Understanding 7 Different Types of Humor

One of my pet peeves is when people say they have a "dry" sense of humor, without actually understanding what it actually means.

"Dry" humor is not just any old type of humor. It's not violent, not off-color, not macabre or dark.

Basically, dry humor is that deadpan style of humor. It's the not-very-funny joke your uncle the cost analysis accountant tells. It's Bob Newhart, Steven Wright, or Jason Bateman in Arrested Development.

It is not, for the love of GOD, people, the Black Knight scene from Monty Python and the Holy Grail. I swear, if anyone says Monty Python is "dry humor" is going to get a smack.

Here are some other types of comedy you may have heard and are just tossing around, willy-nilly.

  • Farce: Exaggerated comedy. Characters in a farce get themselves in an unlikely or improbable situation that takes a lot of footwork and fast talking to get out of. The play "The Foreigner" is an example of a farce, as are many of the Jeeves & Wooster stories by P.G. Wodehouse.

  • Dark: Humor about the gross, violent, and otherwise depressing things in life; also called Black Comedy. People who work in emergency response — police, fire fighters, EMTs — have great dark humor. When I was in Risk Communication at the Indiana State Department of Health, my boss once said during a nuclear attack simulation that all of our planning was pointless, since we would all be "shadows on the wall." We all cracked up at the grotesque image. That's dark humor. (Think M*A*S*H.) "Gallows humor" is similar to dark humor, but the victim is the source of the comedy.

  • Screwball: Humor based on a misunderstanding, such as mistaken identities, taking an overhead piece of conversation out of context, etc. Screwball comedies usually involve sex or marriage as well. Three's Company is a classic example of a screwball comedy. It's also my least favorite type of comedy.

  • Slapstick: Physical humor. Lots of pratfalls, falling, being hit on the head, etc. The term actually comes from the prop that actors used to hit each other with. It made a loud noise, but was hardly felt. Charlie Chaplin, the Three Stooges, and Chevy Chase did slapstick comedy.

  • Parody: People often confuse this with satire, but the two are completely different. Parody mocks or makes fun of an original work. Saturday Night Live often parodies movies and TV shows. Those funny movie titles you come up with based on original movie titles ("Shaving Ryan's Privates") are parodies. They also stop being funny after about the fifth or sixth one.

  • Satire: Satire is basically making fun of or ridiculing human follies and shortcomings, hopefully in the hopes of causing improvement. So the next time your spouse accuses you of making fun of his or her weight, just say, "I'm not making fun of you, I'm satirizing you so that you will be motivated to improve yourself. Pig." Satire is often meant to be funny, but that's not the purpose of it, which explains Al Franken's radio show on Air America.

Photo of Yue Minjun's "A-Mazing Laughter": TimBarton
Photo of the happy horse: Bill Gracey

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  1. Great post! If you don't like Screwball comedies, watch "The Philadelphia Story", "His Girl Friday", or any George Cukor- or Howard Hawks-directed movies, and they may change your mind.

  2. Hi Sonya,

    The reason I don't like screwball comedies (or farces, for that matter) is that I just squirm in discomfort whenever the misunderstandings arise. I don't know why. I've felt that way for years. Three's Company always drove me nuts as a kid (even though I watched every week), and I finally quit watching Frasier because it had become nothing but misunderstandings or Frasier creating his own problems because of his ethics.

    It's not that I think they're bad or poorly done. It's just that I hate the misunderstandings that cause the problems, and I want to fix them.

    1. I completely agree, Erik. I feel like comedies like that make me feel a bit anxious the whole time i'm watching them. A good example would be Meet the Parents. That movie was so frustrating to me. I was like "Noo...don't paint the cat, you idiot!"...lol. It creates some kind of weird stress for me.

  3. Great post. I didn't realize that there were categories for comedy. How about sarcasm then? Is it also a category for comedy? Or is it a tool for delivering comedy?

  4. Hi Raige,

    Thank you very much.

