Monday, March 28, 2011

Writing Comedy

I’m always so envious of authors who are able to write comedy.  Humor is so subjective that I find a lot of the books people assure me are ‘SO funny’ don’t get more than a quick smile and scoff. 

So what does make a book funny for me?

Voice, situation, and dialogue.

If a book has only one of the above, but not the rest, it might earn a couple smiles here and there.  I've read books with a funny voice where nothing funny actually happens.  I've read books where funny stuff happens but the author didn't make the most out of it.  And I've read books with great witty dialogue that isn't backed up through enough description or overall voice.  All of these are funny-ish in their own ways.

But I find the scenes that have me rolling in the isles come from having comedic set up- the situation in and of itself is humorous.  Then you’ve got the author’s description (the voice!), take, and action on said situation which increases the humor.  Then if you can add just the right out-loud commentary (dialogue!), it all comes together to create a vivid, visual, funny-fest.

Here are a few examples from books I love:

Situation and voice:

‘Thankfully his offices are clean, his staff is efficient, and his manner is both gentle and professional.  There’s only one problem:  His speaking voice is inaudible.

            Flat on my back with my feet in the stirrups I found myself repeatedly yelling down between my legs for Dr. Eiger to please repeat himself.  But it was no use.  This seemingly lovely man in his early sixties with soft gray hair and sparkling blue eyes was clearly unable to project his voice past my ankles.

So I gave up.  And dubbed him the Crotch Whisperer.’

Situation, Voice, and Dialogue:

And yes, my dog is galloping—galloping!—her huge ears flapping, jowls rising and falling with each stride, enormous paws flopping gracelessly on the pavement as she runs—runs!—right down the middle of the street. This from a dog who has to be dragged to go outside!

And on her hindquarters, in order to prevent little drops of blood from spattering my house, is a pair of Matt’s bright white Calvin Klein boxer briefs. Her tail, which is guided through the front slot of the briefs, whips back and forth. I sit frozen in horror as she careens onto the sidewalk right in front of Emo’s.

“Why is that doggie wearing underwear?” asks a little girl.

“Oh, my God!” I stand abruptly, bumping the table. Ryan’s water sloshes. “How did she get out? She’s never gotten out before! I told the boys—”

My precious puppy, all one hundred and twenty pounds of randy, menstruating she-dog, leaps up against the window, front paws leaving great muddy smears against the glass, baying with joy at having sniffed out her mistress. “Aahroorooroororooo!” she sings, head thrown back in ecstasy.

“Dear God,” Ryan says.

I stare open-mouthed. “Um…I think I’d better…that’s…that’s my dog.”

“Dear God,” Ryan says again.

I’m already weaving my way through the restaurant toward the bar. People are either laughing or frowning as Buttercup continues to serenade me. The maître d’ and two servers are pointing and talking.

“I’ll take care of this!” I tell them. “She’s mine. She must have tracked me here. She’s part bloodhound. She’s in heat.”

“Thanks for sharing,” the maître d’ says.

So what makes a book funny for you?

Hope everyone had a great weekend!



Unknown said...

I love a good voice. I think that is what makes the humor!!! I adore a humorous women's fiction novel.

I didn't realize I had it in me but the publishing house I'd sent my manuscript loved it. Thought it was really funny. Guess I had something in me I never realized it!!!

Laura Pauling said...

I love voice but that doesn't always make a book funny. For me, its comedical situations, like you've shown above, where the character is in a situation she/he doesn't find funny at all!

Vicki Rocho said...

I think you nailed it. There are three factors, and when you nail them, you'll have me laughing out loud in a crowd of strangers!

Sarah said...

This is a great post--it's so difficult to deconstruct humor, but you've done a great job. Have you read Molly Harper's Nice Girls Don't Have Fangs series? Those books crack me up, which not a lot of books do. Definitely voice and ridiculous situations I couldn't dream up in a million years. I think they would meet your standards!

Áine Tierney said...

Love the second example. What book is this from? I want to read it!

Janet Johnson said...

Wow, I've never thought fully about it . . . but I think you're right. The three together make for great laughs!

Creepy Query Girl said...

It's from Kristan Higgins 'Just One of the Guys'- a really funny chick lit I did a review on a couple weeks ago. Definitely worth reading!

Jaydee Morgan said...

I agree with you. All the things you listed must fit together. I also find a sarcastic voice funny but again, that's another thing that's hard to pull off in print without the rest to back it up.

Anne Gallagher said...

Both of those excerpts were hysterical. Thanks for sharing.

I can't write funny. No matter what. Sometimes I may get a chance to write a funny line or two, but scenes, no way. I envy those who do.

Melissa said...

