Humour controversy


the overarching term which embraces all the examples of the public use of humour presented on this website. They have all evoked or involved varied public response and triggered public debate on an important public issue (e.g. this). A prime example of humorous controversy is this.

Humour forms /genres



a painting, sculpture or installation that is potentially humorous due to its use of humorous stereotypes, simplification or exaggeration, e.g. this exhibition.


a satirical drawing by an artist which simplifies, highlights, exaggerates or juxtaposes features of people, objects, events or scenes, is meant to persuade and may evoke a humorous effect, like here.


a public meeting or display that could be a political or commercial demonstration, happening or exhibition and involves planned or spontaneous humour in the form of a placard, artwork, outfit or performance, for instance the demonstration here.


a visual element, often combined with a caption, involves incongruity, which is responsible for the humorous effect, e.g. this picture set.

Meme (Internet meme)

a combination of an image (often a photo) and the verbal text (often in capitals) that usually comments on the image in some way (e.g. here), creating an incongruity and/or offering its resolution. There are also memes with no verbal text, just an image, which is often a combination of incongruous elements or separate images, like here.


a genre used both for commercial, political and artistic purposes, which may involve humour, particularly involving visual recontextualisation, exaggeration, parody or wordplay (e.g. this one).


a recorded clip which may involve an uncut speech directly addressing the viewers  (e.g. here) or an edited film which plays on humorous stereotypes or scenes (e.g. here).

Humour mechanisms


Absurdity (nonsense)

a type of opposition which involves an element that does not fit in a text or image, is illogical, and thus prevents a coherent interpretation, but still enables a humorous effect, cf. the famous Jabberwocky poem by Lewis Carroll. The sense of absurdity may result from the use of the exaggeration mechanisms, like in the case of an odd button-size competition between politicians (see here).


an indirect reference to some person, object, place, situation or event which the target audience of a joke or Internet meme is assumed to be familiar with and is likely to identify without being told directly, as the original poster in this example.


the availability of two or more overlapping readings of a single text; the feature which is very frequent in humour since it allows to highlight the information that is to be prominent and mislead the audience into adopting the interpretation path intended by the joke teller for a humorous effect (e.g. “The astronomer married a star”).


an artistic image which evokes a humorous effect by exaggerating physical features of the depicted characters, as in here.


a common humour mechanism that consists in overemphasising an element of a scene or image for humorous effect; the mechanism can be understood as a schematic opposition within one script, e.g fatness: “Yo mamma so fat the elephant at the zoo thought they were related”.


a mechanism which involves distorting reality by claiming the existence of highly unlikely facts or offering highly implausible, illogical arguments in order to amuse the audience, as in the Lithuanian mock-promotion here.

Humorous stereotype

a usually implicit reference to a simplified and largely fictitious perception of an ethnic or social group that may have arisen through some historical events (e.g. jokes about cowardly Italians or militarist Germans),  or results from some social tensions, either local  (e.g. jokes about homosexuals or blondes) or imported ones (e.g. jokes about the Scots).

Irony (verbal irony, often referred to as sarcasm in American English)

a rhetorical technique which involves opposed or contextually inappropriate meanings, with the negative meaning usually being intended (e.g. “I like your shirt” in reference to a worn out and partially torn shirt). Irony tends to be humorous because it usually involves an opposition, but it does not have to be, given a serious context (an example of irony which only verges on the humorous is this Irish cartoon).

Juxtaposition of text and image

an indispensable feature of Internet memes or cartoons which includes both a visual and a verbal element that often complement or oppose each other and evoke a humorous effect (e.g. a picture of a cat with its head leaning on a table and a caption saying “Is it Friday yet?”)

Opposition (script opposition, incongruity)

the presence of two aspects or areas of meaning (also called scripts) considered opposed in the context of a joke or another form of humour (e.g. sex and religion), claimed to be the necessary, although not sufficient condition for humour to occur


a humorous imitation of a piece of art, a book, a film or even of a famous person or an event, usually not targeted at anyone. Clowns are very often engaged in parody, e.g. here.


using the same joke in a new context in order to achieve a fresh humorous effect for a new audience. The same joke about one ethnic group can be told about another with slight adjustments, an image can pasted in different Internet memes, e.g. the image of the Estonian ex-prime minister with his long log being pasted onto the New York sky-scraper building site here, or a catchy saying can be adjusted and used in another context (e.g. here).


a humorous way of highlighting faults and weaknesses of politicians, their policies and their ideas. It is often considered a social practice rather than a specific genre and it can involve parody, irony, sarcasm, wordplay as well as other humour mechanisms (cf. this example).

Sexual innuendo

one of the very common motives in jokes or Internet memes which uses implicit references to sexual activities and sexual organs, like here. The reference maybe visually explicit too, like here, and then it is the exaggeration mechanism that ensures the humorous effect.

Status challenging

an attempt to undermine the authority or status of a public figure, particularly a politician, by emphasising their humiliating or disgraceful behaviour; cf. the obviously inappropriate behaviour here

Status reversal

one of the types of opposition that is present in targeted humour, esp. in political humour, that involves bringing down the target character, usually a powerful figure, by involving them in some incriminating, socially sensitive, sexual or other bodily activity


the mechanism which evokes humour by directly or indirectly referring to topics which are socially sensitive or taboo, such as sex, homosexuality, bodily functions, religion or violence. Humour makes it possible to refer to them, although the topics still remain sensitive, like a reference to rape here.

Word play

the exploitation of the ambiguity in words for humorous purposes. It may involve sounds, graphic forms of words,  word meanings, syntactic structures, etc. The forms of linguistic wordplay are practically unlimited, cf. the play on the meaningful name of a town here.