Previous Page

A Look At The Benign Violation Theory

This article has been selected for inclusion in the SCF Course.

I recently had some interesting email communication with another so-called stand-up comedy "expert" who made it a point to let me know that...

What he offers his students is based on the Benign Violation Theory (BVT), as if that sort of thing is supposed to have value and impress me in any regard.

Still, just to make sure that I haven't missed some sort of monumental breakthrough that will help funny people capitalize on their talent...

I spent some time checking out the information provided by Peter McGraw, the researcher and purveyor of The Benign Violation Theory (which is showcased in the book The Humor Code (#ad).

Now before I get deep in the weeds about The Benign Violation Theory (BVT), which is lauded in some circles as possibly the most monumental "break though" to happen in the world of spoken word comedy since the invention of those battery powered back massagers that are rumored to be inspirationally multipurposed on a regular basis...

Here is a very brief audio that accurately depicts my no-punches-pulled, professional opinion about efficacy of BVT and just how critical the insight provided by the theory truly ranks in the world of spoken word comedy:

With that most important introduction out of the way...

Let's head right to the "Results" section of this profound success story where this theory has made such an impact in the world of spoken word comedy and humor that --- well, you can explore this for yourself....

The Real World Impact Of BVT

For what is touted as a "revolutionary" discovery regarding what makes anything funny, here are a couple of most interesting observations:

1. Since the debut of BVT in 2010, the vast majority of new comedians STILL can't seem to generate laughter at comedy open mics.

Now that's really odd considering that BVT is supposed to be so powerful that it is actually able to actually make unfunny people funny.

BVT has been around awhile and if it was truly some sort of panacea for generating laughter (my personal hyperbole) for comedians and public speaking types...

Then it seems that it would have swept through the comedy open mic communities like wildfire and most of the new comedians would be funny and getting funnier with each subsequent performance.

Now while I don't frequent comedy open mic nights like I used to, I frequently interact with my course Members who do frequent them and guess what?

Yes, the vast majority of comedy open mic comedians STILL suck night after night for months on end.

How could that possibly be?

Could it be that new comedians just haven't heard of BVT?

If so, how is that possible considering how powerful and revolutionary it is supposed to be?

Could it be that --- I know this is grasping at straws here --- the BVT doesn't quite live up to the hype?

Nah, couldn't be that.

Just sort of thinking out loud, But then there is this...

2. The BVT doesn't appear to have made any impact in the world of humor as it relates to Artificial Intelligence.

Again, the oddities are really stacking up because if BVT was truly "the lick" when it comes to figuring out why ANYTHING is funny, it seems that AI researchers looking to squeeze the funny out of Artificial Intelligence would be all over BVT like a bad rash.

But that hasn't happened. Not only that...

If BVT was the "key" to figuring out all that is funny and why, not only would the AI community be all over it --- it would result in major and ongoing press touting the achievements of AI to finally be able to generate humorous material on the level of an adult human.

Nope, I spent about an hour using multiple search engines trying to find something that would verify that and...

I certainly didn't come across anything resembling a connection between massive strides made in humor generated by AI, much less as a result of using the revelatory and ground breaking information that the BVT is supposed to provide.

Seems a bit odd to me considering all that profoundness spewing out from every aspect of this miraculous discovery.

Related Article: What Programmed Artificial Intelligence (AI) Humor And New Comedians Have In Common

3. I have literally many hundreds of Members in my education programs for comedians from all over the world --- why haven't any of them ever said a thing to me about BVT given the supposed powerful nature of the conclusions provided in that theory?

My Members overall tend to be an exceptionally smart bunch of folks and have no reservation pointing out ANY sort of resource that may help new comedians or public speaking types get the laughs that they want.

Not a single one has even mentioned BVT in any capacity. As a matter of fact...

If it wasn't for the email exchange with the so-called stand-up "expert" that I mentioned in the beginning, it might have been another decade before I actually found out that BVT even existed.

My Professional Assessment

What I can tell you about The Benign Violation Theory is this --- have you ever heard the term "all sizzle and no steak"?