The second one is from "just one of the guys" (I read your blog comments)! I put it on my amazon wishlist after last time you talked about this but, clearly, I needed to order it yesterdaY!!!

I totally agree with you on voice, dialogue and setup working together!!!

Carolyn V said...

A great voice makes it funny for me. So I agree with you too. Plus it can't be too thick with the funny, or it just fizzles for me.

Matthew MacNish said...

Well said, Katie!

It doesn't take much to make me laugh, but to really make me fall out of my chair, a story does have to have a kind of perfect storm, just as you've described.

Raquel Byrnes said...

Its so elusive, isn't it? I can't write comedy myself, like you I envy those who can. Loved your examples. I think you're right...voice, situation, dialogue.
Edge of Your Seat Romance

Angela said...

Humor is hard. Have you read "I'm a Genius of Unspeakable Evil and Want To Be Your Class President"?

It is hilarious.

Talli Roland said...

Voice, language and comedic situations make it funny for me -- but not automatically.

But it's so subjective! I love Seinfeld, for example, but my husband doesn't get it at all!

Anonymous said...

LOL, loved the excerpts! Certainly voice can make a situation very funny.

Colene Murphy said...

HA! Great examples!! I wish I could be intentionally funny, too. Ah well! (for the record, you're pretty hysterical on your blog, so...just do that? novel form?)

Dianne K. Salerni said...

Wonderful excerpts - though I like the second one best!

One of my favorite MG books for humorous voice is Richard Peck's "The Teacher's Funeral" -- which I just finished reading to my class in (what I imagined was) a turn-of-the-century Hoosier accent (but probably wasn't even close.)

Old Kitty said...

Terry Pratchet's very gentle but witty and warm humour never fails to crack me up!!!! Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy - another favourite! It's just the absurdity of the whole thing mixed with a little pathos - that's funny for me.

Oh but I love the "Crotch Whisperer"! LOL!!!!

Take care

D. Rhodes said...

i wish i could do funny. loved the excerpts. i remember reading A Prayer For Owen Meany years back and absolutely crying with laughter in parts (and just plain crying at the end).

Hart Johnson said...

I think I manage funny, but probably not with the all three angles at once you describe. I actually like a contradiction best... a sense of the absurd--funny dialog in a more serious situation, or out of place things that wouldn't be funny in a more appropriate place (and neither would the PLACE be funny without the odd addition). I just don't like my humor too obvious.

I ADORE Tom Robbins--those are over the top stories but generally told with earnestness. I love Carrie Fisher or David Sedaris (talking about their mortifying experiences so I laugh so hard I cry--your crotch-whisperer hits that, IMHO)

LTM said...

oh MY god, I nearly lost my coffee at the crotch whisperer... :D LOL!!!!

Yes, you're right. For me humor lies in the situation and the character's response to it. If the writer's got those, I think he/she can inject humor into ANY novel~ :D <3

JLD said...

Someone with a different degree than mine could probably make something of the fact that the two scenes you chose as examples of funny both have to do with female reproductive systems, but we'll just leave that discussion for another day. :)

To me, timing and phrasing is a big part of funny. The maitre' d says, "Thanks for sharing," and it's funny, because it's short and contrasts nicely with her long explanation. You can feel her mortification and almost see the expression on the maitre' d's face. If the maitre'd had said, "Lady, I really don't need to know the details of your home life and why your dog is acting that way. Can you please just remove it," it's not funny.

My blog is all about the funny. I use it to poke fun at the things that happen in life that either boggle the mind or are so aggravating you have to laugh to keep from screaming. But it's subjective. Not everyone shares the same sense of humor.

My first blog post-"What are you saving it for-to make soup?" is about a toe falling off and what the family does with the blackened stub. It's been a popular post, but I'm sure there are plenty of people who are horrified by it. I'M horrified by it, so I have to find a way to turn it into something I can laugh at otherwise I'll wake up screaming every night.

A book that can make me laugh aloud is guaranteed a spot on my all-time favorites shelf.


Jolene Perry said...

It's all about situation for me. Someone can say something funny, and I'll appreciate it, but it won't make me laugh unless the situation is crazy enough to work with it.

Jamie Gibbs said...

Wordplay and the unexpected usually tickle my funny bone when reading. Terry Pratchett has me in fits of laughter everytime, since he takes the familiar and twists enough so that his fantasy worlds have the best of British silliness about them.

Christopher said...

I think you're pretty spot on with your description of the outline of humor. To be honest I've never read a book that was funny from front to back, and I'm a fan of humor. I do enjoy it when books throw in a bit of humor here and there to lighten things up, especially at seemingly inappropriate times. Then again that's when I prefer humor in the real world too.


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