With the University of Edinburgh, I have conducted research into the creative processes comedians use to create comedic insights. The first paper (Aug 2019), lays the foundations for future research to improve market insight creation.

Click the text below to see the research paper:

Justin Lines How do comedians reveal the funny?

However, it is over 100,000 words long. You may prefer a quick understanding. Below, I have provided the abstract and the conclusion of the research.


Humans are the only animal to know how things are and how they should be.
How market insights are now, is not how they should be.

Insights should be interesting. Yet, many are bland.
This is because insight is becoming synonymous with data.
But the interesting is not the observation. It is the interpretation.

The interesting is the incongruous combination of acceptability and opposition.
The interesting challenges convention and has practical implications.
So should insights.

The funny is the incongruous combination of benign violations.
Things that are odd, but okay.
Comedians reveal them for a living.

Both comedians and marketers are in search of the interesting.
Yet, marketing scholarship has never before asked how comedians do it.
This paper asks exactly that.

By conducting a thematic analysis of nine top comedians.
Their creative process has been distilled.

They cultivate perspectives that search for benign violations.
They reframe and test their ideas on audiences until they work.
They manage the context to help bridge the gap between the odd and the okay.

This paper lays the foundations for future research.
To understand how comedians can improve market insight generation.


Humans are thought to be the only animal to know both how things are, and how they should be. To be interesting is to show that things are not how they should be. Interestingness is the incongruous combination of opposition and acceptability. An interesting theory should challenge convention and have practical implications.

Market insights have to be interesting. Insights should challenge assumptions to create new opportunities. The problem is many are not, and do not.  Insight is becoming synonymous with data. Some believe that the role of an insight manager is to repeat the data. To recount their observations. Yet, it is the interpretation of an observation, not the observation itself, that is interesting.

The funny, like the interesting, comes from an incongruous combination; the benign violation. Things that are odd, but okay. Humour is interesting. Comedians are professionals in the art of revealing these benign violations, these incongruous combinations. Previous research has identified comedians as social critics, capable of producing comedic insights that make the invisible, visible. They are especially talented at revealing the dark and the dull. That which is too taboo to talk about, or too commonplace to notice. Marketers have something to learn from comedians. How do comedians reveal to an audience that how things are, are not how they should be? How do comedians reveal benign violations? How do comedians reveal the funny?

Before we can determine whether the methods comedians use to create comedic insights can help marketers, we must first understand what these methods are. The funny, just like the interesting, is found in the interpretation, not the observation. Often comedians make the same observations as everyone else, they just interpret them differently.

They cultivate a perspective that actively searches for benign violations. This perspective can come from a childhood that is desperately dark, or desperately dull. Jobs, past and present, have taught them to make the dangerous, safe, the uninteresting, interesting, the uninterested, interested. Their character, often an exaggerated version of themselves, can shape their perspective and even influence the lives they live. They feel inclined to be true to their false identities.

To turn their observations into comedic insights, to interpret the funny, comedians will reframe and test their jokes until they pack a punch. Reframing can be done by creating incongruous combinations, putting two things together that should not go together. Exaggerations and creative parameters can also help comedians find the humour. But jokes are rarely built in a day. They test ideas through repetition at gigs, learning from the feedback given by the audience. Sometimes the perfect delivery is revealed to them too late.

But context is king. How, where, and to whom, the joke is told shapes its success. Comedians have to help the audience feel comfortable accepting violations as benign. This can be done through being liked and putting the darker jokes towards the end of an act, it can even be done through matching the joke to the room itself. Darker, dirtier, jokes are often best served in a darker, dirtier, room.

This paper answered the question How do comedians reveal the funny? Future research should look to take the methods identified and see if they can help marketers identify market insights. Future research should look to answer similar questions to the following; Should marketers develop a voice? How can they control the context of where the insight is revealed? Should the more oppositional insights wait until the end of a presentation? Can, and should, insights be exaggerated? It would be worth scaling up and testing these findings across a wider sample of comedians, not just in the UK but around the world.

How things are in marketing, are not how they should be. Mark Steel would be just as outraged at “Millennials like experiences” as he was at “The economy is really important.”