The Five Degrees of Jokes

I care about jokes because I care about being funny. I must have a deeply rooted problem in my psyche that compels me to use humor as a defense mechanism. I don’t think it’s terribly strange that I do this because I’m also now convinced that laughter is one of the things that make humans human, and helps to bind us together as a society whether it’s on the intimate level of kidding around with a friend, or making everybody at a party laugh at a joke, or entertaining the country with a brilliantly comedic movie. There are many of us, basically, that strive to make others laugh; we all have our own reasons.

I have developed my own comedic style over the years, absorbing what I liked, trying it out on people I know, and adjusting to make them laugh. It was hit and miss. When I started blogging, I worked harder at it because I wanted each blog post to be humorous. That’s when I realized how difficult it was to be consistently funny.

Skip ahead a few years, and I wandered into Chris Soth and Steve Kaplan. I was part of their conversation about how to make a killer comedy concept for a movie, and in it Steve Kaplan presented what he called the five degrees of jokes. Hearing him discuss jokes in this methodical, analytical method gave to me one of the greatest zen-like moments of my life. Suddenly, all the reasons something I said had been funny made sense. I realized I could begin to understand, after forty years of kidding around, what was humorous and why.

Without further ado, here are the FIVE DEGREES OF JOKES:

  1. Pun, wordplay, overly literal
  2. Juxtaposition of the sacred or profane
  3. Reversals of scale (large to small, vice versa)
  4. Improving situation, accidentally makes it worse
  5. Accidentally revealing something about yourself

You should immediately notice that this is not some kind of formula to help you build a joke, like the manatees do for The Family Guy. Instead, this is a simple framework explaining the contrasting elements that shock a person into laughter. The higher degree of the joke, the greater the shock, and the deeper the laugh.

Over the next few weeks, I hope to analyze each degree further, looking at jokes I have made or jokes in popular culture that exemplify it. You can also look to my other blog for a deeper analysis of my psyche and why I think I use humor thus.

In addition, I am attending Steve Kaplan’s Comedy Intensive in Chicago on Nov. 6th. As Flounder once said, “Oh boy, is this great!”