Creation of Humour through Non-Observance of Grice Maxims in Quite Interesting TV Show

The Creation of Humour through Non-Observance of Grice Maxims in Quite Interesting TV Show.

Language and pragmatic have always been a really interesting field in which some scholars and linguists have been developed their theories about language, however, the study of these linguistic theories is not perfect, and these theories have different interpretations in order to analyse or investigate some texts, dialogues or transcriptions. These linguistic theories are developed to comprehend the contexts and the background of a conversation or a text, helping us to understand what kind of information is given by the speaker or received by the hearer, and what is the intention of the speaker. Some linguists have developed their theories in order to demonstrate the complexity of language. In this paper, I am going to focus on the development and creation of humoristic resources in one television show called QI (Quite Interesting). Throughout the transcription of this fragment, some linguistic theories are portrayed in the text, and that is what I am going to analyse, focusing on Grice’s Cooperative Principle and the Non-observance of his maxims, in addition, I am going to introduce different interpretations of other linguists such as G. Leeds or J. Thomas, in order to demonstrate how the Non-observance of these maxims creates satirical and humoristic resources and the impact that this Non-Observance of Gricean Maxims has in a comedy show like Quite Interesting.

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About Quite Interesting, is a TV show that started in 2003, produced by John Lloyd and presented by Stephen Fry until 2016, after he’s out, was replaced by Sandi Toksvig. The main goal of the show is getting as more points as possible in order to obtain the victory, however, in the show, there are certain variables to obtain more points, such as the originality of the answer or the creativity. The winner of the panel will be able to participate in the next show. One of the most important characteristics of this TV show is the presence of a big number of humourists, what implies a real use of language elements such as irony, rhetorical questions or sarcasm, giving to the program a big language peculiarity. This TV show is a clear example of the fluctuation or violation of Grice’s Maxims and how through this is possible to create a comedy TV show.

Herbert Paul Grice (1913-1988) was a linguist, philosopher and a scholar that studied the pragmatics elements and is considered one of the most important linguists of the twentieth century. He developed the theory of the Conversational Implicature in 1975. In this theory, he distinguishes four maxims within a speech or conversation. Maxim of Manner, which defends being perspicuous, avoiding obscurity of expression and ambiguity, being brief and orderly. Quality, trying to do the contribution one that is true.  Quantity, which states that the contribution has should be as informative as required, not more informative than required and Relation, which defends the relevance in the statement.

 These maxims are presented in our daily conversations, however, some linguists have argued that Grice’s maxims are not immovable, that could be a variation or rupture of them, which is one of the tools used to create humour or irony in a conversation.

 What the cooperative principle says is that people who are involved in a  conversation are working on the assumption that certain rules control their               operation, i.e., a set of culturally bound rules that vary in different cultures but              are followed by all the participants of a conversation in order for a conversation               to be successful. The main underlying assumption of the cooperative principle is              that people cooperate when they are conversing (Thomas 1995:62).

There are some mechanics by which we can create humour, in addition, breaking the norms of any discourse is acceptable in order to create humour, as some linguists and scholars supported:

“Humour is created by putting things together in an unusual and unexpected way”. (Gruner 1997).

The excerpt that we have selected belongs to QI Season 13 Episode 6 Marriage and Mating, it is a short fragment, but within it, there are interesting elements to analyse during the conversation. The selection of these excerpts is based on the study of Grice’s maxims and how through the violation of them, it is possible to crate humoristic and satirical situations. And it is very interesting how through these resources a panel show could have a comical structure.

Transcription of the fragment.

(Note that the excerpts are structured based on the intervention of the panellists.)

Excerpt 1:


0:03 [Stephen] But what’s the recipe for a disastrous marriage?

0:08 [Jo]  dead vicar?

0:11 [Stephen] it would be it would be your right yep?

0:14 [Greg]   live vicar lovely couple escaped Bengali tiger


0:19 [Bill]  yeah that would be tricky

0:20 [Stephen] you’ve painted a word picture Greg there// let’s think first about budget

0:23 [Bill]            //oh

In this excerpt, Stephen and both respect two Gricean maxims that are presented, manner and quantity, both are fluting throughout his intervention, the Perlocutionary act of Stephen was to obtain the attention of the spectators, whilst, Jo sets up a reaction. Greg interrupted looking for humour and is flouting the maxim of quality, the Perlocutionary act is created using Deictic and metaphor confusion.

Excerpt 2:

0:54 [Stephen] it was economists at Emory University Atlanta who discovered this they found an inverse correlation between money spent and how long it lasts those who spend less than $1,000 dollars which is what? £700 pounds had divorce rates 53% below average while those who spend more than 20000 you were talking about that as a sum divorce rate 46% above average but what about numbers who attend weddings? is that a similar inverse correlation? the more who come the shorter the marriage?

