9 Kinds of Humor Explained in English


An important part of fluency is being able to read different kinds of humor. Today we are going to look at nine different kinds of humor explained in English. Do you know what it means to be able to read someone’s sense of humor? When we read someone we are able to understand them, not just their obvious spoken words but everything they might be implying. Humor is subtle. At times it can be hard to catch. Every culture – from family group to a classroom full of like-minded students, a city or perhaps even an entire country full of people might have its own distinctive sense of humor. Just like how different regions around the world have their own unique way of cooking food. We may share some ideas, but each is still so distinct. Have you ever noticed that? 

So in the lesson, we are going to talk about the many different kinds of humor found around the world, but using English descriptive words. Many of these you will be familiar with, of course, as a big part of human bonding is the ability to laugh together. This lesson will help increase your vocabulary so that you are able to comfortably discuss humor in English.

Which kind of humor do you find the funniest? Let us know in the comments.

Physical or Slapstick Humor

This is probably the easiest one to explain. It is a physical kind of humor. This means someone is using exaggerated or wild body movements. Usually, there is gags, pranks and practical jokes involved but it always has to do with the body, or comedy around the body behaving oddly. Often times people are getting hurt, maybe they slip and fall, maybe something is falling on them. It can be painful to watch at times and yet it brings out the laughter in us humans.

Some classic examples of this type of humor could be Charlie Chaplin or the Three Stooges. If you ever enjoyed watching “America’s Funniest Home Videos” growing up, this is another perfect example. Modern day “GIFs” can sometimes capture this style of humor. 


Self-Deprecating Humor

When someone is a master (or really good) at self-deprecating humor it means they are good at putting themselves down or making fun of themselves on purpose to amuse others. It is done in a way that makes everyone laugh rather than feel bad for them. Self-deprecating humor makes people feel comfortable because the person seems real and humble and able to make themselves vulnerable enough to laugh at themselves.


“Beauty is in the eye of the beholder, which is a pity because this week the National Association of Beholders wrote to tell me that I’ve got a face like a rucksack full of dented bells.”

Charlie Brooker

Surreal or Absurd Humor

This is the kind of humor one can spot in the story (or movie) “Alice in Wonderland”. It takes the world and flips it upside dow. The result is so odd and strange that it ends up being funny – for some

Sometimes called: weird, odd, offbeat, strange, quirky


Improvisation or Improv Humor

Improv is a form of live theatre where everything is made up on the spot. It is quite a difficult thing to pull off comedy in the moment or on the spot, but often times that awkwardness is what makes it funny. It generally requires a team of actors working together to build up the comedy. Saturday Night Live is a show that relies heavily on improvisational humor. 

“Don’t Think Twice” is a recent film all about the improv comedy world. If you are curious, I would recommend checking it out. You can watch the trailer here

Witty or Dry Humor

Sometimes called: deadpan, highbrow, quippy, repartee (witty conversation), wisecrack, quick, clever, droll, wry, sarcastic

This can often be the most difficult humor to detect. It is an intelligent kind of humor that is the complete opposite of slapstick humor. Witty humor requires your mind to be active and engaged. It may not always be “laugh out loud” funny. In fact, the person who uses dry humor often shows little to no emotion at all. This is why it is often called “deadpan” humor. To have a deadpan face is to have an emotionless face. The way the person appears to be serious is a big part of what makes it funny. 

Witty humor sometimes uses → Irony, sarcasm, satire, parody (but not always)

Sarcasm can sometimes be a big part of witty humor. It is a kind of humor that can hurt someone else’s feelings when used in a mean way, but when used gently it can be funny without putting someone else down. A lot of sarcasm has to do with your tone of voice used and the use of irony. Let’s say you let someone at the office know they left their car lights on and that person barks back at you “Perfect, just what I needed to hear on this wonderful day”. They are using sarcasm to let you know they are having a really bad day. It doesn’t mean they are upset with you, it just means they are actually not having much of a wonderful day at all. Sarcasm is not common everywhere in the world but it is very common in North America. If you hear someone using sarcasm, please don’t take it personally as it is not about you and more about that person’s personality.

Example of witty humor using irony and sarcasm:

Some cause happiness wherever they go; others whenever they go.”

–  Oscar Wilde



Wordplay Humor or Puns

Sometimes called: “Dad jokes”, play on words

Wordplay Humor sometimes uses → “puns, phonetic mix-ups such as spoonerisms, obscure words and meanings, clever rhetorical excursions, oddly formed sentences, double entendres, and telling character names” (from Wikipedia). Sometimes Wikipedia just has the all the right words and so we are just going to quote them on the subject.


I feel that Gabby explained it best! We all love to hear Gabby tell a great joke, right?

Observational Humor

This is the type of humor most often used by stand up comedians. They find the bits of humor in examining our day to day lives. Let me share a little clip from the comedian Jim Gaffigan, explaining what life is like for all the McDonald’s Lovers out there. 


Potty Humor

Sometimes called: Juvenile humor, gag jokes, toilet humor

I am not sure if much needs to be said about this one. 

Dark Humor

Other words to describe it: grim, black, bitter amusement, grotesque, or sick humor

Some people find humor in places that are dark or unpleasant. A “dark” topic would be death, for example. This is the type of humor most likely to offend others and so it is best tested on your friends who love you unconditionally. Have you ever played the card game “Cards Against Humanity”? It is a perfect example of what a dark sense of humor revels in. Nothing is “off the table” (not available) when it comes to this sense of humor.


Question: Why don’t cannibals eat clowns?    Answer: Because they taste funny.

Question: What did Kermit the Frog say at Jim Henson’s Funeral?     Answer: Nothing


Thank you for reading this mini-lesson all the way to the end. We hope you were able to take away something helpful from this lesson on humor. When you are having a conversation with a native English speaker, now you will understand and have the words to call them on it when they are attempting to be funny – and maybe give them a taste of your own humor in return!

Picture of Gabby Wallace, M.Ed TESOL

Gabby Wallace, M.Ed TESOL

About the Author
Gabby Wallace is the Founder of Go Natural English, where you can quickly improve your confidence speaking English through advanced fluency practice. Even if you don't have much time, this is the best place for improving your English skills. Millions of global intermediate - advanced English students are learning with Gabby's inspiring, clear, and energetic English lessons. Gabby has a Masters Degree in Teaching English to Speakers of Other Languages from Boston University and 20+ years experience helping students become fluent through her online courses and membership program.

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