Meta humor: Everything you need to know about

With this article, you can learn what is meta humor. Meta humor is a type of humor that involves self-referential jokes, breaking the fourth wall, or commenting on the conventions and expectations of comedy itself.

It can be seen as a way of subverting or mocking the norms and clichés of humor or as a way of creating a more intimate and interactive relationship with the audience. Do you want to get more information about what meta humor is? If your answer is yes, you’re coming to the right place. So what is meta humor?

What is meta humor?

Self-referential humor, also known as self-reflexive humor, self-aware humor, or meta humor, is a type of comedic expression that intentionally alludes to the person who is expressing the humor in a comedic way or to some particular aspect of that same comedic expression, whether it is openly directed toward itself or toward some other subject.

Bathos is a type of meta humor that is subtly and surreally portrayed. Typically, self-referential humor uses contradiction, oxymoron, or hypocrisy to make the audience laugh by presenting a contradictory or otherwise absurd situation.

Meta humor history

According to the published information, the Old Comedy of Ancient Athens was the first instance of self-referential comedy. Using imaginative narratives, grotesque and unnatural masks, and status reversals of characters, Aristophanes, whose plays are the only existing fragments of the Old Comedy, slandered renowned politicians and sought the approval of his audience.

Douglas Hofstadter, who produced multiple volumes on self-reference, popularized self-referential humor. The term “meta” has come to be used, particularly in art, to refer to something self-referential.

Meta humor classifications

A popular method of humor is meta-humor. These include various categories that are somewhat dissimilar yet connected, such as joke templates, jokes that refer to themselves, and jokes about jokes (meta-humor).

What is meta humor?
What is meta humor: Self-referential humor, also known as self-reflexive humor, self-aware humor, or meta humor

Joke template

This type of meta-joke is a sarcastic jab at the perpetual refitting of joke formats (typically by professional comedians) to different circumstances or characters without a major innovation in the comedy.

Three people visit a bar, everyone of different nationalities. When the first two of them make intelligent remarks, the third disgraces himself in front of his compatriots by acting foolishly.

Three blokes go into a pub. One is a tad foolish, and the situation proceeds with a tiresome certainty.

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Meta humor jokes

Self-referential jokes must refer to themselves and not to broader categories of jokes from the past.

What happens when a joke and a rhetorical inquiry are combined?

  • According to Bill Bailey: “Three blind mice walk into a bar, but they are unaware of their surroundings, so to derive humor from it would be exploitative.”
  • According to Stewart Francis: I’m a self-deprecating comedian…though I’m not very good at it.”
  • According to Bob Monkhouse: “When I said I was going to become a comedian, they all laughed. Well, they’re not laughing now, are they?”

Jokes about jokes: Meta humor

Jokes about jokes are known as meta-humor. Here, the word “meta” is used to indicate that the joke specifically refers to other jokes in a manner like to that of the terms “metadata” (information about data), “metatheatrical” (a play within a play, as in Hamlet), and “metafiction.”

What is meta humor?
What is meta humor: Jokes about jokes are known as meta-humor

Bar joke examples

  • A guy walks into a bar and says “ouch!”
  • A baby seal walks into a club.
  • A dangling participle walks into a bar. Enjoying a cocktail and chatting with the
  • Bartender, the evening passes pleasantly.
  • A misplaced modifier walks into a bar owned by a man with a glass eye named Ralph.
  • A dyslexic man walks into a bra.
  • A bar was walked into by the passive voice.
  • A verb walks into a bar, sees a beautiful noun, and suggests they conjugate. The noun declines.
  • A non sequitur walks into a bar. In a strong wind, even turkeys can fly.

Other examples

Alternate punchlines

Another type of meta-humor parodies bad jokes by switching out the punchline for something more serious or absurd. By excluding “funniness,” these jokes reveal the primary criterion for joke definition. In their routines, comedians like Mitch Hedberg and George Carlin frequently exploited this type of meta-humor.

What is meta humor?
What is meta humor: The Old Comedy of Ancient Athens was the first instance of self-referential comedy


Anti-humor is an indirect and alternative comedy where the joke-teller purposefully says something that is not funny or has no inherent significance. Such jokes’ humor depends on the element of surprise resulting from the lack of an expected joke or a punch line in a story that is meant to be a joke. The definition of a joke will vary depending on the audience.

Breaking the fourth wall

To make an explicit reference to the audience or to create a self-reference to a component of the media the characters shouldn’t be aware of, self-referential humor is occasionally paired with breaking the fourth wall.

Class-referential jokes

This type of meta-joke incorporates a well-known class of jokes inside the joke itself.


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