odd.  Ian Hay pointed this out when he wrote in The Housemaster  in 1938. ‘What do you mean, funny?  Funny-peculiar or funny ha-ha?’

Pleasure in Others’ Misfortunes

The element of schadenfreude has often been remarked upon.   For example, Jane Austen, wrote in Pride and Prejudice in 1813 ‘For what do we live, but to make sport for our neighbours, and laugh at them in our turn?’  Similarly, Will Rogers wrote in The Illiterate Digest in 1924: ‘Everything is funny as long as it is happening to somebody else’.

Brevity and Indirectness

Two of humour’s basic techniques are brevity and indirectness.  Humour hints and is economical.  It is mostly pithy with implications, solid with innuendoes and terse with inferences.  It is, at the same time, concise and succinct but circuitous, oblique and roundabout.  Thus John Eales, current captain of the Australian Wallabies Rugby Union Team is called ‘Nobody’ because ‘Nobody’s perfect’.  Was there ever a more flattering and amusing compliment ever paid?

Stupidity (of Other Races)

The two main subjects of humour, apart from sex, are stupidity and meanness.  It is very common for these topics to get mixed up with racial intolerance.  Typically, Australians make jokes about the stupidity of the Irish and the meanness of the Scots.  In USA stupidity is attributed to the Poles.  Apparently in Holland the Belgians are paid out for being dumb, and the Germans for being ungenerous.  Consider these examples:

The head boy at an Irish school was very good at sport but not very good at lessons.  The headmaster announced at assembly that he couldn’t stay on at school because he failed exams.  The whole school shouted with one voice ‘Give him another chance.  Give him another chance.’  The headmaster agreed to do this and asked the sporting hero, ‘What is five times twenty five?’  He thought for a long time, and then said tentatively ‘One hundred and twenty five’.  The whole school yelled with one voice ‘Give him another chance.  Give him another chance.’!


Pat said to Mick ‘I’m very worried about that bomb on the back seat going off if we have an accident’.  Mick hastened to reassure him that there was nothing to worry about because he had a spare bomb in the boot!