Humor is used by authors and playwrights to make the audience laugh. Sometimes, humor is used to break tension and lift the audience up after a particularly heavy scene. This is called comic relief. At other times, the purpose of the entire work-be it a novel or a drama-is humor. The intention is to make the audience laugh.
Examples of Humor from Literature and Popular Culture
Situational comedies (sitcoms) are television shows that employ humor. The goal is to entertain an audience. While some sitcoms address social issues and often try to incorporate situations that cause the audience to think about or question societal norms, the ultimate goal in a sitcom is humor. Examples of modern day popular sitcoms include The Big Bang Theory, Friends, and Blackish.
Jane Austen used humor in many of her novels to poke fun at her society, specifically at the role that women were expected to fulfill in society. In Pride and Prejudice, this humor is embodied most often in the character of Mrs. Bennett, whose goal in life is to marry off her five daughters. When her schemes to marry her daughters are thwarted or don't go as planned, she complains of her nerves. Mr. Bennett, her husband, responds with dry wit to his wife:
"You mistake me, my dear. I have a high respect for your nerves. They are my old friends. I have heard you mention them with consideration these twenty years at least."
Shakespeare often used humor to provide comic relief in the midst of tragedy. This example from Macbeth occurs after the death of the king. The porter imagines himself manning the gates of hell, and his response to the knocking is meant to be humorous:
"Here's a knocking indeed! If a man were porter of
hell-gate, he should have old turning the key. Knock
Knock, knock, knock, knock! Who's there, i' the name of
Belzebub? Here's a farmer that hanged himself on th'
expectation of plenty. Come in time! Have napkins
enow about you; here you'll sweat for't. Knock
Knock, knock! Who's there, in th' other devil's name?"
Literary Terms Examples