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Daniel Patricio-Agosto

Prof. Ashley Pryor

HON 4950 – 004

15 Oct 2020

Fish Jenga and Salmonella: A Comedic Analysis of Youtube Parody

Comedy is at its core in the eye of the beholder. Certain jokes make us laugh because of

the truth in it. Others make us laugh because of the insanity of a situation. Yet, there are rare

occasions where comedy is a science, within a realm of empirical evidence. One such example of

this is in the video “Weird Laws from Around the World,” by Sam Miller where he demonstrates

his mastery of this equation to achieve comedic value by use of heightening, incongruity and

parody. Through the short runtime of his Youtube upload, Miller provides evidence of these

effective comedic elements which has resulted in the entertainment of his audience to garnish

millions of views on the platform. Due to the niche nature of his content, it may seem as if very

few would understand the humor. However, through careful examination of the theories behind

his artistic voice and allowing Miller the opportunity to showcase his self-taught talents, it

becomes clear that his works deserve their merit.

First, it is essential to understand a general background behind the writer, producer and

main host of all posts onto his channel “Sam O’Nella Academy”. In an informal interview with

Jamie Lenihan of “Casually Explained,” Miller states that he is of Catholic, European descent

and has lived his entire life in the state of Delaware. Currently, he is studying chemical

engineering but is open to the possibility of growing his influence for it to become a full-time

opportunity (Lenihan, Jamie). Though he is roughly four years into his comedic tenure, Miller
has already been nominated for a “Streamy award,” and has maintained a steady upward growth

of followers to amass nearly half a billion views through his first sixty videos (“Sam O'Nella

Academy - The Shorty Awards”). Nonetheless, due to Sam Miller being very early in his career

and his opinion on separating his online persona from his real life, not much else is known about

the elusive Youtuber. For example, it is unclear where his understanding of the comedic writing

form came from. However, we do know that his main aim is to entertain himself and his

audience, albeit he has no previous training or education to be able to produce the quality of

work that he does.

Now that a basic understanding of Miller’s background has been established, the

elements utilized to create comedic responses in his videos need to be defined and explained.

Then after, these terms will be applied to portions of his work to determine if there is evidence of

them being used. To start, the most common element is heightening, or according to the

Cambridge Dictionary the use of literary elements to “make something increase, especially an

emotion or effect,” (“Heightening: Definition in the Cambridge English Dictionary”). In the

comedic world, heightening is targeted at the effect of laughter and the emotions related to funny

occurrences. When writers compose comedy, this increase in intensity and feeling is often

represented by diving deeper into the nonsensical world that is their joke to garnish laughter.

In the Youtube video “Weird Laws from Around the World,” writer Sam Miller begins

with a short introduction of the topic and then dives into this nonsensical reality of comedy. The

premise of the first joke is that in the United Kingdom, it is illegal to “…handle salmon in a

suspicious circumstance…” (Miller, Sam). To heighten this situation, Miller writes a hand-drawn

cartoon sketch where two people are handling fish to which a police officer offer breaks in and

asks if they are playing fish Jenga. By starting in our strange reality of an actual weird law and
ending with people getting arrested for “playing fish jenga,” it then becomes evident that Miller

knows the purpose of comedically heightening. Usually, the process of heightening is done by

means of exaggeration and hyperbole. The stretching of the joke’s reality is literally an

exaggeration of things that might happen in the real world, our reality. The ultimate conclusion

of this is with hyperbole where a writer goes to extremes to increase the effect of laughter and

comedy. In the next example from the video, Miller uses hyperbole to point out the oddness of

having a law in Oklahoma, where it is illegal to make an ugly face at a dog. To stretch to the

extremes of this actual law, he illustrates a scene where everyone is wearing a brown paper bag

while walking near a dog. Here, it is clear that Miller understands this ultimate exaggeration of

hyperbole, and he uses it to say that everyone in the panhandle state is too ugly to look at a dog.

