Every Joke Falls in One of 11 Categories, Says Founding Editor of The Onion

The Onion founding editor Scott Dikkers says every joke can be categorized in one of 11 "funny filters."


Scott Dikkers has written and edited countless jokes during his tenure as the longest-serving editor-in-chief of The Onion. But in all those years, he’s never come across a joke that didn’t fall within one of 11 categories – or “funny filters.”

Dikkers was planning a curriculum for a
comedy writing class at Chicago’s Second City when he first put this idea into words.

"I had never articulated them before, I just knew them from doing this for years and years and years," Dikkers said on The Rob Cressy Show podcast. "It was kind of weird to finally articulate these things that were in my head that didn’t have words attached to them. They were just things that you did. And I’m very pleased to say they’ve been around now for a few years, and I still — I wouldn’t change a thing. I wouldn’t say, ‘Oh yeah, there’s actually 12,’ or, ‘These two could be the same, so there’s only 10.’ And I’ve never encountered a joke or something that was funny that did not employ one of these 11 literary devices." 

Dikkers' 11 funny filters are listed below, using notes from Rob Cressy and satirical headlines from The Onion as examples.

1. Irony – Intended meaning is opposite of literal meaning
Alcoholic Father Disappointed In Pothead Son


2. Character
 – Comedic character acting on personality traits
Mom Thinks You'd Enjoy Restaurant She Can't Remember Name Of Right Now


3. Reference
 – Common experiences that audiences can relate to
Day Chalked Up As Loss By 10:15 A.M.


4. Shock
 – Surprising jokes typically involving sex, drugs, gross-out humor, swearing
Holy Shit, Man Walks On Fucking Moon


5. Parody
 – Mimic a familiar character, trope or cliche in an unfamiliar way

Al Gore Places Infant Son In Rocket To Escape Dying Planet

6. Hyperbole – Exaggeration to absurd extremes
Magnanimous Boss, King Of Kings, Allows Employees To Watch World Cup In Office


7. Wordplay
 – Puns, rhymes, double entendres, etc.
Fritolaysia Cuts Off Chiplomatic Relations With Snakistan


8. Analogy
 – Comparing two disparate things
Man Approaches Unfamiliar Shower Knobs Like He Breaking Wild Stallion


9. Madcap
 – Crazy, wacky, silly, nonsensical 
Wheelchair Basketball Players Stunned By Thunderous Slam Dunk


10. Meta-humor
 – Jokes about jokes, or about the idea of comedy
It Sadly Unclear Whether This Article Will Put Lives At Risk


11. Misplaced Focus
 – Attention is focused on the wrong thing
Really Fun Toy Banned Because Of 3 Stupid Dead Kids

--

The filters apply to all jokes, not just headlines from The Onion. Take this joke from stand-up comedian Anthony Jeselnik as an example.

“Yesterday I accidentally hit a kid with my car. It wasn’t serious – nobody saw me.”

This joke uses misplaced focus. Jeselnik makes you think he's concerned about the kid. But then he reveals the only reason the accident wasn't serious was because there were no witnesses. You could also say this joke uses shock — it's surprising to hear someone talk so callously about hitting a kid with their car.


(Photo: Justin Sullivan)

In addition to categorizing jokes, Dikkers said the filters can also help comedians take a rough idea and find the best way to express it.

First, you start with a premise — say, childbirth is not a miracle. Then you run that premise through each filter, producing different kinds of jokes. Maybe you try out the character filter, and get a joke about how God, an expert on miracles, is decidedly unimpressed by childbirth. Scrap that. You try a few more. Finally, you run the premise through the irony filter and get: Miracle Of Birth Occurs For 83 Billionth Time

At least, you might go through all that trouble to write an eight-word joke if you work for "the most powerful and influential organization in human history." 

 --

Check out more comedy writing advice in Scott Dikkers' book “How To Write Funny: Your Serious, Step-By-Step Blueprint For Creating Incredibly, Irresistibly, Successfully Hilarious Writing.”

Should you defend the free speech rights of neo-Nazis?

Former president of the ACLU Nadine Strossen discusses whether our society should always defend free speech rights, even for groups who would oppose such rights.

Sponsored by Charles Koch Foundation
  • Former ACLU president Nadine Strossen understands that protecting free speech rights isn't always a straightforward proposition.
  • In this video, Strossen describes the reasoning behind why the ACLU defended the free speech rights of neo-Nazis in Skokie, Illinois, 1977.
  • The opinions expressed in this video do not necessarily reflect the views of the Charles Koch Foundation, which encourages the expression of diverse viewpoints within a culture of civil discourse and mutual respect.
Keep reading Show less

Moon mission 2.0: What humanity will learn by going back to the Moon

Going back to the moon will give us fresh insights about the creation of our solar system.

Videos
  • July 2019 marks the 50th anniversary of the moon landing — Apollo 11.
  • Today, we have a strong scientific case for returning to the moon: the original rock samples that we took from the moon revolutionized our view of how Earth and the solar system formed. We could now glean even more insights with fresh, nonchemically-altered samples.
  • NASA plans to send humans to a crater in the South Pole of the moon because it's safer there, and would allow for better communications with people back on Earth.

Top vets urge dog lovers to stop buying pugs and bulldogs

Pugs and bulldogs are incredibly trendy, but experts have massive animal welfare concerns about these genetically manipulated breeds. 

Photo by terriermandotcom.blogspot.com
popular
  • Pugs, Frenchies, boxers, shih-tzus and other flat-faced dog breeds have been trending for at least the last decade.
  • Higher visibility (usually in a celebrity's handbag), an increase in city living (smaller dogs for smaller homes), and possibly even the fine acting of Frank the Pug in 1997's Men in Black may be the cause.
  • These small, specialty pure breeds are seen as the pinnacle of cuteness – they have friendly personalities, endearing odd looks, and are perfect for Stranger Things video montages.
Keep reading Show less

U.S. Air Force warns UFO enthusiasts against storming Area 51

Jokesters and serious Area 51 raiders would be met with military force.

Politics & Current Affairs
  • Facebook joke event to "raid Area 51" has already gained 1,000,000 "going" attendees.
  • The U.S. Air Force has issued an official warning to potential "raiders."
  • If anyone actually tries to storm an American military base, the use of deadly force is authorized.
Keep reading Show less