Having a fondness for satire, I savor that kind of humor. But, many readers stumble over it. I introduced my children to the pleasure of reading satire when they were young. While in grade school, my daughter delighted in the annotated versions of Alice in Wonderland and Through the Looking Glass. These “children’s” classics gave her insight into Lewis Carroll’s ironic views on education that many people miss. But, these books still had humor that a child could understand.
Satire takes more intelligence and a deeper than average exposure to culture to comprehend. The extra work to understand unspoken meaning behind spoken sarcasm actually seems to make us smarter. In a study in Israel, college students listening to complaints on a customer service line were able to come up with more creative solutions to problem if the complaint was delivered in a sarcastic tone of voice. University of Haifa psychologist, Simone Shamay-Tsoory noted that people’s ability to understand sarcasm is related their level of social cognition. She found the area of the brain responding to comments that means the opposite of what one is saying also enables us to recognize emotions and social issues. When people suffered damage to the prefrontal lobe, which controls executive processing, they have a harder time picking up sarcasm. The loss of ability to “get” a sarcastic remark may be the beginning of a brain disease.
The best tactic is to have a mix of levels of humor. Include an average intelligence character that the others have to talk to and deal with to make it easier for your less erudite readers. If you expect people to understand allusions as part of the humor, the very act of having to look up the name will reduce the instant humor. Include annotations in the sidebar (footnotes if that is not possible) to explain the real or fictional people, places and events. Even a very educated person from another culture in another country may not understand your allusions. And, why should we deny anyone the pleasure of comprehending satire?