This hyperbole then creates comedic effects alongside the already laughable illustrated scene.

Holistically, it is also reasonable to say that this law heightens the previous, where before you

could get arrested for playing fish board games, to now where Oklahoma citizens must cover

their ugliness or be prosecuted. This heightening only further develops as the piece continues to

the pinnacle punchline of killing a cat, who the characters believe to be the reincarnated Mao

Zedong due to its “meow” sounding like “Mao”. By heightening and using hyperbole in his

video, Sam Miller creates comedic effect and thus demonstrates his capabilities as a writer.

However, the reason why we find these devices to be laughable is yet to be pin pointed.

Currently, there are a few popular theories to why we find certain jokes to be funny. In

“The Rhetoric of Humor” by Kirk Boyle, three possible explanations that shed light into the

human comedic psyche are offered in the included article by Leon Rappoport. These include

incongruity, creative problem solving and tricking the Freudian concept of the superego. In

incongruity, laughter is the result of two completely different polar objects colliding and
subverting our expectations. He further states that “If there is any single triggering mechanism

that…offers the most important explanation of humor, it is encounters with incongruity.” (Boyle

16) Most comedians and writers find this to be true, and this juxtaposition of two unrelated items

makes its way into most comedic pieces. In Miller’s Youtube video, the incongruity between

salmon and the board game Jenga generates comedic value. In any other context, these two

objects are completely unrelated and have no logical connection that unites the two. But by

literally drawing a bridge of knowledge from obscure British law, the audience is able

understand the incongruity which in this theory makes us laugh. Throughout the rest of the

video, it becomes clearer that these juxtapositions of unlike items plays a heavy influence on

Miller’s style. From skydiving and religious conservatism to Elton John and Russian gulags,

incongruity is one of the main languages that he uses.

The next theory of why an audience responds with laughter relates to lateral thinking and

upper level processing. In this logic, “laughter is viewed as the outcome of creative problem

solving,” according to Rappoport (18). Here, comedy arises when the brain is able to understand

the joke and find the writer’s connection between the punchline and the rest of the joke. By

construing jokes as complex problems, it follows that creativity is needed to solve them. When

the audience reaches the same conclusion as the comedian, their reaction is to laugh. For

example, one strange law from the video in question is that it is illegal to have sexual relations

with a porcupine. Miller then creates a scene where a hedgehog performs coitus on a human. At

face value, it may seem as if they are the same act and thus are both prohibited. However, by

setting the joke up as a problem to be solved, the creative resolution seems to be find a loop hole

by moving onto another morphologically related species, or a hedgehog. When our brains are

able to process this solution, we are rewarded with laughter. Though, there is a gap of
information that we need to recognize and fill in with our own understanding and creativity,

which also can alienate a portion of the audience that cannot mind the gap.

One final theory that “The Rhetoric of Humor” offers is bound to Sigmund Freud’s

concept of the superego. In psychology, the superego is a sort of moral censor that maintains

order. According to Rappoport, “immoral or other unacceptable material that would ordinarily be

inhibited [by the superego] can be released when the superego is evaded or tricked to package …

[it] as humor,” (20). In other words, when we trick our conscience to allow taboo behavior, our

psychological response is to laugh. With regards to Miller’s work, one dreadful law discussed is

that Vladmir Putin imposed a law that makes it illegal to tell children about homosexuality in

2013. This dark and objectively unacceptable behavior would usually be unfit to elaborate on in

a less than four-minute video. Nonetheless, Miller allows the topic to present itself in a comedic

manner that tricks our superego into un-censoring the material. This evasion is achieved by the

previously elaborated heightening and hyperbole. The combination of all these comedic elements

are then packaged to be perceived in a laughable manner, and another possible explanation to

laughter is shown. Whether or not any of these theories are correct is not the question of Miller’s

piece. However, each of these theories and comedic elements hold merit and can be applied to

certain jokes to better understand the comedic writing process.

