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  • By: Aubrey Mellor
  • In: Encyclopedia of Humor Studies
  • Edited by: Salvatore Attardo
  • Subject:General Media, Communication & Cultural Studies, Sociology of Culture

Indicating a humorous action or remark intended to provoke laughter, the word gag is commonly interchangeable with joke. Gag is idiomatic to professional comedians, who use it in preference to the layman's term joke to describe the main elements in comic routines. It describes comic expressions, whether verbal or physical. Both involve the buildup of an expected outcome with a surprising but understandable (comic) detonation. As with jokes, gags can be “canned” (built on preexisting jokes) or “spontaneous.’” Improvisation (or the illusion of it) is a distinct feature of all stand-up comedians. The etymology of gag is unclear, though some have claimed connection with a joke's ability to make people struggle for breath (i.e., “to gag”). This entry discusses verbal and physical gags and how ...

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