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Surreal Humor
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"This guy has walked out of a venue and collapsed in the middle of a public bar. His best mate who's the only doctor in the building has been picked up and carried away by security. His girlfriend has stepped over his prone body to ask me for an autograph. And now Bart Simpson is telling him to come away from the light! THAT IS SURREAL!"

Something that's so bizarre and inexplicable that it's funny. This is a strange version of Crossing the Line Twice: It takes talent (or luck) to make something so mind screwy and WTF-inducing that it makes you laugh.

Almost every comedy in history has used this at least a few times. It's usually mixed in with other Comedy Tropes, and an undercurrent of it can be felt througout many shows. However, some take it above and beyond any sense of normalcy.

There are several genres dedicated to this trope. It's the main selling point of Gag Series, surreal comedy and Dada Comics, and a main feature of Post Modern comedy. This type of humor has exploded in all forms with the rise of the internet; many memes take this form.

This trope often overlaps with So Bad, It's Good, especially when a work falls into this by accident.

Sub Tropes:

Surreal Humor can be created using Bathos.

Compare Widget Series and So Bad, It's Good. Contrast Surreal Horror.


Examples

    open/close all folders 

    Advertising 
  • This commercial for an online shoe shop called Zalando. It starts off pretty normal, with a frightened guy saying you shouldn't let your wife/girlfriend/sister discover the online shop because she will buy excessive amounts of shoes. The commercial ends with a delivery man ringing the door bell. A woman who bought the shoes screams in excitement, the frightened guy screams in fear... and the delivery man screams for no reason with a bored facial expression.

    Anime and Manga 
  • This is practically the calling card of Hiroyuki Imaishi (Dead Leaves, Panty & Stocking with Garterbelt and Inferno Cop)
  • Bobobo-bo Bo-bobo is the very essence of this trope: A man who can communicate with all body hair sets out on a quest to stop the bald overlord from "bald-ifying" everyone on the planet. Bo-bobo fights many bizarre enemies along the way, mostly by confusing the ever-loving hell out of them (and, in the process, the audience).
  • Excel Saga and Puni Puni Poemi. Come to think of it, Shinichi Watanabe's hair probably counts too, in some way.
  • Papuwa covers the adventures of a soldier who is stranded on an island with all sorts of bizarre creatures and people, including the eponymous island-boy Papuwa.
  • Jungle wa Itsumo Hare nochi Guu: A boy living in a jungle village with his dippy, drunken single mom finds his life turned upside-down by a mysterious girl with crazy powers who seems to have devoted her life to tormenting him.
  • Magical Shopping Arcade Abenobashi: A freak thuamaturgical incident leads to two kids from Osaka being pulled into a series of alternate universes that parody one genre after another (Japanese role-playing games, kung-fu movies, etc). It gets a bit more poignant in later episodes, though.
  • Cromartie High School: A parody of Japanese high-school "delinquent dramas" involving the everyday lives of a band of wannabe tough-guys. The main character's school mates include a robot, a gorilla, and a Freddie Mercury look-alike.
  • Super Milk Chan chronicles the adventures of a smart-mouthed pre-school "superhero" named Milk-Chan, who is called upon frequently by the President of Everything to fight crime, but usually just messes around with her friends.
  • Pani Poni Dash!: A moody child genius whose best friend is a depressed talking rabbit becomes a high-school teacher to a class of eccentrics and misfits while secretly being observed by aliens. And let's not even get started on the class representative, Ichijou...
  • Nichijou is a sketch comedy about a mostly-ordinary high school class... except one of the students is a robot girl with a wind-up key sticking out of her back, and another keeps producing guns from nowhere. Even the seemingly-ordinary characters in this show tend to wildly overreact to things.
  • FLCL is a coming-of-age story that combines guitars, an alien invasion, gratuitous sexual symbolism, and robots coming out of a pre-teen boy's head.
  • Brook from One Piece has this:his jokes surround his status a a living skeleton who died 52 years ago his jokes make you and him die from laughter but wait, he's already dead

    Comicbooks 
  • There once was a Disney Comics series Goofy as [insert historical person here] (from Italy, I think). Mainly it was the life story of a famous man, retold as The Theme Park Version, with Goofy as Leonardo da Vinci / Marco Polo / Casanova / whomever, Mickey as his sidekick, Pete as an antagonistic character and occasionally other Disney characters too. But inbetween, this series often brought sheer absurd gags which weren't commented or lampshaded: A royal guard driving a unicycle, a woman wearing a fried egg on her hat, a spaghetti salesman making his noodles dance, just like a snake charmer... lots of it.
  • Dead Pool comics. The fact that he constantly breaks the fourth wall and seems to be fully aware that he's a comic book character is only the tip of the iceberg.

