Thursday, February 09, 2006

A Couple Tips on Referential Humor

Referential humor is a great way to make people laugh. But of course, some referential humor is better than others. Yesterday in Legal Profession class my professor made a reference to Mr. Big. I laughed my ass off, but then later found out that the one he was referring to is not the one who wants to be with me. He was apparently referring to some character from Sex and the City, a show I have never seen nor do I ever wish to see.
(Japandemonium, clearly the coolest and most culturally sensitive album title of all time, is much funnier than the dude on the right. I, too, wish my homeland to be associated with Satan's fortress from Paradise Lost.)

According the Restatement of Humor (Second) § 5.01:
The funniest referential humor is that which refers to
(a) a pop culture icon
(b) of which everyone was aware
(1) more than five years ago
(2) but which they have forgotten.
Comment [1] makes clear why this is so:
The added effect of this kind of referential humor is that people laugh at themselves for having been a fan of the pop culture icon and/or the fact that the joke comes completely out of left field.
Alternatively, a riskier form of referential humor can be found in the Restatement of Humor § 5.05:
If you must make a pop culture reference to an icon that is currently in the spotlight, it should be a more subtle reference. Fewer people will catch the reference, but those who do will be impressed at your cleverness and laugh all the more
An example can be found in my post on tort reform. I don't think anyone caught the joke, but I was explaining what pain and suffering damages are in tort law. The words "pain and suffering," however, were a link, as they are here, and people who follow the link get the joke. I don't think anyone did so, but you should do so now.

I hope this helps those of you who wish to emulate Family Guy in your everyday conversation.


  1. Oh gawd, Kelly, I sooooo didn't get it. Groannnnnn.

    I'll just haveta be quicker from now on. Man-o-man. :)

  2. I thot the red was some dictionary definiton reference. & i already undrestood the concept of 'pain & suffering' tho not in that context. :)

    My son & his friends kept making reference to a movie called, 'Napoleon Dynamite' getting huge kicks out of making quips(?)I had no clue.
    Then I watched it. When my son came home w/the 'LIGER' tee shirt, it was hilarious.

    Will pay more att. to your links in the future.

  3. I'd say Mr Big qualifies as 'pain and suffering' as well.

  4. You know, I should compliment you by saying that your blog goes up to 11.

  5. Is that a Marshall amps reference?

    As to Napoleon Dynamite, I couldn't make it through the first half hour of that movie. I don't understand why people like it.

  6. Spinal Tap, my man. There's this great skit where Nigel keeps talking about how he had this special amp specially made to up to 11, and the interviewer tries to make the point that he could have just made 10 a bit louder, and Nigel just doesn't get it.

    Rent it, you'll think it's a riot, and there are a bunch of cameos by not-yet-famous stars like a young Fran Drescher, Billy Crystal as a mime, Paul Shaffer and more.

  7. I really should see that movie . . . but I was thinking that some amp company actually started a campaign that said "Our amps go to 11."

  8. Kelly,

    I own the DVD and I will let you borrow it next week.

  9. What? Maybe the referential humour in 'Napoleon Dyamite' hits close to home for us illiterate hillbillys.


  10. I cannot find the source "Restatement of Humor". Could you name the author?