An Attempt at Deconstructing Comedy

Posted: July 23, 2014 in Analysis
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If you are a movie fan who likes all types of genres, you would probably have a special liking for comedy movies where humor is the main aspect. By the way, Comedy and Sci-Fi are my personal favorites. Apart from having a laugh, it is actually a fun task to analyse what causes the humor. I have been thinking about the key characteristic behind humor for a long time now. Finally, I have identified it as ABNORMALITY. Now, since you know the secret word, you would find it easy to analyze comedy.


But the analysis just doesn’t end there, we need to dig deep and I need to tell you how it works. There are various dimensions where abnormality can be applied to induce humor. Well, what are those dimensions? They are Language, Body Language, Culture, Society, and Stereotypes. Let’s look in to each of these dimensions with the help of examples from  films, TV programs and stand-up shows etc

Comedy Dimensions

Comedy Dimensions


This is the case where most of the humor works at the particular language on top of which it has been devised. There are many different variations. The first variation is to make use of homonyms which are words with different meanings. This is a very difficult skill since the person has to be aware of different meanings of words and also the language needs to have many homonyms. English is a perfectly bad language since it has many of these homonyms! Here is an example which works for all languages.

Astrologer: Is your husband 30 years old?

Lady: No, add 2 to that age

Astrologer: Oh, it is 302

Lady: Oh god, it is 32!

The second variation is using similar sounding words. This variation is accidental in many cases where the listener makes up a word without fully listening or when the speaker mixes up words during tense situations. Comedy scenes from Kamal Hassan’s movies make use of this variation many times. There is a scene in the movie Panchathantiram where one of the characters makes use of the words “Brother Kobharathan” and the other character mistakenly replies back saying “Co-brother Bharathan”. One more instance from the same movie is the use of words “Bardharji Sawdy” instead of “Sardharji Body” :D. My personal favorite is from the movie Vasool Raja where Kamal says “Please give one gottle blucose to the patient”. The greatest comedian of Tamil cinema, Goundamani is an expert of this variation. Here’s a dialogue from one of his best movies Ullathai Alitha

 Father-in-law: Mapla (son-in-law in tamil), Your father says you are an expert in Carnatic music

Goundamani: What  Karnataka ah? 😀

 Here’s another from the movie We are Not Tata Birla.

 Person 1: I am auditor

Goundamani: I am generator

One of the best comedians to  make use of language variations to incite humor is Madurai Muthu. Tamil readers would probably know him. For those who don’t know him, watch this clip . He is a stand-up with amazing humor.  


Body Language and Facial Expressions

Body language is something that we humans make note of in a very subconscious manner. Slight changes in body language can make a big difference. In my college days, I have seen many girls who made slight changes to their body language, to keep guys interested 😉 Humor can also be invoked with variations in facial expressions. The best examples for facial expressions are Jim Carrey, Rowan Atkinson,  Steve Carrel, Johhny Lever,  Vadivelu, Goundamani and finally the best, Brahmanandam. Personally, I think it takes guts to use weird faces to make people laugh as you might get stereotyped. One wouldn’t want to be in situation where friends and acquaintances start making fun of you with those same weird expressions 🙂

Steve Carrell

Body language is rather difficult as you need to have an idea about the variations that would look abnormal. The best example of use of body language is Kamal Hassan from his movie Sathi Leelavathi. Watch this clip and you will know why I think he is the best with body language style humor. The key here is to look overly shy or aggressive or act as though you are surprised by the happenings around you. This style of humor is rare in real life.

 Culture and Society

Cultural and societal norms are two things that we adhere to in our daily lives. For example, in order to look decent and socially acceptable, we wear similar kinds of dress. If someone dresses up like a parrot, we do tend to laugh instantly. In fact, decency is the threshold. If you go beyond what is considered decent, it tends to be funny. How about a man jumping like a monkey? Vadivelu seems to be the clear favorite for this category. Watch this clip and you will know all about monkeying around 😀

Vadivelu dressed up as a Parrot

Vadivelu dressed up as a Parrot

Satire is a type of humor which is almost entirely based on culture and society. Russell Peters is the best example; he is a stand-up who thrives at mocking racial stereotypes. The logic in satire is to take a basic stance which you could consider as perfect. The next step is to look at other people and try to identify how they differ from your level. The last step is to just mock them with the identified differences.  The whole thing is basically an ethnographic exercise or to put in simple terms, people watching. You need to spend considerable time and have broad knowledge of history, to do effective satire.



Even though, stereotypes have been mentioned in the last section, I thought it would be best to look at it separately. Stereotyping is not pure humor as it is meant to offend some people. It works best in a diverse environment where there are different kinds of people who speak different languages and look different basically. The best example for this type of humor is from a movie which I watched recently. Tamil comic actor Santhanam used two sidekicks in the movie Raja Rani – One guy who looks like a Black African and the other guy who looks like a Chinese. These two characters represent two extreme ends in India.  If you are from India, you would know that some south Indians are as black as Africans while many people in the eastern states of India look like Chinese people. In the movie, Santhanam repeatedly mocks them by referring to their race. Even though, it invokes laughter, I personally feel it’s a cheap type of comedy.

The two stereotypes from the movie Raja Rani

The two stereotypes from the movie Raja Rani

And we have reached the end of this article. As a part of this humor series, I will be dissecting some of the best comedy scenes I have seen from movies and also individual performances. Please do comment and share your thoughts. Being a doctoral student, I consider this article as a theoretical contribution to Humor Studies/Humor Science 😀 Now, that’s some humor!!!

Next in series:

1) Dissecting Goundamani and Senthil’s Rib-tickling Comedy from the movie Karakattakaran

2) Comedy Legends – Goundamani

3) Comedy Legends – Kamal Hassan

4) Comedy Legends – Madurai Muthu


  1. Wonderful blog bro…!!

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