WIITY COMPRESSION, COMIC EXPANSION
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WIITY COMPRESSION, COMIC EXPANSION book
Metaphors that link laughter and explosiveness ('erupt', 'burst out') touch on an interesting paradox: that the energies of humour, like those of a detonation, are both contractive and expansive. The quickfire gag, the punch-line, the dry aphorism, are irresistible because they compress so powerfully, imply so much in a little compass - a phrase, or even a single word. Such compression is a classic element in the technique of humour; 'brevity', we are inevitably reminded, 'is the soul of wit.' On the other hand, when the compressed meanings erupt and laughter bursts out, its waves and echoes persist, and one outbreak is only the signal for the next. The effect of a joke is often to put us in a state of pleasurable instability that welcomes, craves, indeed courts the impact of another joke. This is a requisite of comedy, which depends on expansion. The character of a Falstaff or a Pickwick is not created in a single sally; and a deftly-turned witticism does not show us Jerome's tourists lost in Hampton Court maze, or Thurber's eccentric family on the Night The Bed Fell. Wit is planted, comedy flowers. Sometimes it flowers amazingly from a single witty seed; sometimes it is a pricking-out of many varieties; sometimes it is wit grafted onto other humorous stock.