All in all, Sam Miller has demonstrated his self-taught knowledge of being funny. Still,

there exists another pilar of comedy that he touches upon, which is the parody form. Parody is a

“imitation of the style and manner of a particular writer” according to the Encyclopædia

Britannica. This is usually done by attacking the “perceived weaknesses or a school’s overused

conventions [to seek] to ridicule them,” (Kuiper, Kathleen). The target school of Miller’s work is

the homogenous spectrum of “educational” Youtubers. From the beginning, it is clear that the
whole Youtube channel emulates this informational style that many others follow. He begins

with a piece of classical music and a seal to represent his professionality. He opens with an

introduction in a didactic tone to present his work as a lesson for the audience. He even ends

with the same classical music and final slide with all his pertinent information. In spite of all this,

Miller diverts our expectations further by perverting these standards. His introduction is all done

by a hand-drawn stick figure. He breaks the fourth wall to go after certain sects of the audience.

He even uses lower fidelity recordings at times to do an aside, that assuredly rarely occurs in the

target education videos that he is parodying. To further prove this point, his Youtube profile

name is Sam O’Nella Academy, a very clear play on the Salmonella bacteria, that causes roughly

420 deaths a year according to the CDC, and the plethora of fake internet academic institutions

(“Salmonella Homepage”). As you can see, Sam Miller goes to extreme lengths to squeeze every

single proverbial drop of comedy from each short video, which is more impressive with his lack

of formal education on the subject matter. This becomes even more remarkable because the

award he was nominated for was in the Education category (“Sam O'Nella Academy - The

Shorty Awards”). Yet, he has gone on record to say that his main goal is to entertain and as a

comic exercise with no further intentions (Lenihan, Jamie). He simply takes the point of view

that the world is outrageous, and it is our job to laugh at it.

In conclusion, in the video “Weird Laws from Around the World” Youtuber Sam Miller,

under the pseudonym Sam O’Nella, uses the elements of heightening and incongruity to create a

short, animated parody to produce a comedic effect. Miller also uses exaggeration and hyperbole

to further the joke to its rewarding, inevitable punchline. Together, these comedic tools

demonstrate the knowledge Miller has of the science behind entertaining people, and even

making people laugh. With all of this in mind, the subjective nature of comedy is again brought
into question. The evidence of his comedic talent is clear, and the theories behind why they work

support his artistic choices. The only way to truly resolve any unanswered conclusions is to

watch him for yourself and see if comedy truly is in the eyes of the beholder.

(***Disclaimer: whether or not these weird laws from around the world are true or not is not

included in this essay. Though in the video, he does go on record to say that he does not cite any

of his sources. Thus, the validity of Miller’s statements is truly in the eyes of the beholder.)
Works Cited

Boyle, Kirk. Rappoport, Leon. The Rhetoric of Humor: a Bedford Spotlight Reader. Bedford/St.

Martins, 2017, 13-24.

“Heightening: Definition in the Cambridge English Dictionary.” Cambridge Dictionary,

Cambridge University Press, 7 Oct. 2020,

https://www.dictionary.cambridge.org/us/dictionary/english/heightening.

Kuiper, Kathleen. “Parody.” Encyclopædia Britannica, Encyclopædia Britannica, Inc., 30 Mar.

2011, www.britannica.com/art/parody-literature.

Lenihan, Jamie. “Staying In Podcast #5 - Sam O'Nella Academy”. Youtube, uploaded by Jamie’s

Channel, 23 Apr. 2019, https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=9uEYhoocJwQ.

Miller, Sam. “Weird Laws from Around the World”. Youtube, uploaded by Sam O’Nella, 25

Mar. 2017, https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=X2bu3UjCxj0.

“Salmonella Homepage.” Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, U.S. Department of

Health & Human Services, 8 Oct. 2020, www.cdc.gov/salmonella/index.html.

“Sam O'Nella Academy - The Shorty Awards.” The Shorty Awards ,

shortyawards.com/11th/sam_onella.