There is quite a lot of "sizzle" associated with BVT and you can find tons of accolades about it online.

However, the reason that it is just about as big a breakthrough as frozen ice is this:

Analyzing, dissecting, categorizing and closely examining only the actual spoken words that resulted in laughter to happen --- regardless of the number examples that are provided --- represents a very small snapshot of what is involved with laughter generation.

How can I say this? It's easy once you realize that:

The DECADES that it takes from birth for a person to develop the sense of humor that they have and the ability to express that sense of humor in a way that causes laughter to happen is OMITTED in ANY academic study.

More specifically, I am talking about:

  • Countless interactions with significant numbers of people over time
  • Life experiences
  • Observations
  • Epiphanies
  • Speculations
  • Opinions
  • Recognizing and using the sense of humor expressed by others
  • Countless points of reference and the real, speculative or fabricated connectivity between them
  • The emotional and meaningful connections between any of the items listed

These are the things that give a person uniqueness and individuality. These are the things that provide a variety of perspectives when talking about the exact same things.

And these are the things that are the foundation for ANYTHING spoken and expressed that causes laughter to happen.

Interesting enough, these things don't need to be studied, identified or categorized at all because they are already developed and used in an almost automatic way.

The omission of these types of essential considerations is necessary in an academic study because there is no way to effectively quantify these items without having a group of people in a "Truman Show" environment that have been studied and carefully analyzed for 2-3 decades.

But what can be examined and picked apart is the actual spoken words that caused laughter to occur that is only a mere SLIVER of what is involved when it comes to generating laughter.

It's really no different than studying the steering wheel of a car --- an obviously critical part of any vehicle --- and claiming that the results of this study will reveal everything you need to know about the rest of the car.

What tends to bother me most about this sort of "revolutionary" sort of academic research is that the process of generating laughter is effectively reduced to something that is essentially the same as a "revolutionary" one-size-fits-all running shoe.

Interestingly enough, it is the EXACT same sort of process (reviewing after-the-fact results and nothing else) that was used to identify "joke formulas" which have been around for decades and hasn't kept comedy open mic comedians from sucking either or AI from getting past simple puns and limericks in the field of comedy.

Related Article: Looking For The Best Stand-up Comedy Joke Formulas?

To add insult to injury, these sort of "revelatory" findings are then peddled as actionable when it is actually far from being readily actionable at all and certainly not actionable in any meaningful way.

As you are looking for the straightest path to generate audience laughs, consider these questions:

  • Does the sense of humor you use to generate laughs off stage matter when you are standing before an audience?
  • How were you able to generate laughs before you heard about BVT?
  • Why EXACTLY do you need spend ANY time learning "techniques" to cause an audience to laugh if you are able to cause the people you talk to everyday laugh WITHOUT having to learn anything to do it?

Those are not trick questions.

As a matter of fact you might want to check out this extensive special report for a more comprehensive look at the questions that I believe you should be asking when it comes to strategies that are offered for developing comedy material for any audience focused environment.


In order to be completely fair in accessing BVT, I ordered the book The Humor Code (#ad) just in case there may have been something that I missed.

And I may eventually provide a follow-up article and report any interesting findings that may have been provided in the book that weren't discussed online once I have reviewed the book.

But truthfully, I doubt that my assessment will vary much, seeing how, like every other academic approach to laughter generation, a person's individual sense of humor and expression simply doesn't warrant consideration in BVT.

That is problematic to me.

In my eyes, a person's individual and unique sense of humor and expression of that sense of humor is the essential foundation of generating audience laughter EASILY, provided that:

  • A person has ample comedy talent to begin with (most people do) and...
  • A person is able to overcome the preconditioning that keeps them from actually using their sense of humor in front of an audience and...
  • A person is able to learn how structure what they already do naturally offstage for audiences when they are onstage.

While academic research that results in conclusions like those provided in The Benign Violation Theory may make for a great topic of conversation at parties with other academic types present...

I personally believe that these sorts of things simply add an overwhelming and unnecessary level of difficulty to an already challenging activity.

But you really need to check out The Benign Violation Theory for yourself and come up with your own conclusions.

Previous Page