Tuesday, December 06, 2005

On Being Funny

Those who know me, know that I worship the one true god – Dilbert. After spending too many years than is good for me in cubicle-ville, I know he understands my pain and more importantly knows what it’s like to work in an organisation guided by management consultants. I like cartoonist Scott Adam’s sense of humour which is pointed and cutting whilst at the same time gentle and …. well I suppose constructively funny. In the search for a good audience reaction, many comics go for the cheap shot. There is a very fine line between being provocative and being gratuitously offensive.

I was somewhat bemused to read an article by Mr Adams on the Dilbert blog about a formula for humour. He notes that for something to be funny it has to have 2 out of 6 possible elements. The more of these elements the cartoon has, the funnier it is. Adams self-deprecatingly claims that he builds up cartoons to have as many of these elements as possible leaving his work by definition funny.

Of course in the real corporate world, such a rule as 2-of-6 would not stand up to scrutiny. Any management consultant worth his/her salt will tell you that for a rule to gain acceptance, it has to be capable of being summarised into a catchy acronym (e.g. F.U.N.N.I.E – Farcical, Unbelievable, Nonsensical, Naughty, Incredible, Eventful). Alternatively, a more classical approach favoured by legal and scientific disciplines is the Seven C’s (Cute, Coquettish, Crazy, Clever, Credible, Cruel)(*).

Scott has to get a firm of external consultants in, pay them a barrowful of money to take his grain of truth message and wrap it up in a self-serving framework that people will recall without remembering the underlying message. And I know the very firm, we’ve just sacked them! I’m off to run the 2-of-6 rule over Twenty Major who at times is side-splittingly funny (his First Pint story had elements of Cute, Clever & Credible) but then at other times is contrived, rude, attention-seeking and puerile!

(*) Scientists and engineers are known to be too intelligent to be able to count!


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