The General Theory of Verbal Humour (GTVH) was proposed by Victor Raskin and Salvatore Attardo in 1991 in an article titled, ‘Script Theory Revisited: Joke Similarity and Joke Representation Model’.
It built upon Raskin’s Script-Based Semantic Theory of Humour (1985), particularly in relation to his ideas on script opposition.
The General Theory of Verbal Humour consists of six levels of independent Knowledge Resources (KRs).
These Knowledge Resources are intended to be used to model individual verbal jokes and in turn analyse the degree to which they are similar or different.
The Knowledge Resources proposed by Raskin and Attardo in the General Theory of Verbal Humour are summarised below.
In an attempt to illustrate their theory, Raskin and Attardo used seven examples of the light bulb joke (how many [insert subject] does it take to change a light bulb), with each variant shifting by a single Knowledge Resource.
Each one of the Knowledge Resources, ordered hierarchically above, has the ability to determine the parameters of the Knowledge Resources below, and be determined by the Knowledge Resources above.
One of the advantages of the General Theory of Verbal Humour over Raskin’s previously proposed Script-Based Semantic Theory of Humour is that through the inclusion of the Narrative Strategy (NS) any and all humorous texts can be categorised.
Where Raskin’s Script-Based Semantic Theory of Humour only deals with jokes, the General Theory of Verbal Humour considers all humorous text, from spontaneous one-liners to funny stories and literature.
By identifying how many of the Knowledge Resources are identical for any two humorous pieces, the General Theory of Verbal Humour is also able to begin to define the degree of similarity and difference between the two.
There have been some discussions with regard to the proposed ordering of the Knowledge Resources.
The distinguished German Psychologist and humour researcher, Willibald Ruch, wanted to empirically test the proposed ordering of the Knowledge Resources, however he did so with only partial success.
Nevertheless, both the listed Knowledge Resources in the General Theory of Verbal Humour, and their relationship to each other, has proven to be fertile ground in the further investigation of what exactly makes humour funny.