The Sine Wave of Funny

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Have you ever heard a super-repetitive joke that seemed kinda funny at first, but the longer you watched it, the funnier it got? When I first noticed this principle at work in a certain kind of (generally absurdist) comedy years ago, I invented a little pseudo-academic classification to explain the phenomenon: I call it the sine wave of funny. Here's how it works:

There's a certain ineffable thing about jokes that operate according to the sine wave of funny that make them work; not just any joke repeated over and over will work. It takes a special kind of joke to really engage the sine wave of funny. When this happens, though, it's like magic -- it's like the joke goes into hyperdrive, and you never want it to end. And the really amazing thing about these kinds of jokes is that, at first, they don't really seem that funny at all. They're chuckle-worthy, at best. (In fact, you might invert the sine wave on this graph -- initially, your patience is tested by the joke ... then it becomes funnier and funnier. Then not so funny. Then even funnier than before. And so on.)

Time for some examples. Here's a classic one from The Simpsons:

It's not that funny at first -- then at some point around the middle, the sine wave kicks in. (Actually, I think it'd be funnier if the clip were even longer.) Now, if that wasn't your style -- the sine wave is a very personal thing, you see -- try this on for size. It's a promo for the upcoming film Strange Wilderness (thanks for pointing this out, Higgins!):

Lastly, we've posted this video before, but there's a reason it's gotten more than nine million hits on YouTube ... and that reason is the sine wave of funny. Allow me to illustrate:

Now that you've got the principle down, what are your favorite sine wave of funny jokes?

January 31, 2008 - 6:17am
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