Jul 13, 2012

Mankoff Explains New Yorker Cartoons

"What he says does have a certain plausibility, and echoes E. B. White’s famous comment: “Humor can be dissected as a frog can, but the thing dies in the process and the innards are discouraging to any but the pure scientific mind.”

Many years ago, Max Eastman wrote a book called “Enjoyment of Laughter” that completely ignored White’s advice. Eastman’s basic point was that humor is a kind of play, and if you don’t understand that and accept it, you won’t enjoy it.

Play is not the default mode of life, seriousness is. But play is the default mode in cartooning. What cartoonists do is play with incongruities along a continuum that stretches from reality-based humor to nonsense, and invite you to play along with them. The place on the continuum where the invitation is placed often determines the response.

"In the diagram, A is realistic humor and B is not, but both are completely gettable, while C isn’t. C doesn’t produce that jolt that you get when you suddenly understand a joke. It’s not totally random, though. There is some method to its madness. C uses the classic triplet structure of a joke.

" The triad is “hacksaw,” “green glitter,” and “flounder”—three terms you will find together only in one place when you do a Google search, and that place is in Bliss’s cartoon. So even though the cartoon is far along on the incongruity dimension, its style of Mad-Libs humor is not completely foreign. After all, most people have played Mad-Libs.

Go read the whole article called I Liked The Kitty by Bob Mankoffover on NewYorker.com

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