Monday, June 21, 2021

Jonathan Miller on humor as classification errors

view larger

Above Roy R. Behrens, Border Crossing. Digital montage, © 2021.


Excerpts from Jonathan Miller and Eric Korn, Under-Twenty Parade, a BBC radio panel, 1953—

Er, er, that was “Lift Up Your Socks”…Next week, “A Short Gap” recorded anonymously…the South of England is going to move in a westerly direction…Now here is a police message, published Methuen at twenty-one shillings. There was an accident last night on the Great North Circular Road, when an elderly chrysanthemum was knocked down by a steamroller and received injuries from which the Chief Constable of Hertfordshire has since died…The police are anxious to interview a man with long blue hair—they have never seen a man with long blue hair.


Kate Bassett [in reference to the above radio script] In Two Minds: A biography of Jonathan Miller. London: Oberon Books, 2012, p. 55—

What is remarkable, more immediately, is this extract’s sheer craziness. It is garbled, elided and dreamlike, with slivers of the everyday made strange by being miscategorized, everything playfully grafted into the wrong slots. Miller’s own theory of comedy, expounded in later life, would home in on precisely that: laughter aroused by errors of classification.