Happy Wednesday, word nerds!
A few months ago, I did a Word Nerd post about irony. As I explained then, I’m fascinated by different types of humour—partly because I like to be able to describe humour accurately in my reviews, but also just because it’s a fun subject!
Well, last week I discovered a new book that had me giggling out loud. Frequently. In fact, my eldest daughter kept asking me to explain what was going on because she wanted to share in the fun. I’ll be reviewing it as part of a Fast Five Review Roundup tomorrow, but once again I was struck by the ‘what kind of humour is it?’ question.
There’s actually a combination of different styles of humour in the book—situational, physical, dry, self-deprecating—but after a little bit of research, I decided the overriding tone of the humour is droll.
Now, I’m not sure about you, but my concept of droll humour was pretty vague until last week. I don’t know whether it’s just word association, but I always associated it with the kind of humour that makes you roll your eyes. You know, like bad puns, dad jokes, that kind of thing.
Not so. Well, not exactly so, anyway.
The Oxford English Dictionary defines droll as:
Curious or unusual in a way that provokes dry amusement.
Merriam-Webster defines it as:
Having a humorous, whimsical, or odd quality.
It comes from the French word drôle meaning A jester or entertainer; a buffoon.
Put those concepts together: curious, unusual, odd, or whimsical in a way that provokes amusement. Whimsical carries the idea of spontaneous, unexpected, impulsive. And yet droll is still a step away from surreal humour (think Monty Python), where the illogical and the absurd forms the basis of the humour.
The concept begins to take shape, but it’s a difficult form of humour to grasp completely without concrete examples. And therein lay my difficulty in researching this topic. There were plenty of examples of people using it in a sentence, but none of those sentences actually helped to convey what droll humour is like.
The best way to understand droll humour is by examples of the humour itself. I’ll get to the book I mentioned in a moment, but first I want to share a couple of examples from one of my favourite TV series. I don’t know whether the 1980s British comedies Yes, Minister and its sequel Yes, Prime Minister were very popular in the US, but they’re some of my favourites to binge watch. And they have some great moments of droll humour:
Sir Humphrey: Bernard, Ministers should never know more than they need to know. Then they can’t tell anyone. Like secret agents; they could be captured and tortured.
Bernard: [shocked] You mean by terrorists?
Sir Humphrey: [seriously] By the BBC, Bernard.
Hacker: You just said that the Foreign Office was keeping something from me! How do you know if you don’t know?
Bernard: I don’t know specifically what, Prime Minister, but I do know that the Foreign Office always keep everything from everybody. It’s normal practice.
Hacker: Who does know?
Bernard: May I just clarify the question? You are asking who would know what it is that I don’t know and you don’t know but the Foreign Office know that they know that they are keeping from you so that you don’t know but they do know and all we know there is something we don’t know and we want to know but we don’t know what because we don’t know! Is that it?
Hacker: May I clarify the question: Who knows Foreign Office secrets, apart from the Foreign Office?
Bernard: Oh, that’s easy: only the Kremlin.
And then Sir Humphrey in fine form:
Sir Humphrey: The identity of the official whose alleged responsibility for this hypothetical oversight has been the subject of recent discussion is not shrouded in quite such impenetrable obscurity as certain previous disclosures may have led you to assume; but not to put too fine a point on it, the individual in question is, it may surprise you to learn, one whom your present interlocutor is in the habit of defining by means of the perpendicular pronoun.
Hacker: I beg your pardon?
Sir Humphrey: It was… I.
Excerpts from ‘Yes, Minister’ and ‘Yes, Prime Minister’ taken from Wikiquote
Although the show itself is satire, a big part of the humour comes from the droll dialogue—sometimes the spontaneous one-liner, like Sir Humphrey’s ‘By the BBC, Bernard’ or Bernard’s ‘only the Kremlin.’ Other times it’s the idiosyncrasies of the characters, such as Bernard’s pedantic nature, or Sir Humphrey’s ability to completely obfuscate his listener by talking around in circles. These kinds of oddly humorous behaviours and unexpected but amusing responses define droll humour.
Which brings me to Worth the Fall by Bria Quinlan. It’s the second full-length novel in the Brew Ha Ha series, but you can read this as a standalone. (Although if you’re anything like me, you’ll be hooked and want the whole series anyway—don’t forget to stay tuned for my reviews tomorrow!) If you’re looking for a great rom com, give this one a go. (It’s not Christian fiction, but it is clean.)
Here’s just a glimpse at some of the droll humour that permeates this novel. In this first example, it’s the observation at the end that makes it droll.
He flashed that grin at me and I didn’t blame Jenna one bit for her smittenness. Where she was all nerdy-glasses girl, he was hot JCrew glasses guy. They’d have the most adorable near-sighted children ever.
This next paragraph is the kind of quirky observation comedians like to make about everyday, boring activities. What seals the deal on the drollery is the completely unexpected punchline.
I’ll never understand parallel parking. How many hours of your life are wasted because of it? First you have to find the spot and calculate if you fit. Once you’re reasonably sure that you can shove a few tons of metal between two immovable objects, you have to wait until the guy who wasn’t paying attention and pulled up on your rear bumper even though you have your reverse light and your directional on smartens up and goes around. Then it takes at least two tries to get in right—four if you’re someone who doesn’t usually drive.
Hours. Hours of life wasted in which I could be doing something more exciting.
Okay, this last one is a bit longer, but it really tickled me because the whole situation is so droll—and so typical of these characters, I might add! Context: Kasey has agreed to go to see a foreign film with Max, but she insisted on them both making their way to the cinema independently (even though they’re only about a block away from each other and his place is on the way) to make the point that it isn’t a date.
About a block down the street, I saw a guy sitting on his stoop, reading his phone. Of course it was Max. Shocker.
I pulled to a stop in front of him annoyed he’d obviously been waiting on me even though I’d told him I’d meet him there. This is exactly what I’d been trying to explain to Jenna. He was too much like Jason. Everything had to be his way. He was orchestrating things how he wanted them without necessarily going against what I’d said.
I stood there, watching him, his head still bent over his phone.
He finally glanced up, no crease between his eyes this time. But, getting what you want is far more relaxing than not getting what you want.
“I’m not waiting on you. I’m texting my brother. I’ll meet you there.”
And then he went back to his phone.
Was this reverse psychology?
“Okay. I was thinking of stopping at CVS. See you there.”
“‘kay.” Type. Type. Type.
I nodded which of course he didn’t see and headed down the street.
“Kasey.” His deep voice stopped me in my tracks even though, when I turned back, he was still looking at his phone. “Other way.”
I glanced down the street. Yup. I’d headed back toward my place.
Trying not to huff, I pivoted and strode past him.
I got about the same distance beyond him the right way, when I heard my name again.
“Could you grab me some Junior Mints while you’re at CVS?”
I gave him the sweetest smile I had, knowing at this point he had to be screwing with me.
“Sure. Anything else?”
“Nope.” He went back to his phone. “Thanks.”
I fumed the entire way to CVS while trying not to fume at all.
Excerpts from ‘Worth the Fall’ copyright © 2014 by Bria Quinlan
Lol! These two are so much fun!