    Film 

    Jokes 
  • A popular Lightbulb Joke is:
    Q: How many surrealists does it take to change a light bulb?
    A: Fish
    • Of course you could put in your own surreal item. A longer punchline to the same joke is:
    Q: How many surrealists does it take to change a light bulb?
    A: Three. One to hold the giraffe and the other two to fill the bathtub with brightly colored power tools.
    • Or forget the lightbulb
    Q: How many surrealists can you fit in a dishwasher?
    A: None, doghouses don't fly. (Duh.)
    • Or a non-surrealist related one:
    Q: How many ducks does it take to change a lightbulb?
    A: The defense rests.
  • Are you a human being or did you just make a bunch of Dada jokes?
    • No soap, radio!

    Literature 
  • John Hodgman's Complete World Knowledge series has this in spades, though it manages to remain intellectual throughout. In fact, most of the humor comes the juxtaposition of incredibly bizarre happenings with an utterly deadpan presentation.
  • Henrik Drescher's children's book Klutz is filled to the brim with this brand of humor, especially concerning the family's clumsiness being caused by their over-sized black boots.

    Live-Action TV 
  • In That Mitchell and Webb Look the "Numberwang" sketches rely on this. A game show that adheres to no comprehensible rules, but which appears to mostly consist of saying random numbers. And everything not related to the game itself is equally bizarre.
    Host: Joining me tonight are Julie, who's from Yorkshire, and Simon, who's from a factory and made of a special metal. So, Julie, ever killed a man?
    Julie: No.
    Host: Simon?
    Simon: Yes.
    Host: Great! Let's play Wordwang!
  • This is par for the course on Monty Python's Flying Circus. Some good examples include the "Science Fiction Sketch", which is about a race of blancmanges from the Andromeda Galaxy who come to Earth and turn nearly everybody in England into Scotsmen so they can become tennis champions, and are only thwarted by being eaten by a seemingly-insignificant couple introduced near the start of the episode who turned out to also be aliens, and the Running Gag of ending sketches by having a knight come out and hit people on the head with a rubber chicken.
  • Green Wing has moments like this most noteably when Sue White manually takes Mac's sperm whilst he's in a coma so she can have his baby and gives birth to a baby lion. Most of the other scenes involving Sue White are also surreal.
    • There is an episode where doctors create a human pyramid at different windows throughout the episode to show a picture of Jesus' face to confuse everybody.
  • Tim & Eric Awesome Show, Great Job! is made entirely of this trope. On that note, anything by Tim & Eric counts.
  • This Is Jinsy seems to be another one.
  • iCarly falls into this at times, such as that one instance where Spencer somehow managed to play the drums so hard that one of the cymbals burst into flame.
  • Danger 5 has a bit of this. For one thing, the team, upon returning to base, receive a dressing-down from their boss, who happens to have an eagle's head. They later get attacked by Nazi apes, and stumble across a rock band in tropical Antarctica composed of hipster Neanderthals.
  • The Mighty Boosh. Noel Fielding gave the probably most accurate definition of the series: "If Dali made a show, hopefully it would look like this."
  • Twin Peaks. Surreal, absurd, soapy, highly-original mystery show peppered with frequent, off-beat comedy.

    Music 
  • The video for The Avalanches' Frontier Psychiatrist. A geriatric hip-hop group lip-syncs to old movie clips while the lyrics are illustrated by almost everything imaginable? Oh hell yes.
  • Some works by The Bonzo Dog Doo Dah Band ("Doo Dah" was originally "Dada"), who appeared in the pre-Python show Do Not Adjust your Set and were cited by Eric Idle as a major influence on Python's surrealism.
    • Founder Bonzo Vivian Stanshall went on to record solo songs and comic monologues which were, if anything, even weirder.
    • Another singer/raconteur in similar vein was Scotland's Ivor Cutler.
  • Frank Zappa, when he isn't being just plain surreal.
  • Bob Dylan has written a lot of songs like this
  • Radiohead released a DVD called "The Most Gigantic Lying Mouth of All Time," which, among other things, features hilariously surreal interviews with the band members.
  • When The Lonely Island aren't parodying music and hip-hop cliches, they're doing this. Prime examples include "Jack Sparrow", "Punch You In The Jeans", "Meet the Crew", "Space Olympics", and "I Fucked My Aunt". Another common staple of theirs is a premise that starts innocuously but then slowly descends into insanity, as seen in "Like a Boss", "Dreamgirl", and "I Run New York" among others.
  • The music videos, tour antics, promotional materials and overall atmosphere generated by Miley Cyrus during her promotion of the 2013 album Bangerz is fueled on this, when it's not the usual Refuge in Audacity or Hotter and Sexier. From dancing midgets and...erm, bottom-heavy twerking dancers, to dancing rainbows, teddy bears and unicorns, to the Deranged Animation projected onscreen during the Bangerz Tour, to the surrealism surrounding her "We Can't Stop" video, all convention seems thrown out the window.

