Humor in science and nature films : just because you can doesn't mean that you should

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Montana State University - Bozeman, College of Arts & Architecture


In this thesis, I assert that humor is not generally appropriate for and applicable to science and natural history ("SNH") films. Considering perspectives and research on humor from fields spanning comedy writing, documentary film theory, evolutionary psychology, pedagogy, behavioral studies, etc., I'll attempt to synthesize some conclusions about treatments, forms and topics that can accommodate humor. I begin by briefly providing some supporting evidence for the assertion that humor has played a minor role in SNH films. I argue that SNH filmmakers have used humor rarely because of specialized aspects of science that naturally result in the routine incompatibility of science with humor. In so doing, I'll refer to definitions, classifications, and rules of humor from an experienced comedy writer and scholar. I'll relate these principles of comedy to findings of researchers of humor in evolutionary psychology, which are relevant to my subsequent analysis of humor in existing SNH films. I then refer to key pedagogical studies, some of which support humor in the context of learning, but the most relevant of which find negative effects of humor on adult learning. I also briefly examine an adult behavioral study from the field of "mood-management" that illuminates gender-specific preferences for different kinds of humor. Continuing to draw on the various research fields' contributions, I analyze examples of some humorous SNH films. I then provide a detailed breakdown of my attempts at humor in my original thesis film treatment, Attack of the Killer Lionfish, and explain why those attempts ultimately failed. Finally, I synthesize some of the conditions under which documentarists might be able to successfully integrate humor, without harming their overall communication goals for the SNH film.


Trouble in the tropics: invasive lionfish is a film that is part of the student's thesis project.



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