The Soundtrack as Appropriate Incongruity


The Soundtrack as Appropriate Incongruity by Marshall Heiser is a chapter of the Equinox publication “Sounding Funny: Sound and Comedy Cinema” (edited by Mark Evans and Philip Hayward, ISBN-13: 9781781790991).

Publisher: Equinox Publishing, Sheffield, England.


The idea that instances of humour depend upon the perception of an incongruity is by no means a new idea (Morreall, 1989). Incongruity theories form a major strand of humour studies and have in common a (primarily) cognitive approach to the phenomenon. Oring’s appropriate incongruity theory states that humour depends on relationships that are paradoxically right and yet not-right (2003). This collision of seemingly ‘incompatible matrices’ (Koestler, 1964) need not be limited to one sensory mode however. As an audio-visual medium, cinema has the potential to articulate humour by playfully synchronising sight and sound in an appropriately incongruous fashion. In these cases, the humour may arise as an emergent property of the synthesis, rather than belonging to either of the texts independently. Instances from comedy cinema of the post-War period are examined to demonstrate a variety of ways this humorous synthesis can occur.

References: Oring, E. (2003), ‘Engaging Humor,’ Urbana: University of Illinois Press. Morreall, J. (1989), ‘Enjoying Incongruity’, Humor, 2(1), pp. 1-18. Koestler, A. (1964), ‘The Act of Creation,’ New York: Macmillan.

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