Award-winning cartoonist Wiley Miller is well known for his comic, Non Sequitur. However, despite its critic and commercial success, non sequitur humor is one of the trickiest to develop and explain, let alone relate to kids.
Non sequitur humor is suitable for kids but must be tailored to fit their individual understanding. Kids can learn non sequitur humor techniques and devices, but it requires advanced vocabulary and insight in order to grasp underlying meanings and relationships.
As a teacher, I’ve taught literary devices and figurative language to kids as young as 1st grade all the way to students in advanced high school English. It can be challenging to say the least, but non sequiturs are one of the most difficult.
I’m happy to share what I know about non sequitur humor; whether or not it’s appropriate for kids; and some relatable examples to help put it in perspective for you. Hopefully it will help you, and your kids, enjoy non sequiturs as much as I do!
What is non sequitur humor?
So before moving on, I want to explain what non sequitur humor is.
Non sequitur humor is humor that is absurd and illogical in context. This is part of what makes it funny. While non sequiturs can be simple since they technically make no sense and don’t follow logic, the really good ones are actually complex in how they make ‘connections’.
In other words, non sequitur humor is jokes that are out of place, or to be specific, the punchline is. However, non sequitur humor often gets laugh because it shows two great disconnects.
We’ll look at examples in a later section, but before that, know that non sequiturs are literally not logical. It’s a Latin word (phrase, I suppose) that specifically translates to ‘it does not follow’.
The etymology is (non) “not” + (third person singular present indicative of sequi) “to follow”.Etymonline
This means the comedy comes from pairing two things, such as the ‘joke set up’ and the ‘punchline’ that don’t logically connect; the punchline doesn’t follow. It’s from out of left field. It’s funny because it is absurd, silly, nonsensical, and/or shocking.
Hint: In TV, non sequiturs often occur when someone isn’t listening. It’s a blatant illustration that while one character was pouring their heart out, for instance, the other was off in his or her own thoughts.
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Kids and Non Sequitur Humor
Is non sequitur humor appropriate for kids? Is it even possible for kids ‘to get it’?
Kids struggle with non sequitur humor in some ways, such as in making connections or drawing conclusions in context, but in other ways non sequitur humor is right up kids’ alley. Kids get non sequitur humor like it’s ‘word slapstick’; it’s just silly nonsense to them that they find funny.
Mr. Bean is an example of a popular slapstick comedian for kids. They enjoy his exaggerated facial expressions and silly antics, as well as the fact that he is consistently making a mess of things. But Mr. Bean’s comedy happens to be an example of non sequitur humor, too.
- He’s regularly doing things that make no sense for the situation.
- Mr. Bean responds illogically.
- He’s off the wall comedy.
Kids enjoy silly, inane, and out of the ordinary happenings. They’ll laugh at random noises and events. The very thing that makes kids great audience for slapstick comedy is what makes them able to enjoy non sequitur humor.
You can be telling a story, and then all of a sudden make a goofy sound that has nothing to do with it, and then move on to finish your story and kids will laugh. They’ll get that non sequitur piece. It doesn’t have to make sense.
However, don’t try to get kids to explain non sequitur. They’ll just explain it’s unexpected and that’s what makes it funny to them. And really that’s basically why adults like non sequiturs, too.
Non Sequitur Family Story: When our son Ronin was learning the alphabet, he would sing it. One day he figured out that randomly saying ‘Cookie Monster’ got us to laugh. Thus, he started inserting ‘Cookie Monster’ into all of his conversations. To be honest, the humor was lost on us after 2-3 times as it lost its randomness, but Ronin always thought it was funny!
Is non sequitur humor smart?
Is non sequitur humor smart or dumb? As a teacher, I found that teaching non sequiturs is both. Well, ‘not dumb’ per se, but I discovered my most intelligent kids could struggle with it or ‘get the relationship’ just like my English language learners, special needs students, and young first graders could/not.
Non sequitur humor is both smart and dumb. Goofy, illogical punchlines don’t require much forethought or insight. However, some non sequiturs rely on subtle relationships or make complex connections that are quite astute. Because of this, it’s varied who gets or not gets non sequitur humor.
- Not So Smart Non Sequitur: He failed his math test. He must be a bad writer.
- Smart Non Sequitur: A Big and Tall store has a sign that says ‘ring for service’ between one wide door and one tall door.
As a teacher, I can help students understand non sequiturs and move from not-so-smart ones to ‘smart’ non sequiturs by discussing and analyzing different examples. The analysis is crucial in modeling with children how to figure out non sequiturs, and what makes them funny.
Non Sequitur Humor Examples
Now we’re ready to look at examples of non sequiturs.
- SNL’s Weekend Update with Norm MacDonald: This was known for its frequent non sequiturs. In one episode he frequently blamed everything on Frank Stallone. One reason this is funny is because Stallone had absolutely no connection to any of the issues, but another, is that ‘it’s Frank Stallone’, someone no one really heard of!
- The Office: This show is full of non sequiturs from boss Michael Scott to ‘Assistant to the Regional Manager’ Dwight to slacker but good-natured Jim. Michael is frequently drawing wrong conclusions to situations. For instance, because he’s boss he credits himself as a benefactor to his employees, as the person who ‘gives’ them their check. Both Dwight and Jim draw insane, absurd logical fallacies as well.
- Clueless: Alicia Silverstone’s Emma, known as Cher, consistently draws wrong conclusions, or makes relationships and connections that are illogical and/or nonsensical. One of the most memorable examples of non sequiturs in Clueless is from her oral report/speech in front of her class.
- Scrubs: JD from TV’s Scrubs is frequently saying non sequiturs, or things that don’t follow, and offer comedic relief due to his constant fantasizing.
Other Non Sequitur Examples:
- You watch a documentary about shark attacks and then think you can’t swim in your pool.
- The car is out of gas so you can’t do your homework.
- Someone asks you how’s the weather and you respond, ‘chocolate.’
- You tell your mom that your stomach hurts and she replies, ‘dinner’s not ready yet.’
A Final Non Sequitur Family Story: Blaming my son Ethan for everything that goes wrong. Let me explain before you label me worst mother of the year! Whether I burn the cookies, my husband oversleeps, or Ronin loses his keys, we say ‘Ethan did it!’ and Ethan always responds, ‘denied!’. Now we know Ethan is not to blame and he knows this too, because the things we ‘blame’ him for has nothing at all to do with him. This is what makes it a non sequitur…and funny.
Non Sequitur Humor Punchline
So what’s the non sequitur humor punchline? It’s this: non sequiturs are illogical, goofy, out of the ordinary responses, which can be used to illicit comic relief.
Even young kids can actually enjoy non sequitur humor because they don’t necessarily have to get the joke. Because non sequiturs don’t follow logic and are surprising/shocking/oddball responses or random insertions, kids just laugh due to the absurdity rather than from underlying connections or hidden meanings.
However, more complex non sequiturs can appeal to mature audiences, in age or intelligence. And figuring them out can be like solving advanced puzzles.
Some non sequiturs can be quite sophisticated, requiring insight or astute thinking. But overall kids like non sequiturs because it’s like word slapstick!
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