1:21 [Alan]          //I presume so because of the cost //factor

1:25 [Bill]     //expense yeah=   

1:26 [Stephen]      =oddly enough the reverse is true the more people who witness the wedding the longer it lasts haha so you’ve got to have a cheap wedding with lots of people that seem to be the key this is Randy Olson a PhD student at Michigan state he found that couples who marry in front of more than200 people are 92% less  likely to get divorced than those who only have a few witnesses=

1:48 [Alan]        =so really you want to get married in Selfridges on Christmas Eve


1:52 [Stephen] or maybe if you want to have really cheap and cheerful but lots of people maybe somewhere like McDonald’s in Hong Kong


2:00 [Stephen] for $900 you can get 200 guests at a McDonald’s//

2:04 [Alan]                           //McDonald’s // happy marriage

In this fragment, and following a conversational style, a turn-talking conversation between Alan and Stephen, Alan is flouting the maxims of manner and quality, whereas Stephen is not flouting any maxims. In addition, Alan uses wordplay to create a comical situation. Like flouting the maxims, wordplay is also an example of the creation of humoristic situations: “We consider wordplay as a category of jokes. The topic, or the form that the wordplay takes, can constitute a type of bonding against another represented in the words chosen with which to play” (Boxer 1996: 280). 

So, the creation of humour in this extract is not only by flouting the maxims but introducing word plays.

Excerpt 3:

2:17 [Jo]              //yeah but how many burgers do you get?


2:21 [Jo]  come on give us that info I’m thinking about getting remarried there


2:26 [Bill]  it’s a very simple ceremony isn’t it? you point to the bride do you love it? I’m lovin’ it! allright

  [hahahaha] + [applause]

2:38 [Bill]  it’s all over in 5 minutes

2:40 [Alan]  yeah put a ring on it//

2:42 [Greg]              //yeah oh onions lovely


2:45 [Alan]  if you love it put an onion ring on it


There is a turn-talking non-standard, because of interruptions and overlapping, at the beginning Jo doesn’t, flout any Gricean Maxims, however, she is ironizing the situation. The irony is another linguistic resource that was analyzed by Grice and other linguists. According to Jonathan Adler and Lance J. Rips: “the speakers are flexible with the maxims of conversation and indeed often flout them deliberately to create special effects such as metaphor or irony”. (2008: 771). The use of irony exemplifies a way in order to flout the conversational maxims.

In addition, Bill is flouting the maxims of quality and manner, furthermore, he introduces a conceptual metaphor (related to fast food). Greg overlaps Alan by using a wordplay. The conclusion of this excerpt is the use of a wordplay by Alan.

Excerpt 4:


2:48 [Stephen] this is Randy Olson from Michigan state who discovered that we should be//

2:51 [Alan]               //can’t get the picture of an erection with an onion ring on it// out of my head (bangs head as if trying to get the thought out)

2:54 [Stephen]      (with disgusted tone)     //oh!


2:58 [Alan]  how do you get a thought out of your head? (still bangs head)


Presence of introductions (self-selecting) throughout this excerpt, flouting the maxim of relation and dramatization in the TV show. Alan does a visual act in the show and after this, he does a visual act (deictic) that emphasizes the phrase, both are creating a humoristic situation by flouting the maxims and they dramatically acted speech acts.

Excerpt 5:

4:38 [Stephen] Now what’s the longest anyone’s ever gone without sex?

4:40 [Bill] ohh

4:42 [Greg] I went for a whole panel show once!



The last part of this transcription, Greg is flouting the quality maxim to create humour in the final sentence. The previous fragments of the conversation have a similar structure compared to the previous ones, based on the rupture of Gricean maxims to create humour. Greg, for instance, is flouting the quality maxim through his reply and the audience responds with a laugh.

Conclusions about this analysis:

The creation and development of this analysis provided different conclusions, such us the flouting of Gricean Maxims throughout the conversation in the show, which caused the creation and introduction of the irony in the text, as a mechanism to create humour. In addition, the creation of comedy is also based on the introduction of sarcasm, that as the irony, it is a very useful resource in this kind of TV shows.

There are other scholars that considered that Grice’s maxims and comedy are not able to be linked, such as Leeds, that states that Grice’s cooperative principle is not appropriated for comedy: “does not stand up to the evidence of real language use” (1983:80)

The result of this research is not only investigating the rupture of Grice’s maxims but discover which are the alternatives in order to create comedy in this kind of TV shows and in other comedies. The Maxim of Quality is flouted the most in the show. The Relation Maxim is flouted in many responses in the panel, creating the Script Opposition Act. The Maxim of Quantity is violated through the incongruencies of panellist’s answers. In some cases, giving more information than needed or giving less information that is required. And finally, Maxim of Manner is flouted when panellists give answers that are not appropriate or efficient.

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To sum up, the creation of comedy or humoristic situations sometimes depends on the violation or suppression of Grice’s Maxims, which could be substituted by the introduction of elements such as irony, sarcasm or metaphors, so it is inevitable to think that Grice’s Maxims are presented in our daily conversations or speeches, but there are not maxims that are irreplaceable or inviolable and some comical elements require of this violation or flouting Grice’s Maxims.

Works Cited:

Adler, J. E., and Rips, L. J. (2008). Reasoning: Studies of human inference and its foundations. Cambridge University Press.

Boxer, D., & Cortés-Conde, F. (1997). From bonding to biting: Conversational jokingand identity display. Journal of Pragmatics

Grice, H. P. (1975). Logic and conversation.

Gruner, Charles R. (1997) The game of humour: A comprehensive theory of why we laugh: Routledge

Leech, G. (1983) Principles of Pragmatics London: Longman

Thomas, J. (1992) Cooperative Principle. Concise Encyclopedia of Philosophy of Language, Peter V. Lamarque, 1992: Concise Encyclopedia of Philosophy of Language