Friday, July 25, 2008

Humor Conception 101

The best conceived gags involve the element of surprise. It's that act of being caught off guard that evokes laughter. Whether your style of presenting humor is verbal or visual, the objective is the same--to catch the audience off guard. In some ways it can be like a magic act. You're using redirection to lead the audience one way while pulling a rabbit out of the hat when they least expect it.

There are several devices that can accomplish this. But I'll focus on exaggeration/understatement for today. Exaggeration/understatement takes a concept and either overplays or underplays it for effect. The following is an example of exaggeration/understatement.

I've found this to be the easiest type of humor to use in illustrating serious subjects in a light manner. Simply take a fact from the article, and either exaggerate what is being said, or understate it in a way that drives the point home. Here is an illustration for a series I tied to the Atlanta Olympics. The concept of the series was "A Perfect 10 Olympic Trivia Facts." So each of the illustrations dealt with a sports fact related to the Olympics, exaggerated visually in each case. The item for this example was, "The first tandem rowing event in the Olympics was introduced by a team comprised of whalers."

illustrations copyright J.Pittman, 1994 and 1996

As an assignment, take a fact like, "No matter what your age, exercising can be beneficial." Think of an exaggerated or understated way of presenting the fact in a light and humorous way. It could be a workout gym scene in a retirement home, where a bunch of old codgers are preparing for a pole vault event with their canes, a lady with a walker is going at blurring speed on a treadmill, etc. The more elements like those that you add to the scene will heighten the absurdity of it all while still illustrating the fact of the benefits of exercise.

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