Stephen King isn’t funny

Humour is almost always anger with it’s make-up on

-Stephen King


I didn’t know stephen king wrote comedy. I thought he only wrote surreal horror stories. For certain, the film adaptations of his novels only contain the kind of dialogue that forms character, reveals narrative or builds tension. The interactions of his characters aren’t entertaining enough to be enjoyed taken out of context. Unlike the culturally loaded dialogue-about-nothing in Seinfeld, King’s horror movie dialogues need the ticking time-bomb threat to keep you watching.

So why does Stephen King think humour is so closely related to one of his preferred narrative tools? I Think it might have something to do with Stephen King’s sense of humour.  In a recent episode of his Celebrity-heavy series Comedians in Cars getting Coffee; Jerry Seinfeld was asked asked ‘Do you think of yourself as the greatest comic in the world?’. He answered ‘Comedy is more personal than food’.  If we look at humour under the microscope of the Incongruity Theory, the differences we see in peoples’ tastes of humour will be very small. What people laugh at will differ according only to their logic and world view.

To clarify what i’m thinking of, a hypothetical situation: If i’m watching a video on youtube of an old woman falling over and swearing, I may laugh until tears trickle down my face. If I then send  that video link to a friend, who watches it but doesn’t laugh because he’s recognised that the old woman in the clip is his own brave grandmother, it doesn’t mean that my friend has a different sense of humour to me. It means that to make him laugh, I need to find a video of an old woman falling over that isn’t his grandmother. This is because he knows his grandmother, and respects her for having struggled through a hard life with her heart of gold, and for raising one of his parents, who in turn raised him. When he sees her fall over and get angry, he knows that she keeps a brave face on daily, as to not show how much pain she is in over her bad knee. And now he sees all her efforts swatted away, as she is humiliated in the street for all to see. His humour may be identical to my own, but his understanding of that scene is different to mine, which would essentially be, ‘that old woman fell over and got angry because she took herself too seriously.’

I’d argue that anger said to be ‘simmering beneath the surface of humour’ isn’t simmering beneath anything more than forced teeth-grinding forced niceties . But Anger and humour can answer each-other… Watching somebody else completely lose their shit can be hilarious. Especially if unwarranted and mostly if disproportionate to the supposed offence.

hick tshirt

Bill Hick’s stand-up is sometimes described as righteous, angry and subversive. But when his act uses anger, the audience laughs only in response to the unwarranted or disproportionate. His temper-losing indignation at injustices were an integral part of his performance, but they weren’t the most comedic. See the rules of the benign violation theory for the detailed mechanics but essentially, if you are seriously and intelligently reminded that you are being violated by your rulers/leaders/governments then perhaps that’s not ‘LOL’ funny. But Bill hicks did use anger in one of his funnier sketches about annoying children on planes. In this sketch, Bill Hicks angrily addresses the mother of a child who is pestering him on a plane, expressing his desire for the child to fall through the side hatch and die. The sketch is funny because of the pettiness of his anger, and it would not be funny if he was realistically explaining that child murders on planes were soon to be a reality.

A situation that induces anger isn’t likely to simultaneously induce laughter. Laugher is a release from a pressure or confusion, not a symptom of it’s ongoing presence. But I’ve recently been getting confused over what is comical, and what is artistically interesting.  The following image hasn’t made me laugh out loud, but I do smile when I think of it:


One of the first things a child draws is his/her home. So in looking at this childlike drawing of a house, we place it as home in the eyes of the artist. That it is being raided by a police search team puts it into a very popular category of art at the minute, which uses a child’s world view to remind us of how far society has come in corrupting our sensibilities (see Banksy, or SouthPark).  This image has an obvious comical element to it, but it is also vague enough to evoke a sadness.

Being more aware of my craft as an integral part of content is something that I’ve been striving to realise and address in my work. When exhibiting work in an art gallery, people are aware that they are viewing work in an art gallery. If they have a clear view in their mind of what they expect to see there, they definitely don’t want to find exactly that. In art galleries, people expect something to try and change their perspective. Anger isn’t generally a goal most artists go for, but it can be a side effect. If the work i’m creating at any given time is simply for entertainment’s sake, (to make people laugh) then i’ll try to stop myself grinding my teeth as I create .

I will continue with this theme on another article soon concerning Humour and Passive Aggression .

Bibliography:  (visited 21st feb 2014)


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