    New Media 

    Radio 
  • The Goon Show. Where to begin? Exploding taxis, a jet-propelled NAAFI, pianos with diplomatic immunity, bent spoons in lieu of money... Monty Python may be better known, but the Goons got there more than a decade earlier.
  • The Burkiss Way could get very strange at times. One sketch involves an office worker who is employed as a token Desmond Dekker and the Aces for contractual reasons, despite being an amoeba and annoying the other workers by constantly reproducing asexually by mitosis during office hours. And he can't even get the song right.

    Stand-Up Comedy 
  • Swedish comedian Henrik Elmér is all about this.

    Videogames 
  • The sheer absurdity of some of the situations that transpire in Dwarf Fortress can veer into this. Given the nature of the combat system in the game, Bloody Hilarious and Black Comedy tend to come into play frequently as well.
  • robotfindskitten, while allegedly being "zen", is arguably all about the bizarre, meta-referencing "non-kitten objects" you can find. Some are just plain Pythonesque. Samples include: "A livery stable! Get your livery!", "It's the horizon. Now THAT's weird.", and "Look, it's Fanny the Irishman!".
  • Between adopting sirloin steaks and discussing marijuana usage with Dracula, the humor in Space Funeral tends to get pretty weird.
  • No More Heroes, in a very cynical manner of speaking. Your opponents in the first game alone include a mad scientist with an earthquake machine operated by a Brain in a Jar who gets taken out by your rival in the middle of a cut-scene, an old bag lady whose shopping cart turns into a Wave Motion Gun, and a creepy woman-child who attacks with sports equipment and an army of gimps.
  • Earthworm Jim was a game that opened with you launching a cow out of catapult, so it was never the most sane of games in the first place. Earthworm Jim 2 however was just flat-out surreal. Suddenly transforming into a flying blind cave salamander that flies through the game's Womb Level, inflating your head like a balloon while a demonic cat shoots darts at you, and an entire level made out of meat are just the icing on the cake.
  • Psychonauts thrives on this trope thanks to the theme of entering the minds of the mentally unstable leading to some pretty surreal scenarios.

    Web Originals 

    Western Animation 
  • Aqua Teen Hunger Force by its very nature (a rambling, nonsensically-titled show in which the three main characters are animated fast-food items) is built on this trope. Specific examples include the deranged Dr. Weird and his "experiments" that include demanding that his assistant chop off his head so hard that the High-Pressure Blood propels his body to Phoenix, and one episode which featured bacteria that infect Master Shake for the purpose of performing bad theater productions in his brain.
    • Most [adult swim] original programs exhibit this in varying degrees, from "wacky" to "What Do You Mean, It Wasn't Made on Drugs?".
    • The spiritual father of these shows, Space Ghost Coast to Coast started out as campy parody but especially in the latter half of the series tilted heavily into this camp. Often, Space Ghost seems barely interested in doing his job as a talk show host and if it makes him look bad in the process, Zorak and Moltar are there to help him.
  • Adventure Time, a show about a teenage boy and his best friend who is also a dog with elasticity powers fighting multiple threats to their kingdom, comprised almost entirely of talking candy, at the behest of a princess made of bubblegum, makes a living off of this kind of humor.
  • God of Chaos Discord, from My Little Pony: Friendship Is Magic of all things, thrives off this trope whenever he's not falling into Surreal Horror instead. Notable moment: he conjures a glass out of thin air, summons a cotton candy cloud raining chocolate milk, and the glass fills... from top to bottom. Then he drinks the glass. Without the milk. He tosses the chocolate milk behind him, and it explodes for no fathomable reason. See for yourself.
    • Of course, even the God of Disorder himself has nothing on Pinkie Pie, who has this trope down to a science. Among her more notable feats are appearing in multiple places at once during a song, showing up in a mirror without being in the room, sprouting two additional pairs of limbs, walking on thin air, and morphing her own face into that of a G3 pony.
  • Uncle Grandpa, the story of an eccentric, Inexplicably Awesome old man who is "everyone in the world's grandpa and uncle", and who travels the Earth getting young people in (and out) of crazy misadventures, often with the help of his Lizard Folk sidekick Mr. Gus and the aptly-named Giant Realistic Flying Tiger.
  • The Amazing World of Gumball is about the everyday life of a young boy and his family. Did we mention the boy and his mother are blue anthropomorphic cats, his sister and father are pink rabbits, his brother is a goldfish that spontaneously sprouted legs one day and was adopted by the family, and his love interest is a talking peanut with antlers?
  • One tagline for Regular Show is "It's anything but," and is that ever an accurate description. The antics of the two slacker main characters tend to involve stuff like accidentally bringing video game villains to life, summoning an Eldritch Abomination after tying in rock-paper-scissors too many times in a row, or tripping on hot sauce.


Surreal HorrorAbsurdity AscendantSurreal Symbolic Heads
Surprise Slide StaircaseComedy TropesSuspect Is Hatless
Aqua Teen Hunger ForceImageSource/Western AnimationAnthropomorphic Food

alternative title(s): Surreal Humour
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