On being told recently that "Sarcasm is the lowest form of wit", I decided that it was time to do some investigative journalism, and find out whether or not this is true.
After visiting at least two humour sites, I have discovered that it is indeed true; but more than that, I can now definitively list the forms of wit in order. I have discounted "drama", whilst it is lower on the humour stakes than sarcasm it is not actually wit at all.
Yes, really. There have been many proponents of the art of Sarcasm (including myself), but by far and away the master of sarcasm was Groucho Marx, as exemplified by the line: "I never forget a face, but in your case, I'm willing to make an exception."
Sarcasm (from the Greek sarkasmos, to tear flesh) is a caustic remark usually directed at an individual with the intention to verbally wound. Normally, the only person who finds sarcasm funny is the sarcastic bastard who uses it.
A pun (or paronomasia) is a play on words using the confusion stemming from a homonym. There was some competition as to whether puns or sarcasm would be the lowest form of wit, but sarcasm won the dubious honour.
A common example: "I wondered why the baseball was getting bigger, and then it hit me."
Some puns are unintentional, such as the sign outside a maternity ward that reads: "Deliveries at rear.", or the sign outside the rehab clinic that proclaims: "Keep off the grass."
Limericks are short poetic bursts, culminating in a jokey final line. The limerick packs laughs anatomical, in space that is quite economical; but the good ones I've seen are so seldom clean, and the clean ones are rarely comical.
Here is an example:
A lady full of surprises,
Had breasts of two different sizes,
One was small,
and round like a ball;
And the other was big and won prizes!
The exclamation mark at the end is vital. They were popularised by Edward Lear in the 1800s, and named after the county of Limerick in Ireland, though Thomas Aquinas wrote one in Latin (which wasn't very funny).
7. Double Entendre
Popularised by Julian Clary, the double entendre is a phrase that can be taken two ways, the first usually innocent, and the second lewd. Julian Clary is well known for coming on stage and (when the applause has died down) announcing that he does enjoy a warm hand on his entrance. Clary is using a humorous tool to tickle the fancy of his audience, and is an upstanding member of the innuendo club.
Some innuendo is unintentional, such as the Harry Carpenter commentating on the Oxford-Cambridge boat race that the Oxford President's wife was kissing the Cambridge Crews' Cox. The most famous double entendre joke is: A girl went into a bar, asked the barman for a double entendre, so he gave her one.
It even creeps into web addresses, such as Pen Island.com, and Experts Exchange.com.
6. Toilet Humour
A particularly British form of comedy heavily used in the Carry On films, especially Carry On...At your convenience, which was set in a toilet factory. Other nationalities do not understand why the British are so amused when Captain Kirk starts every program with "Captain's Log". Toilet humour is epitomised by the Whoopee Cushion, a small rubber bag with a flapping nozzle that makes a farting noise when sat on; beloved of pre-teens everywhere.
The following is an example of verbal toilet humour:
Q: What is invisible and smells of carrots?
A: Rabbit farts.
The world is divided on slapstick. On the one hand are the people who find Charlie Chaplain about as amusing as standing on a dog turd in bare feet, and on the other hand is the person who thinks he is as funny as seeing somebody else stepping in dog turd.
Slapstick was common when there was no sound in movies, as it's difficult to tell a gag without words, but the most popular proponents of the art form are clowns. A bucket of confetti over the head, or a custard pie in the face (indeed, the French call it comique tarte a la crème) may be amusing if the witness is five years old, though most people just find clowns creepy. The most famous slapstick comedian was Punch, of Punch and Judy fame, with Mr Bean latterly taking the crown, and probably sitting on the sharp bit. Slapstick tends to be used by comedians when their jokes fail.
Satire is the act of taking something serious, and ridiculing with or without overt gags. Many politicians set themselves up for satire, such as George W. Bush, Bill Clinton, Ronald Regan, well, most American Presidents from the last thirty years. British politics doesn't escape, with clowns like Boris Johnson put in charge of important aspects of society. Satire is commonly used on television, in shows like Spitting Image, which was so successful it built the public perception of people such as Margret Thatcher and Prince Charles. TV shows that are classed as satirical and slightly humorous are The Late Show, Have I Got News for You, Spitting Image and Sky News.
3. Shaggy Dog Story
This is a very long joke with a great deal of set up and simple punch line that the listener, reader, viewer shouldn't see coming. Ronnie Corbett made a career out of telling such jokes. He started in 1967 and finished it in 2007.
A newly married couple are heading off on honeymoon, but cannot wait until they get to their hotel, so the wife suggests in-transit sex. She strips off, throwing her clothes out of the window as they go. The husband gets more and more aroused, until as his new wife is completely naked he cannot contain himself any more, and loses control of the car, crashing it into the barrier. The car crumples, and the husband gets stuck.
"What do we do?" cries the wife, "I cannot get at my clothes."
"Can you reach any of mine?" gasps the husband in pain.
"Only your left shoe," she replies.
"Take it, cover as much as you can and go for help!"
She grabs the shoe and staggers out of the car, heading back down the road. As luck would have it, she sees a fire truck and flags it down, remembering to cover her nether regions with the shoe.
"Help," she cries as the fire truck pulls over. "My husband's stuck!"
"Sorry madam," says the fireman, "If he's that far up, you're screwed."
2. One Liners
One liners are a subtle art form brought to fully realised beauty by American comedian Steve Wright. Some examples of his work:
"I stayed up all night playing poker with Tarot cards; I got a full house and four people died"
"I replaced the headlights in my car with strobe lights, so it looks like I'm the only one moving."
"I installed a skylight in my apartment.... The people who live above me are furious!"
"My therapist thinks I have obsession with revenge...We'll see about that!"
"I'd like to do self deprecating humour, but I don't think I'd be good at it."
"I dated a tennis player, but it was a nightmare as love meant nothing to her."
One liners are classic gags, set up and punch.
1. The Old Ones
It is officially true, the old ones are the best:
A dyslexic walked into bra...
Q: What shivers at the bottom of the ocean?
A: A nervous wreck.
Knock knock; who's there? Dishes! Dishes who? Dishes the police - come out with your hands up!
Man: Doctor, Doctor, there's a lettuce leaf up my ass.
Doc: I'm afraid that's just the tip of the iceberg.
So there you have it - Sarcasm is the lowest form of wit, and the old ones really are the best.