Humor: Do you write funny?

Hello my friendly Flames,
Let’s talk about humor. Do you write funny?
I had a couple of free hours at work the other day, so I slipped into sneak-a-peek-at-the-internet mode (thank you Samsung). I was looking for advice on a completely different topic when I stumbled across an article labeled: “15 tactics for writing humor”. I had to read it because I like to be funny, but I have trouble syncing my humor with my intent.

For example –
When leaving a job interview the other day, I found myself in the elevator lobby with a young man wearing a backpack sporting the company logo. He was also sipping from a large plastic cup with the logo and holding a paper gift bag in company colors with the three letter acronym emblazoned on the side. I’m not one for small talk, but I’d just left a very chatty meeting I was nervous about. Before I’d really considered my no talking to strangers Suburb Girl rule, my mouth started up and I found myself awkwardly saying,
“Soooo you got all the swag…”
Young man sips something like lemonade, then looks up at me with a question in his eyebrow. I sort of flap my hand around to draw a vague circle around his logo-ed stuff. He shifts his shoulder to look at his backpack in the elevator door reflection.
“I’m leaving the company,” he says. “Today is my last day.”



“Was the backpack not big enough?” I ask with a silly smirk.
Quite obviously, it was a joke. Yet he seemed annoyed like I was prying and explained, “I found a better position.”

This is just one example of me trying to be funny and slamming face-long into the glass.

So what I want to know is, are there really only 15 tactics? Because I need way more help than that. I’m thinking a full battle plan with that involves a map and those wooden carvings that represent troops.

What first made me lean in and really connect with the above article was the author’s statement that he disagreed with the notion that humor cannot be taught/learned. I’ve always thought that the assumption of native talent was logical because some people are funny and some aren’t. Realistically though, most of the unfunny people I’ve met did not even want to be funny. So maybe there is hope for those of us are willing to work for it.
Here are the fifteen tactics from the article in handy bullet points:

  1. Overstatements and Exaggerations
  2. The Understatement
  3. Playing Off a Sense of History and/or Predictability

    1. On-going Jokes
  4. Relatability
  5. Presentation

    1. Emphasis
    2. Don’t Laugh at Your Own Jokes
  6. Fish Out of Water
  7. Beating Around the Bush
  8. Stating the Obvious
  9. Over-complication and Over-simplification
  10. Miscommunication
  11. Defying Expectations
  12. Thoughts vs. Words
  13. Awkward and Reactionary

    1. Gutter Humor
  14. Stereotypes
  15. Stupidity Humor

There are tons of examples (with links to visuals) in the article from pop culture and the author conveyed his points well, so I won’t rewrite the article. But pulling solely from the resource of the TV show “Arrested Development” I’d like to pick some laugh out loud moments and tie them to their bullet point.

My sense of humor is not typical. I adore the dry British humor and I find stupid humor personally embarrassing. I stay away from exploiters of it like: Ben Stiller, Will Farrell, Adam Sandler. That said, all three of these guys have one or two films in their body of work that I enjoy. Jason Bateman, on the other hand, rarely makes a movie I don’t like. This is how I got sucked into watching “Arrested Development” and evangelizing it like I’d just discovered comedy.

In the very first episode, the family matriarch (an aged, boozy, narcissist who strikes me as the dark mirror version of Nancy Reagan) points out a group of protesters on a party boat near the family’s yacht.
“Just look at those homosexuals. Everything they do is soooo dramatic. It makes me want to set myself on fire!” – That one is a combo of 1 and 14 with a little 5a thrown in.
Her daughter is standing next to her and makes a shocked face over the spoken prejudice, then she points out one of the protesters (dressed like a pirate) and muses that she thinks she has that same shirt. Her mother – ever the caustic wonder – snarks, “It looks better on him.” Mother Bluth makes a face that says she is definitely keeping score and just gave herself a point. Then sips her drink. This speaks to 3/3a, but it’s part-way through the first episode so you can only suspect. The last tidbit of humor the writers squeezed from this scene is that the daughter’s husband is on the party boat of protesters. He joined the group due to a miscommunication (10) and, also due to a miscommunication, he is the only one dressed like a pirate. It is indeed his wife’s shirt.

The whole scene played out in 30 seconds – with a bit of set up throughout the 30 minute episode for the husband falling in with the protesters. To some this might be offensive, but the writers aren’t against homosexuality, they have one character whose tiny mind is exaggerated. She looks down on everyone with equal measure, including her own family.

As a humor bonus, I’ve included this seven-minute video of visual comedy tactics for film that I find really interesting. Edgar Wright (no relation) is a British director I’ve admired for a while. He and his cohorts (Nick Frost and Simon Pegg) make excellent comedy together.

Edgar Wright – How to Do Visual Comedy from Tony Zhou on Vimeo.

*in case that embedded link doesn’t work right, here’s another – https://vimeo.com/tonyzhou/edgarwright

Talk to me about your favorite expressions of comedy. What gets you laughing? What kind of humor is a struggle for you? Is there a line or scene in one of your stories that you are particularly proud of? Do you have a favorite comedic writer? Do they write storied fiction or ironic commentaries on life? There are so many things we could talk about under this umbrella, maybe we’ll cover a few specific works in future chatter posts.


Reminders:
There is a sign-up sheet for June writing. Don’t miss out.

The reading list has been up since Tuesday. There are a few more days to cast your vote.
Read. Comment. Vote.

Our next flamestorming session in Google Hangouts is scheduled for June 14th. Join us for the storm.

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About t.s.wright

Writer, reader, casual photographer, nature-lover, dog mom. I grew up in a tree, inside a book, whispering possible futures into discarded seed pods that curled up and exploded each summer. One day, they cut down my tree and I was forced to go to school while waiting for the replacement trees to grow strong enough to hold me. But while we waited, I grew too heavy and awkward to climb, so I had to get a job. I spent my days surrounded by flimsy walls covered in carpet that made boxes and people who forgot to look out windows. I worked really hard. Possibilities were replaced with formulas and exactitude. Eventually I forgot how to climb a tree...and how to smile. Then one day, a dog licked my foot excessively and I remembered smiling. That reminded me of more things that didn't cost money and couldn't be tallied in a spreadsheet - like hugs and love and being happy. So I found myself a Steve who reminded me what home was. Then we filled it and our hearts with dogs. Eventually we planted our own tree, together. Even though I'm happy right here, right now, I remembered that we all need possibilities to dream of, so I've started writing them down.
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2 Responses to Humor: Do you write funny?

  1. I love dry British humor and all the visuals in this video detailing Wright’s directorial tactics … can I translate that style to the page? No. Your list of writing tactics is valuable, as is this article, so I’m glad you shared it. The trouble I’ve found with writing humor is the characters that speak to me aren’t really funny — they’re in the midst of some urgent life or death situation, so humor doesn’t occur to them, I suppose. Humor is much easier for me to convey when writing essay and memoir, because, well, my life is often peppered a bit with tragic-humor that I don’t mind laughing at.

    When I began to read through the list you shared above, you know who I thought of? Janet Evanovich. While I have some issues with the Stephanie Plum series that I won’t go into here, I have to admit there are laugh out loud moments in these books, particularly the earliest ones. Laugh. Out. Loud. Evanovich definitely covers tactics 1-13.

    This discussion makes me want to do a search for funny novels and go check them all out at the library!

    Like

  2. Pingback: Weekend Wrap-Up | Brigit's Flame Writing Community

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