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 Incongruity Humor


 Incongruity Humor: Humor created by the juxtaposition of clashing or differing things or concepts or the juxtaposition of things or concepts with clashing words. Incongruity differs from Word Play, which juxtaposes word group to word group. Some scholars have claimed that all humor at its core is Incongruity. Because it can deal with physical realities, Incongruity can often be conveyed through a picture. 

Here Word Play and Incongruity work together. The incongruity in this joke—that a wine or a wine bottle might inhale or exhale—is emphasized by the presence of the wine bottle.


(Don and Aileen Nilsen, "Health and Humor," slide 9.


Incongruity is dependent on an appreciation of truth and reality.  If we don’t know what’s real, normal, true, we don’t know what is incongruous.

Shakespeare had a ball with Incongruity humor in Comedy of Errors, where double sets of twins, unaware of each other’s presence, confuse and confound each other and others with incongruous remarks and actions. The humor of the incongruity is enhanced by the “race-track” pace of frenetic action. (For a fuller discussion, see Comedy of Errors:  Comedy or Farce? )

In As You Like It, Rosalind, a woman (originally played by a man) impersonates a man to coach Orlando, a man, to woo him (her) (Rosalind). Word play sentence construction translates to Incongruity humor on stage. (For a fuller discussion, see As You Like It, as Enhanced by Humor.)

Midsummer Night’s Dream engages in delightful Incongruity when Bottom, a boastful actor wannabe, grows an ass’s head and Titania, the queen of the fairies, makes love to him. For a fuller discussion, see Midsummer Night's Dream: Comedy or Comickedy? )

American film comedy provides more recent examples of Incongruity humor based in mistaken identity in Dirty Rotten Scoundrels. Two slick conmen compete to defraud a patsy, only to learn that this seeming ingénue has led them on into her own scam. The conman-conned theme is in itself an Incongruity structure. The same structure creates deep thematic Incongruity in The Music Man.  (See  Dirty Rotten Scoundrels:  Let’s Go Get ‘Em and The Music Man:  Think “The Minuet in G”.)

My Big Fat Greek Wedding plays not on mistaken or false identity but rather on ethnic identity. From start to finish, Greek Wedding is dominated by incongruity, beginning with Toula’s home, a Parthenon wannabe with garage door painted like a Greek flag, all seen against a background of Chicago high-rise apartments. The Incongruity of half one’s relatives being named either Nick or Nikki fights for center stage with the outrageously Incongruous Greek phrases that Nick forces on his future brother-in-law (for example, getting Ian to think he’s inviting guests in to eat when, in fact, he is asserting that he has three testicles). (See   My Big Fat Greek Wedding:  We’re All Fruit.

Incongruity has been found to be related to critical thinking. (See "Significant Relationship Found Between Critical Thinking and Preference for Incongruity Humor.")  It takes a grasp of reality to be able to appreciate what is Incongruous.

The synthesis of Incongruity and Word Play creates a heady feel which ITCHS has labeled Intellectual. Mathematician John Allen Paulos, describing the distinct humor of mathematicians, seems to suggest that mathematicians, being heady types, particularly like Incongruity and Word Play (Paulos, J. 1980. Mathematics and Humor. Chicago:  University of Chicago Press).

From Steven Wright’s observations on life and the universe:


A conclusion is the place where you got tired of thinking.

Experience is something you don't get until just after you need it.

The sooner you fall behind, the more time you'll have to catch up.

Plan to be spontaneous tomorrow.

My theory of evolution is that Darwin was adopted.

 If you're not part of the solution, you're part of the precipitate.

I used to work in a fire hydrant factory. You couldn't park anywhere near the place.

Right now I'm having amnesia and déjà vu  at the same time.



See Also:  Word Play        Sympathetic Pain       Gotcha