Animation Scriptwriting
Stories - Part Three: Story Themes
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'Murphy's law' states, "If something can go wrong it will go wrong." If you survive it's comedy, if you don't, it's tragedy. It is upon this fine edge of survival that drama rests. Humour relates to our experience. We have to be able to identify with the situation for it to be funny.

There are three categories of humour:


BEING something funny. A clown looks funny. He doesn't have to do anything. The fact that he is incongruous is enough to draw our attention to him. His apparent unawareness of himself makes him funny to us. His awkwardness and exaggeration are not a handicap as he is unaware of his own situation; it is a shared joke between the viewers. In a real life situation we might find it funny if someone had unknowingly dressed incorrectly, or had dirt on their face in a formal situation.


DOING something funny. This is where the situation is perfectly normal but the outcome is unexpected. Slipping on a banana skin is the simplest case, but the antics of Charlie Chaplin, Buster Keaton and slapstick comedians are examples. The humour is in the comedian attempting to do something normally yet the outcome is unpredictable. In this case there has to be an 'establishing' situation that allows the viewer to build up and anticipate the outcome.


SAYING something funny. Here the humour is in the listener understanding the situation. The comedian will in most cases be relating events about someone one else. The 'joke' may involve some aspect of performance (accents, gestures) but relies mainly on the unlikely outcome of the event as against the anticipation of the listener. The joke, wisecrack, or witty replies are examples. The humour is not always apparent immediately after the joke. It sometimes takes a while to get the point.

The degree of sophistication depends on how much the listener is supposed to know of the background references to the situation. 'In-jokes' are only obvious to people with a common set of reference points.

To a large extent humour depends on what we feel is the 'correct' response or action in a situation. We find it funny when children copy adults but in the wrong way. It's funny when a foreigner uses a word in the wrong context. Humour relates to the rules of behaviour or expectancy in a given situation.

To make something funny requires looking at what is expected in a given set of circumstances and finding a response or action that meets that expectancy but in an unexpected way. Tom and Jerry might have a fight using kitchen utensils. There would be a link between the purpose of utensil as an article, and as a weapon. For example a rolling pin might be used to knock Jerry out and then roll him flat as though he was a piece of dough (the purpose of the rolling pin).

Humour can usually be classed within certain types of situations. These include:

  • Slapstick. Generally clowning and acting outrageously.
  • Manners. Acting improperly and making social gaffes.
  • Camp. Over acting, particularly in regard to sexual innuendos.
  • Religious. Taking religion or some similarly held belief and mocking it.
  • Sex. Explicit references to sex in some out of context way.
  • Gender. Based the different attitudes of men and women towards life in general.
  • Wit. An apt and appropriate but unexpected reply. Often a 'wisecrack'.

Timing is also an essential of humour. There is the moment of recognition when something has gone wrong. A cartoon cat walks over a cliff and continues walking. He doesn't start to fall until he actually realises that he is supposed to fall.

Humour defies analysis in the sense that one person can tell a joke that is funny while another tells exactly the same joke and it is not funny, to that extent performance plays a part.

But humour can be analysed in the sense that the laws of nature are known, and anything that defies them is obviously wrong. We know that flies can walk on the ceiling but dogs can't. The rules of correct behaviour are known. What might be acceptable table manners at home might not be in a posh restaurant.

We know what behaviour is expected from people in normal circumstances. Young boys playing leapfrog in the street is normal, while old age pensioners doing the same thing is not normal. Humour pushes our credibility to the bursting point. A person's sense of humour is probably the most honest thing about them.

Here are some examples of humour:

Bugs Bunny is funny because he is very laid back in the most impossible situations, and has a suitable though unpredictable response to every circumstance. We laugh at both Bugs Bunny's antics, and the victims of his jokes.

Donald Duck gets himself into uncontrollable situations because machines are hostile to him. We find his inability to control his anger and frustration funny, and he would be the perfect person to tease.

Mr Magoo is funny because he is short sighted and mistakes everything for something else, yet in spite of this he survives due to the fact that all his misconceptions fit into a recognisable pattern that make sense to him.

Chaplin and Keaton are funny because they go about solving problems in unlikely ways, and even though the outcome of their efforts are themselves wrong, the sum of their mistakes gives them a happy result.


Definition: Humour

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