Surreal Humor

Written by Henry Young. Posted in Humor

Surreal humor or, as it is also known, absurdist humor, is a category of humor based on intentional breaching of fundamental reasoning, leading to behaviors and events that are clearly irrational. Constructions of surreal humor have the tendency to include: non-sequiturs, illogical or absurd circumstances, juxtapositions and expressions of nonsense.

Surreal humor is the result of a subversion of the expectations of the public, thus amusement is has its foundation on unpredictability, without correlating it to a rational analysis of the situation. The resulted humor is so appealing because it is derived from a situation that is described to be extremely ridiculous or improbable. This genre of humor roots from Surrealism in the arts.

When absurdity and illogicality are used in order to obtain a humorous effect, we speak of surreal humor. Therefore, we can identify pioneers and early examples of surreal humor Through the Looking-Glass and Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland by Lewis Carroll, in both of which there are used absurdity and irrationality for humorous effect, such as: croquet matches that use live flamingos as mallets, hookah-smoking caterpillars, etc. Other examples are found in many of the poems and children stories written by Edward Lear, which comprise nonsense and are essentially surreal in style. A good example is The Story of the Four Little Children Who Went Round the World written in 1871 which is pervaded by opposing statements and eerie images with the intention to trigger the amusement of the reader.

At the beginning of the 20th century, many avant-garde movements, counting the surrealist, dadaists and the futurists, started to have discussions regarding a form of art that was loud, random and irrational. Their goal was in a way serious, and they were devoted to subverting the soberness and complacency of the contemporary artistic foundation. In consequence, a great part of their art was amusing on purpose.

Early surreal humor is found, as well, in the comedic and satirical elements of works of modern writers, who, also like Lear and Carroll, whose stories did not follow the normal rules of logic. Some examples of surrealist comedy are: the dark comedy found in Franz Kafka’s works, the stream of consciousness included in the works of James Joyce, William S. Burroughs, Jack Kerouac and Hunter S. Thompson or the poetry written by E. E. Cummings and Dylan Thomas. Moreover, surreal humor is also often found in the avant-garde theatre, for example: Rosencrantz & Guildenstern Are Dead and Waiting for Godot. Many other artists, such as Andy Warhol, Italo Calvino, Yoko Ono and many others have also used this technique in their work.

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