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How many types of humor can be conveyed by voice?

Edge Studio

How many types of humor are there? We came across this neat list of “humor techniques,” that itemized no less than 41 types. No wonder dissecting humor can be such a mystery. There are many lists of humor types floating around, but this one was in a scholarly research paper, building on decades of other research. How, we wondered, can this information be put to use in a voice-over performance?

To start, let’s see that list of 41 types of humor …

Developing a Typology of Humor in Audiovisual Media
Humor Techniques
1. Absurdity
2. Anthropomorphism (objects or animals with human characteristics or behavior)
3. Bombast
4. Chase (a physical chase)
5. Clownish behavior
6. Clumsiness
7. Coincidence
8. Conceptual surprise (a change that suddenly surprises the audience)
9. Disappointment
10. Eccentricity
11. Embarrassment (of either the observer, or another subject)
12. Exaggeration
13. Grotesque appearance
14. Ignorance
15. Imitation
16. Impersonation
17. Infantilism (No, not babies … this means playing with word sounds)
18. Irony (saying one thing, meaning another)
19. Irreverent behavior
20. Malicious pleasure (victimization or watching another’s misfortune)
21. Misunderstanding
22. Outwitting
23. Parody
24. Peculiar face (like grotesque appearance, but temporary)
25. Peculiar music Funny, unusual music
26. Peculiar sound
27. Peculiar voice
28. Pun (playing with word meaning)
29. Repartee (verbal banter, usually witty)
30. Repetition
31. Ridicule
32. Rigidity (someone who is unusually inflexible to a fault)
33. Sarcasm (usually hostile)
34. Satire (not necessarily so hostile)
35. Scale (unexpectedly very large or small objects)
36. S****l allusion (naughty, “blue”)
37. Slapstick
38. Speed (either very fast or very slow)
39. Stereotype (depicting members of a nation, gender or other group)
40. Transformation
41. Visual surprise

SOURCE: Moniek Buijzen and Patti M. Valkenburg, The Amsterdam School of Communications Research, University of Amsterdam. MEDIA PSYCHOLOGY, 6, 147–167. Humor technique adopted from Berger (1976, 1993).

Which of these can be applied in voice-over? More than some people might think. Probably not the purely visual ones, such as a physical chase. But many can be applied or adapted to the spoken voice.

Sometimes it’s a matter of changing your pitch, speaking rate, expressive tone (tone of voice), or even your volume. (Important to remember: unexpected or extreme changes in volume can distort the sound and annoy your engineer. Voice-over delivery is typically at a consistent volume, even when emphasizing words. But there will be times when extra volume is warranted. For instance, a classic, slapstick “WAH!” Always warn your engineer beforehand, and/or briefly move away from the mic. )

Some of these are more under the control of the scriptwriter. But when you’re improvising, they’re all good to remember. Well, maybe not the stereotypes and s*x jokes. They’re often not heard as funny, and even if your audience laughs, others may not. Remember, you’re making a recording, not live performance. (Not that stereotyping to making fun of an entire group is appropriate when nobody from that group is present, but there are exceptions … for example, small dogs or bad drivers regardless of gender.)

Otherwise, even some of the visual angles can be verbally simulated. For example, size or grotesque appearance. How’s your impression of Jabba the Hut?

Visit the study’s URL given above. You’ll probably enjoy some of the insights, such as which type of humor works best with various age groups, and gender, and its quick summary of various humor theories. Bear in mind that the study focused on humor in Dutch television advertising in 1999. But how much can people have changed from then and there?

The study notes that, of the qualities listed above, some things are not funny unless two or more one of the qualities are combined. On the other hand, some things are fun when they incorporate only one quality. Taking this into account, the authors boiled the 41 categories down to a general seven:

1. Slapstick
2. Clowning
3. Surprise
4. Misunderstanding
5. Irony,
6. Satire,
7. Parody

That short list might serve for academic purposes, but in the booth or rehearsal hallway, or when developing a character, the longer list probably makes a better thought starter.

Think funny.