Friday, October 11, 2013

What is Funny?

The fact that comedy is subjective doesn't change the fact that somethings are funny and some things are not. Rather simplifying the matter, though, that fact only makes comedy confusing. And as a writer, it makes it so much harder to put comedy in a piece of fiction.

I remember very distinctly laughing at the very first joke I ever wrote. I couldn't stop laughing for several minutes, and I thought it was brilliant. Of course, I never got to the point where anyone could read that joke because I was still a very new writer and hadn't learned to self-edit. So years later, when I read that joke again, I thought, "Why did I laugh at that?"

Where was I going with that? Oh, yes. Our mindset can influence our perspective on comedy. Something that's rip-roaring hilarious when we're sleep deprived may be nothing more than chuckle-worthy when we're properly rested and caffeinated.

But what is funny? And how does a writer know if a joke works or if it falls flat?

The answer is feedback. Get readers to read your work. Ask them if they laughed, and where. Don't feed them the answer to your question, just wait to see if they say your joke. And if they didn't maybe it's time to look at your style of humor.

But, again, what is funny? Are clowns funny? What about steaming piles of dog poop? Pie in the face? If it's in bad taste, is it still actually funny, or do we laugh to hide our embarrassment? And has anyone noticed how similar embarrass resembles bare ass?

Study comedy. What makes you laugh? Who makes you laugh? Do authors write jokes that make you snigger, giggle, or chuckle?

The first key to comedy, I think, is setting up a situation for characters, either in their actions or in their conversations, and then, rather than letting the scene play out as a reader might expect, make the characters say or do something completely unexpected. And make the results, the consequences, even more unexpected. If I say, "Knock, knock," and you say, "Who's there?" what should come next?

I mean, honestly, I'm not an owl. And neither are you. So why do you ask, "Who's there?" Perhaps you should give me an inquisitive look and wonder why I'm saying, "Knock, knock." Maybe there's something wrong with me. And by asking a weird question as if I'm actually knocking on a door is only encouraging my insane behavior.

Laughing yet? No?

Comedy isn't easy. A few years ago, I wrote a standup routine. I spent two weeks coming up with 90 seconds of material. It got laughs, and cheers. And it's something that drives me in my writing these days.

So I ask you, one last time, what is funny? And will you explore those ideas with me over the following weeks and months? I want to explore comedy even deeper, and the best place to start is with many, MANY perspectives on what makes people laugh.

From the example above, I find clowns boring, and poop is gross. Always and forever gross. Never funny. But a pie in the face? Hilarious!

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