This blog is about Graphic Design, Vector Art, and Cartoon Illustration

August 11, 2016

Understanding silly humor, or deadpan

I like silly humor. And although some people might label it as "guy humor", I've known a lot of women who like silly humor, and it's really about anything that suddenly changes an expectation. That is, a dignified businessman doing a silly walk down a London street. And working for the Ministry of Silly Walks.

Most kids love silly humor. And they only understand silly humor when they understand what isn't silly. And that's why it's often described as "deadpan".

A "dead pan" means a face that isn't smiling (pan is a word for face). Take a look at John Cleese in the image at the top of this post - that's a dead pan. And it's the contrast between what he's doing (walking in a silly way) and his serious face that makes it so silly.

Silly humor, as we age, becomes irony, sarcasm, and satire. And it's all based on the same thing - an understanding of what is supposed to be, so that something silly can be added for humorous effect. Try this: picture a dignified person, such as a politician, and then picture them wearing something silly, like a ballet dress. If you didn't know that politicians weren't supposed to wear tutus, it wouldn't be silly. So, as we get older and learn more, simple silly humor gets replaced with some very sophisticated stuff, which often makes people say, "I don't get it".

Silly humor can also be something of a secret code with people. Since its predicated on a given knowledge set, like who celebrities are, or how cricket is played, it's only funny to people to have that knowledge set. Since I personally don't know anything about cricket, having the bowler aiming in the wrong direction wouldn't be silly to me (although I think they're supposed to be facing the batter?). To understand silliness takes a deep understanding of what things are supposed to be.

If you're not sure if you like silly humor, try this: if someone sends you an email asking them to come to their desk, type the word "Nope.", and then walk over there. Now that's silly, and the message is very dead pan! And it makes the world just a little bit more fun, because this is what friendly people do. Uh, don't do this to your boss, there could be misunderstandings! In fact, before you start acting silly, be absolutely sure of your audience - friends will think it's funny, strangers will either be puzzled, confused, or offended.

Sorry that it took me so long to type this, I'm afraid that my typing has gotten sillier as of late. I hope you understand.

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