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Home » Archives » November 2006 » Leveling With You
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11/30/2006: Leveling With You

When I was in school, pretending to learn things about Cognitive Science, we spent some time talking about "basic level" concepts. "Furniture" is superordinate. "Coffee table" is subordinate. "Table" is basic level. It's not an arbitrary division, by the way. The basic level is that level of categorization that meshes with human experience in such a way that it intuitively has a special status. Basic level items are generally given short, simple names, for example, because they're so central to human experience that they need easy-to-grip handles. Shoe, chair, dog, bird, cloud... these are all "basic level" concepts.

So what does this have to do with comedy writing? Well, the basic level isn't funny. There. I said it. Deal with it, basic level.

Remember Spinal Tap? Remember what "St. Hubbins" was the patron saint of? "Quality footwear," that's right. Not shoes. Superordinate. And, at the other end of the very same spectrum, remember this Buffy line? "I'm not exactly quaking in my stylish yet affordable boots"? Subordinate. The too-general is funny. The too-specific is funny. But, sorry, Goldilocks, just right is not funny.

This can provide you with a quick and easy shortcut to humor, even if you're not terribly comfortable with joke-writing. And remember to dig around at both ends of the spectrum.

Lunch: a burrito


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