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Surreally funny

Febbraio 2015
Quanti elefanti ci stanno in un taxi? Uno accanto all’autista e 3 dietro. Ovvio, no? L’umorismo surreale può lasciare completamente indifferenti o far sconquassare dalle risate. Gli inglesi lo amano, non per niente i mitici Monty Python ci hanno costruito la carriera!

di Julie Dawn Fox © British Council

File audio:

Monty Python
Monty Python

Speaker: Rachel Roberts (Standard British accent)

(click here to enlarge the image)

If you hear British people talking about trees and fridges in the same sentence, they are probably telling a joke. What do trees and fridges have in common? Nothing at all, and that’s the point – it’s what makes surreal humour so funny.


Surreal jokes combine ordinary objects or situations with unusual elements that you would never expect, for example:
Question: What’s white and can’t climb trees? Answer: A fridge.
From the question, you might start thinking about white animals and a fridge is probably the last thing you’d say. The more unexpected the answer is, the funnier the joke becomes.


Many surreal jokes work best as part of a series. The first joke is silly and the other jokes in the series use an element from the first joke to create an even crazier answer. Take these examples:
Question: What’s small and furry and travels at 100 miles per hour? Answer: A hamster on a motorbike. Question: How do you know when you’ve got a hamster in your fridge? Answer: The motorbike’s parked outside.


This type of joke is not always about fridges. Any subject can be used, including surrealism itself. This one gives a popular type of joke about changing light bulbs a very unusual twist:
Question: How many surrealists does it take to change a light bulb? Answer: Fish.
If that’s too crazy for you, don’t worry; there is usually some strange logic involved. For example:
Question: What’s red and bad for your teeth? Answer: A brick.
It’s usually sugary food that’s bad for your teeth but a hard red brick will damage them too!


Although these jokes often make no sense, once you understand the way they work, especially sequenced jokes, you can sometimes predict the answers. Try completing the second panda joke:
Question: What goes black, white, black, white, black, white? Answer: A panda falling down a hill. Question: What’s black and white and red all over? Answer: A panda that’s covered in ...
Better still, you could invent your own surreal joke and be as strange as you like. After all, that’s the key to this kind of humour. 


Last year I went fishing with Salvador Dali. He was using a dotted line. He caught every other fish.

My fake plants died because I did not pretend to water them.

One time I stayed in a hotel, the pool was on the 23rd floor. I couldn’t believe how deep it was.

I’m staying in an old hotel. They sent me a wake up letter.

Sponges grow in the ocean. I wonder how much deeper the ocean would be if that didn’t happen.

Just when I discovered the meaning of life, they changed it.


One of the best examples of surreal humour comes in the form of the cult British TV comedy series, Monty Python’s Flying Circus, which was a joy to millions of TV viewers from 1969 to 1974. Later the group made several successful films, including Monty Python and the Holy Grail (1975), the religious parody The Life of Brian (1979) and the decidedly surreal The Meaning of Life (1983). The group consisted of (above right, from left to right) Michael Palin, John Cleese, Graham Chapman (who died in 1989), American cartoonist and later film director Terry Gilliam, Terry Jones and Eric Idle (dressed as Napoleon). In the TV show the sketches often had no ending and were connected by Gilliam’s bizarre cartoons. The British loved it, and they still do!

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