Humour deconstructed: Piff the Magic Dragon

This is a pretty damn funny magic act.  Here as some of the things that are going on, from my point of view.

It’s not a stand-up comedy act (even though it is)

A problem with comedy acts is that you expect the comedian to say something funny.  But comedy comes from the unexpected.  Humour loses a bit of its edge when you expect a comedian to make joke after joke after joke.  What’s nice about this act is that you aren’t sure whether something magical or funny is going to happen.  It keeps you on your toes.  When he pulls out the flowers to flirt with Stacey… it’s a moment that is both magical and funny.  It’s very creative and unexpected.

Random humour & breaking of social conventions

At the end of the act, Piff starts randomly eating a banana.  A well-timed random behaviour can usually be funny. In a completely different act, Piff smokes onstage as he performs his magic.

He continues the schtick by nonchalantly eating the banana when he is supposed to be having a serious conversation about magic with Penn and Teller.  Then he (condescendingly) makes the host hold his garbage (again, in a very casual manner).  Any other socially inappropriate or unusual behaviour could also work in that situation (e.g. littering, putting the banana on his dog’s or his own head, etc.).

Ad Lib Humour

It’s hard to improvise jokes on the spot without resorting to formulaic humour that can be applied to general situations.  Some of these are:

  • Turning on the other person.  (It’s funny when you suddenly change your intentions towards somebody.)  Piff offers to give the host a present and makes it disappear as he hands it/nothing to him.  The normally-nice host quips: “Quite an annoying dragon”.
  • Penis jokes.  The host saw a banana, so he made a penis joke.  In this case the joke was a double entendre: “I don’t think I should bite another dragon’s banana.”
  • Being overly nonchalant/casual.  After the host made his penis joke, Piff acts all casual and quips “it’s not really done is it?”.  Unfortunately, the audience didn’t really laugh too much at that joke.  But this is Piff trying and later on it does work for him.
    The thing about being overly casual is that it is a safe delivery: your jokes can’t really bomb.  It’s not like using a “I’m-about-to-tell-you-a-joke” tone of voice and then telling a joke that isn’t that funny.

Closing Thoughts

The act is really well done and has a lot of creative jokes, especially ones where magic is used to deliver the jokes.  What I really like about it is that the performer does not repeatedly use the same forms of humour over and over (unlike comedy shows like Family Guy).  Everything is fresh and unexpected.

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