    There aren't quite official categories of comedy. These are more styles of comedy. That is, they're the unofficial styles. But if you were to ask a stranger for a "list" of comedy styles, they would look at you funny, mostly because that's not the kind of thing you ask strangers.

    Sarcasm really isn't a style of comedy, but it IS a tool for delivering it, or a method of delivery. That's a great observation. I never thought about it that way.

    1. VERY interesting. I'm one of those WEIRDOS that always wonders this kind of stuff. :) I've been curious to know what kind of humor *I* have..... if any! [and yes, i asked another person just TODAY in fact. That is why I'm on the internet "searching the topic"! :D

      I LOVE what I have come to call "BRAT" humor! :D I just did a "test" to determine how I use humor - I don't know if I did something wrong or what, but it says,

      Consider yourself high in any category if your score is above 17, average if it is between 11 and 17 and low at 11 or under.

      I scored 7 on each of 3 of the 4 categories shown in this particular evaluation! The 4th category resulted in only a 2. I swear I had to do something INSIDE OUT! :( The possibilities were

      A: Put-downs
      B: Bonding
      C: Hate-me
      D: Laughing at life:

      and B is the one I got the 2 in..... ANYway, Just wanted to say this is a VERY interesting article, and I'm enjoying the comments as well! Thank you.

  5. Great post Erik! I was researching humor and came across your blog. More info than Wkipedia or ask.com. Thanks Smoosier. I’m a Noisier :o) (Illinois)

  6. By giving an example of satire, i believe you also gave a rather good example of dry humor, depending on how you say it of course lol

  7. Thank you very much for this article. It really helped me getting a better understanding of some of the types of comedy.

  8. I share your feelings about screwball comedies and, oddly, I have no explanations for it either. I just can't help feeling annoyed and awkward when the misunderstandings occur. So wierd. Great post though, I'll use it for a class I'm doing on humor. Any thoughts on the difference between American and British humor?
    Lene from Denmark

  9. Hi Erik,

    Great post, no nonsense and right to the point. I am a retired architect but have been a cartoonist since childhood. My works have been published in both US and Asia (Taiwan and China) and only until January 2011 at the encouragement of my friends and family, I started my blog.

    Recently I am getting requests to speak about my cartoons and do presentations. Therefore, in order to educate myself, I searched and I found your writing, which is awesome.

    I'd love to get you and the communities’ critique and advices about my blog:


    Thank you.

    Dick Ling

  10. Thanks Erik for the post. Great to see that I am not the only one who feels uncomfortable with screwball comedy. Sometimes I run out of the room when I feel a HUGE misunderstanding is about to play in and only return when I feel sufficient time has now passed and surely by now the show must've reached a resolution!

  11. Three's Company is not screwball comedy or if it is it's at the bottom of the spectrum. It's more on the order of a farce. Examples of screwball comedy are Some Like it Hot, the Front Page, My Man Godfrey or the Man in the White Suit.

    1. Don, Thanks for the feedback. My understanding of screwball comedy is that it was always based on misunderstandings and miscommunication, which is what Three's Company was always based on (and which drove me crazy).

    2. So, does that include things like Abbott & Costello then??? Well, at least the Who's On First bit...?

  12. Hi Erik,
    Nice article.
    I would like to know the comedy type which is done using CONTEXT switch with a word?
    eg.: When you get a busy call the message say "The person you are calling is busy please try later." and Then someone say "see..mobile company is asking me to try letter(insted of Later)."

    Here we can see that word Letter and Later almost pronounced in similar way so this word completely changes the context. I would like to the name for this comedy type?


    1. Hi Mahesh,

      I don't know what that would be called. If it were used in the right situation, it could lead to screwball comedy, which is based on misunderstandings and miscommunication. If you said to me that your mobile company wants you to try "a letter," and we had a wacky adventure trying to deliver that letter, then it could be that type of misunderstanding.

      Does that help?


    2. Mahesh,
      Malapropism is the intentional or unintentional misuse of a word, or substituting an similar sounding word.

  13. I wonder if comedy of manners is a kind of humor or not .


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