A Formal Approach to Comedy: How Bo Burnham Makes Jokes Funny Through Math

Studenteropgave: Speciale (inkl. HD afgangsprojekt)

  • Christian Suhr Bech
4. semester, Engelsk, Kandidat (Kandidatuddannelse)
This paper describes a formal, qualitative approach to comedy. By using concepts from set the- ory and function theory in mathematics, formal semantics, Grice’s Cooperative Principle and maxims, and Austin’s performatives as tools in the approach, this thesis discusses the question of the advantages and disadvantages of such an approach in terms of its applicability in uncov- ering where comedy is created. Furthermore, this thesis seeks to answer the question of what Bo Burnham’s comedic type and comedic force are. Jokes from Bo Burnham’s comedy shows what (2013) and Make Happy (2016) are used as data, to which the approach is applied. The approach in question is as follows:

1) Assign one or more comedic categories to a given joke,

2) identify and create the ontology, in accordance with the model theory outlined in the formal semantic section,

3) identify and categorize performatives, based on the theory pertaining to Austin’s perfor- matives,

4) identify and analyze the utterer’s intention and meaning with the joke, in light of Grice’s Cooperative Principle and maxims.

This paper concludes that this approach is a helpful tool in the process of describing the impor- tant things that are happening in a joke, as well as the intention and meaning behind the actions of Bo Burnham. The approach provides a clear picture of the elements that pertain to a joke, ranging from the actions of the comedian, to the change in lights and music, and how Bo Burn- ham utilizes these elements to create comedy. Formal semantics was used to describe who were in the jokes and what they were doing. Grice’s Cooperative Principle and maxims were used as a way of describe the meaning behind what was happening on stage, and Austin’s performatives were used in conjunction with the Gricean part of the analysis. However, the approach is not without fault. To improve the formal approach, this paper finds that it would be beneficial to define precisely what goes into a performative for it to have been successfully done, as well as a more concise and rigorous outline of the model theory, specifically in terms of the denota- tion assignment function between the object-language and the meta-language. This paper also answers the question of what Bo Burnham’s comedic type (what type of jokes he makes) and comedic force (the substance of the jokes) are, and in that regard, the formal approach provides a small account of what the comedic type and force might be, but ultimately this approach cannot definitively conclude what Bo Burnham’s comedic type and comedic force are. This is, in part, because the qualitative nature of the approach limits the data to only a small selection of jokes, four to be exact, and the data is selected from a limited part of Bo Burnham’s work, namely the comedy shows. To get a better understand of what Bo Burnham’s comedic type and force are, this paper suggests adopting a quantitative approach, where the data includes all of Bo Burnham’s work. The quantitative approach would ensure that more of Bo Burnham’s work would be analysed, and as a consequence, a better conclusion on what Bo Burnham’s "true" comedic type and force can be derived.
Udgivelsesdato2 jan. 2020
Antal sider63
ID: 318445767