Building blocks of comedy: #2: Looking at things differently

People we describe as having a ‘sense of humour’ are basically people who can look at things differently from normal. Comedians are people who have trained their minds to do this routinely – not to just follow the normal interpretations and associations but to go somewhere different from the usual. And every DIY comedian can get into this habit.

            Comedy-minded people constantly have part of their mind on the alert for something happening, or something said by themselves or someone else, that they can do an unusual ‘take’ on, and so create a humorous observation or start a funny train of thought. Looking at things differently is the other side of the coin of recognition. Together, they form the key to almost all comedy.

            This difference of perspective can apply at all levels from one-off individual observations to overall approaches to comedy. And the shift of perspective can range from slightly unusual to totally weird or surreal. Groucho Marx was a comedian who used this device all the time. He said, for instance, “Outside of a dog, a man’s best friend is a book. Inside of a dog, it’s too dark to read anyway.” He’s looking at the concept of ‘outside of a dog’ differently from the conventional. In this case he’s taking literally something which his audience would be used to interpreting as a metaphor – a highly effective version of perspective shift which is used by many comedians.