Visual gag  

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Train wreck at Montparnasse (October 22, 1895) by Studio Lévy and Sons.
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Train wreck at Montparnasse (October 22, 1895) by Studio Lévy and Sons.
visual effects, trick film

In comedy, a visual gag or sight gag is anything which conveys its humor visually, often without words being used at all.

There are numerous examples in cinema history of directors who based most of the humour in their films on visual gags, even to the point of using no or minimal dialogue. The first known use of a visual gag was in the Lumière brothers' 1895 short, L'Arroseur Arrosé ("The Waterer Watered"), in which a gardener watering his plants becomes the subject of a boy's prank.

Silent film comedians such as Charlie Chaplin, Harold Lloyd and Buster Keaton often used visual humour because the technology used to record voices in film did not yet exist. One of the most famous directors of visual comedies in the sound era was Jacques Tati. His 1967 film Playtime, which eschewed a conventional plot, central characters and close-up shots in favour of countless visual gags happening simultaneously, is perhaps the defining example. A currently-active director who uses primarily visual humour in his films is Sweden's Roy Andersson. The 2003 animated film The Triplets of Belleville is nearly dialogue-free and relies largely on visual humour.

Visual gags are often used in surreal comedy, with many Monty Python's Flying Circus sketches making use of them, such as the "Mrs Gorilla" sketch in which a series of middle-aged women have been shopping and bought piston engines. Likewise, many elements of the "Hell's Grannies" sketch, featuring Keep Left signs attacking passersby, are sight gags.

The 1998 movie BASEketball features several prominent visual gags, such as stadium workers operating a chicken shredder after a game, or the character of Squeak Scolari's head being used as a punching bag.

Another movie which relies heavily on visual gags is 1998's Wrongfully Accused. One visual gag from this movie had a woman's tongue slip into a man's ear and come out the other side of his head.

Visual gags are also exploited in the popular comedy television programme Just for Laughs Gags.

As Rowan Atkinson explains in his lecture Funny Business, an object or a person can become funny in three different ways. They are:

  • By being in an unusual place
  • By behaving in an unusual way
  • By being the wrong size

Most sight gags fit into one or more of these categories.

See also





Unless indicated otherwise, the text in this article is either based on Wikipedia article "Visual gag" or another language Wikipedia page thereof used under the terms of the GNU Free Documentation License; or on original research by Jahsonic and friends. See Art and Popular Culture's copyright notice.

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