Recently, my writer’s group (the fabulous Northeast Ohio Romance Writers of America) featured author Marcia James, speaking about humor.
I found the topic interesting because I write humorous romances. At least, I like to think my romances are humorous. Someday I’ll get published, and maybe I’ll find out for sure. Until then, I can remain in a blissful state of self-delusion.
Anyway, I began to think about the things I find funny — my guaranteed giggle-inducers — and I thought I’d share a few with you, my loyal readers.
First is my all-time favorite joke, probably because it’s the only I can consistently remember.
Q. Do you smoke after sex?
A. I don’t know. I never looked.
Did you laugh? Crack a smile? No? Well, fortunately (or not, depending on your perspective) that joke usually reminds me of another slightly more offensive one.
Person 1: “This beer reminds me of sex in a rowboat.”
Person 2: “What do you mean?”
Person 1: “It’s f–ing near water.”
I know why I think the second one is funny. My husband is a beer snob, and that pretty much sums up his attitude toward most American brews.
He’s also a Brit, which probably explains why many of the things I find humorous come from England. Here’s a clip from one of my favorite BBC series, , starring Rowan Atkinson (better known as Mr. Bean) as Blackadder. Wikipedia describes Blackadder this way, “Blackadder … encompassed four series of a BBC One period British sitcom, along with several one-off installments. All television programme episodes starred Rowan Atkinson as anti-hero Edmund Blackadder and Tony Robinson as Blackadder’s dogsbody, Baldrick.” Baldrick is a peasant with a devout appreciation — almost adoration — of root vegetables. Here, he finally meets his match.
Another scene has Blackadder speaking one of the best, at least one of the oddest, dialogue lines ever written for television. Please excuse the subtitles; all the other versions of this scene were too long to feature here.
This is why what others might call “lightbulb moments” are referred to as “weasels” in our house.
So, what do you think? Does the humor of the series translate through these brief scenes? Or do you find yourself scratching your head and murmuring, “I had no idea Kym was so odd”?
Bill Nighy, playing in the all-time best movie (ever!), “Love Actually, gets another great piece of dialogue, made all the funnier by his delivery. The scene wouldn’t embed, but the link will take you to YouTube where you can watch it, unfortunately with subtitles once again.
Ms. James also talked about the fact that certain words are inherently funny. She shared the example of using the word “puce” instead of “green,” but there are others including the “dogsbody” used in the aforementioned passage from Wikipedia.
Schenectady and Peoria are funny, and not because cities themselves are any funnier than say, Toledo or Ann Arbor. They just sound amusing. Boondoggle is a funny word, although it’s meaning — an unnecessary expense — certainly isn’t. A kumquat is funnier than a pear. A ta-ta is more amusing than a breast. (And, if you’d like to learn other bodacious — another funny word — nicknames for those particular body parts, read my post from 20 August 2011.)
Using funny words won’t make an un-funny book any funnier, but they can add an extra zing to a story that’s already on its way to getting a laugh. (And I should probably get some kind of bad writing award for using the word “funny” three times in one sentence.)
Certain songs make me laugh, even though I know their humor is distinctly lowbrow. “The Scotsman” is one of them.
I have to admit, the CrazyStickFigureGuy’s illustrations cracked me up too. I liked that he created something so silly it forced me to laugh. He trusted me to be amused by something he thought was funny.
Trusting your readers is equally important. If you explain every detail of what you’re trying to do, it won’t work. Think about it. Have you ever had to explain the punchline of a joke? Suddenly, it’s no longer funny.
Here’s an example. When we first met, my husband told me this joke.
Him: What do you get when you cross a sheep and a kangaroo?
Me: I don’t know.
Him: A woolly jumper.
You see, the things we Americans call sweaters are commonly referred to as “jumpers” in England. Once he cleared up that misunderstanding, the joke made sense. But it still wasn’t funny because I didn’t make the connection myself.
That’s important. A big part of humor is the act of “getting it.” To me, this translates to being brave enough to write what I think is funny and hoping there are others who will agree.
And that’s another thing. Not everything is funny to everyone. So, when I make jokes about “tittoos” (my blog post from 24 March 2012), many will doubtless find such humor in poor taste, but I can tell you of several other breast cancer survivors who thought I was pretty darned clever.
Since I was writing for them, they were the ones that mattered.
This brings me to my last point: know your audience. A writer of inspirational fiction, would probably not share my joke about the rowboat. Likewise the woolly jumper joke has no place in erotica. Not even in England. It wouldn’t fit.
As writers, part of our job is knowing what fits, what works and what doesn’t, and who we’re trying to make laugh.
Yes, writing humor is risky.
All writing is.
Addendum: Writing is even more risky when you mess up a word. A friend kindly pointed out to me that puce is not green, it’s the color my face was when I learned of my error — a dark or brownish purple.