Surreal humour (also called surreal comedy, absurdist humour, or absurdist comedy) is a form of humour predicated on deliberate violations of causal reasoning, thus producing events and behaviours that are obviously illogical. Portrayals of surreal humour tend to involve bizarre juxtapositions, incongruity, non-sequiturs, irrational or absurd situations, and expressions of nonsense.
Surreal humour grew out of surrealism, a cultural movement developed in the 20th century by French and Belgian artists, who depicted unnerving and illogical scenes while developing techniques to allow the unconscious mind to express itself. The movement itself was foreshadowed by English writers in the 19th century, most notably Lewis Carroll and Edward Lear. The humour in surreal comedy arises from a subversion of audience expectations, emphasizing the ridiculousness and unlikeliness of a situation, so that amusement is founded on an unpredictability that is separate from a logical analysis of the situation.
Surreal humour is concerned with building up expectations and then knocking them down; even seemingly masterful characters with the highest standards and expectations are subverted by the unexpected, which the scene emphasizes for the viewer's amusement. Either the "goofball" or "straight" character in the scene can react with dull surprise, disdain, boredom, or detached interest, thus heightening comic tension. Characters' intentions are set up in a series of scenes significantly different from what the audience might ordinarily encounter in daily life. The unique social situations, expressed thoughts, actions, and comic lines are used to spark laughter, emotion, or surprise as to how the events occurred or unfolded, in ways sometimes favorable to other unexpectedly introduced characters.
Surreal humour in theatre is usually about the insensitivity, paradox, absurdity, and cruelty of the modern world. Absurd and surrealist cinema often deals with elements of dark humour: disturbing or sinister subjects like death, disease, or warfare are treated with amusement and bitterness, creating the appearance of an intention to shock and offend.