Using humor to earn a seat at your reader’s table – Part 2
Using humor to earn a seat at your reader’s table – Part 2
Humor is a powerful tool to earn a seat at your audience’s table. You can use comedy to breech difficult topics and “socially unacceptable” subjects because if you can make someone laugh, they will drop their guard and their barriers and be more willing to listen to you.
Comedy isn’t impossible to write, however, as some people think. It just takes time and practice. In Part 1, I wrote about the first type of comedy, the one-liner. One-liner comedy is all about surprise and shock value. It’s the cheapest brand of comedy, but if you can use it correctly, it can be extremely effective.
The second type of comedy is Situational Comedy.
Situational comedy can still incorporate one-liners but its main focus is presenting a situation that is common to everyone and making fun of it. Its foundation is creating a situation where your audience is shocked to see that the same things happen that happen to them can happen to you.
Common topics are limited only by the human experience. Nothing is out of the question. Having teenagers, being married, going to the grocery store, paying an arm and a leg for gasoline, credit cards, church, in-laws, family reunions — the list goes on and on and on. A verifiably fathomless pit of resources.
Let’s take the family reunion.
I’ve been to my share of family reunions. Everyone has been. And I’m positive that everyone has eaten the same deviled eggs and Veg-All salads as I have. Some situations have identical aspects no matter who is involved.
The key to making a situation humorous is to find those identical aspects and exaggerate them.
Say you are going to a family reunion out of familial duty. When you get there, you meet a cousin you didn’t know you had (because your family married into a German Mennonite family and all German Mennonites are related), but this cousin has a pet rat who he carries around with him all the time. So when you’re going through the buffet line, surrounded on all sides by relatives you don’t know (most of them who left their teeth in a glass on their bathroom sink) your cousin’s pet rat gets loose and starts running down the buffet table. Old Uncle Howard tries to smash it with his cane and sends bits of deviled egg all over Aunt Ida. Aunt Ida has an allergy to eggs and freaks out because she doesn’t want to get hives and in her thrashing she knocks old Uncle Bill into wheelchair-bound Uncle George who goes wheeling backward off the patio and down the hill. . . . The possibilities are endless.
Create a scenario that everyone can identify with. Then, make fun of it. It’s my personal preference to make fun of it tactfully. You can be funny and make people laugh without insulting people, although sometimes insults can be useful. But that choice is up to the writer.
The third type of comedy is Character Comedy.
This is, by far, my favorite type of comedy. Character comedy is considered the highest form of comedy because you don’t need to rely on situations or one-liners to make people laugh. If you have a funny character, statements become funny whether they are one-liners are not. If you have a funny character, situations become funny whether they are one-liners or not.
Gilligan’s Island. The Simpsons. Pirates of the Caribbean. The Stephanie Plum novels. They are all examples of comedic characters.
The first thing you do when you create a character is look for their weakness and make fun of them. Try to identify your characters’ weaknesses and then you can poke fun at them.
I’m going to go back to Janet Evanovich again because I have yet to find another character who is as funny as Stephanie Plum. Everything about this character is hilarious. Her personality, her perspective on life, her reactions, her point of view — they all leave me in tears because I can’t stop laughing.
This is an excerpt from Two for the Dough (which belongs to Janet Evanovich and not me, by the way, and I’m not making any money off of this). Stephanie Plum is doing some investigating and is going to attend a funeral with her grandma, as attending funerals is the favorite pastime of the people who live in her area of Trenton.
The following description of her grandmother had me giggling like an idiot:
Grandma Mazur was seventy-two and didn’t look a day over ninety. I loved her dearly, but when you got her down to her skivvies, she resembled a soup chicken. Tonight’s dress was a fire-engine-red shirtwaist with shiny gold buttons. “It’s perfect,” I told her. Especially for the funeral home, which would be cataract central.
Hilarious. Just hilarious.
This is intelligent comedy that introduces us not just the primary character, Stephanie Plum, but also her just-as-hilarious grandmother. In this single paragraph, you get so much about both of these characters.
You get Stephanie Plum’s sarcastic sense of humor. And you also get the fact that Grandma Mazur isn’t your average grandma. I’ll go ahead and tell you that at the funeral, they end up creating quite a ruckus and accidentally dumping a whole vase of gladioli into the coffin with the corpse.
In conclusion, writing comedy isn’t difficult. It just takes time. And practice. And a little bit of research.
Hang out with funny people and try to identify what makes them funny. Read funny books and try to identify what makes you laugh. Keep a notebook and write down the things that you think are funny and then try to integrate those things into your writing. And, similar to writing about emotions, don’t overdo it. Give your audience just enough so that they are interested, but don’t let the cat out of the bag before it’s time.
It’s better for them to lean forward to see what you’re going to say than to smack them over the head with a two-by-four. Although, sometimes the two-by-four works.
Either way, if you can make people laugh, you have a good chance of getting your point across, no matter what your topic is.