By Allison Bloechl
Douglas Adams is by far one of the funniest authors I have ever experienced and certainly one of my favorites. His works are filled to the brim with wit, satire and humor. One would think this would get boring over the course of radio plays and half-dozen books comprising his most famous work The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy. And it would, if it were just one style of joke. But Adams was a master joke-teller and never let you see where the joke was going. He was particularly adept at deadpan, satirical, and absurdist humor as well as the classic bait-and-switch. As a towel-toting fan, here are some of my favorites of each.
Deadpan humor is just how it sounds – delivered mater-of-factly and without emotion. The Hitchhiker’s Guide is chock-full of it. One of my favorite lines from both the radio plays and the novels – the creation of the universe.
“In the beginning, the universe was created. This has made a lot of people very angry and been widely regarded as a bad move.”
Another example would be the overzealous man who disproves God and goes on to prove that “black is white and gets killed on the next zebra crossing”.
Satire mocks specific humans or humanity in general. It is meant to point out flaws and weaknesses. More often than not it has political or social ramifications. One of the most obvious examples is that of Lady Cynthia Fitzmilton, and obvious dig at Margaret Thatcher. We can tell how Adams felt about the former PM by making Fitzmilton ignorant, offensive and oblivious. In the first fit (or radio play) she commends a construction team for bulldozing a town in front of the very people whose homes are being destroyed.
“And I must say immediately what a great honour and a great privilege I think it must be, for you, the people of Cottington, to have this gleaming new motorway going through your cruddy little village. I’m Sorry, sorry, your little country village of cruddy Cottington. I know how proud you must feel at this moment to know that your obscure and unsung hamlet will now arise reborn as the very splendid and worthwhile Cottington service station. Providing welcome refreshment and sanitary relief for every weary traveller on his way.
Absurdist (or surreal) humor is the deliberate violations of causal reasoning, producing events and behaviors that are obviously illogical. Throughout the story, our heroes travel by the infinite improbability generator which makes the extremely improbable into reality. Arms melt off, people become couches, and, perhaps most famously, missiles turn into sperm whales and bowls of petunias, keeping readers always guessing as to what the hell will happen next
And finally, we come to the bait-and-switch, my favorite type of humor employed by Adams. The bait-and-switch requires the author to set up and the audience to invest in one particular narrative, where, at the end, the author reveals not what the audience expected. Adams uses this technique frequently and to great effect. In my favorite joke in the entirety of The Guide, our heroes travel across the universe to “the far side of the Quentulus Quazgar Mountains in the land of Sevorbeupstry on the planet of Preliumtarn, which orbits the star Zarss, which is located in the Grey Binding Fiefdoms of Saxaquine” to see the last words of God inscribed on the mountain for all to see in thirty foot tall fire. And they are “WE APOLOGIZE FOR THE INCONVENIENCE”. Adams sets up the narrative of an impossible quest for truth, knowledge and glory, and then pulls the rug out from under us and gives us a sign found frequently on out-of-order toilets.
Thers are, of course, just a few of my favorite examples of the wit and humor of The Hitchhiker’s Guide. For more examples, come see Hedgerow’s The Hitchhiker’s Guide the Galaxy: Part Two this January!