Friends: making audiences laugh by embracing the unexpected in conversation - Deepstash
Friends: The humour of the sitcom

Over the ten series, the sitcom about a group of 20- and 30-somethings in New York attracted scholarly analysis.

One of the striking things about Friends was the humour that depended on clever conversational devices. The scriptwriters used the unexpected in conversation.

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The conversational rules for a successful invitation depend on:

  • who we're asking,
  • what kind of relationship we have
  • what's at stake
  • how important an acceptance is.

The preferred response to a request is acceptance, and the best way to ensure a positive result is to pose a leading question like, "What are you up to this evening?" This helps those we're talking to avoid having to give negative responses.

Friends' scriptwriters breached these rules, which cause audiences to laugh.

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Friends scriptwriters methods for creating laughter make the often hidden conventions of language-use visible.

In one episode, an invitation is turned down, but without giving an expected reason. Joey asks Phoebe if she'd like to help build furniture. Phoebe opens with a negative reply but then does the surprising. "Ohh! I wish I could, but I don't want to." And the audience erupts in laughter.

Creating humour this way, as well as through misunderstandings, can keep us laughing.

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