So you want to know how to write funny?
“People think it’s very hard to be funny but it’s an interesting thing—if you can do it, it’s not hard at all.” ~ Woody Allen
Well, excuuuuse me, but most of us can’t do it. Or, if we sometimes do it, we have no idea how we did it. So, I interviewed some comics and here’s what I’ve discovered:
No one knows how to write funny!
Almost no one. Arthur Black is a very funny guy who lives on an island in the Salish Sea, and who claims to know how he does it. He hovers over his keyboard and then…
“I imagine I’m in a tavern with a couple of guys I’ve just met, and I’d like a beer but I have no money. That’s it. I try to make whatever I type outrageous or thought-provoking or incongruous enough…to make them want to keep me lubricated.”
Not very scientific, Arthur! The problem is, if you dissect humour, the blood drains out of it. Like a frog in the biology lab, “the thing dies in the process and the innards are discouraging to any but the pure scientific mind.” ~ E.B. White
That’s not even meant to be funny, but it highlights the problem with humour—if you study it too closely…
Humour isn’t funny.
For example: “Capital punishment would be more effective as a preventive measure if it were administered prior to the crime,” (Woody Allen again) which is funny until we start poking around in those innards and find that:
a) the statement is implausible,
and yet, somehow, yes, come on, don’t deny it…
b) it’s possible.
The implausible is not impossible. It’s implausible because we don’t string people up for thinking about murder (except maybe in Zimbabwe or Oklahoma). On the other hand, it’s kinda plausible because exterminating the would-be killer would save the victim. No doubt about it!
Humour is a delicate balance of the implausible and plausible. But your story must be more implausible than plausible.
Mathematically it looks like this: [ T(x) = ½ Be!2×2 ] where: T = the god’s Truth; B = the belief system by which the Truth is made invisible; e = the existential quotient discovered by Jack Kerouac in a Mexican cantina; and x = is what we don’t know (although Arthur Black claims to know it). Oh, yeah, and the “!” is a graphic reminder how serious this is. In other words:
Humour is all about the logic of the absurd, which, as I warned you, isn’t very funny. No one lives more absurdly logical than Miami columnist, Dave Barry:
“As a mature adult, I feel an obligation to help the younger generation, just as the mother fish guards her unhatched eggs, keeping her lonely vigil day after day, never leaving her post, not even to go to the bathroom, until her tiny babies emerge and she is able, at last, to eat them.”
Which is hilarious, right? Why? Because Dave connects with three of Arthur Black’s beer-swilling criteria:
1. It’s thought-provoking—raising kids? are you kidding me?
2. It’s incongruous—that a fish should have to go to the bathroom.
3. It’s outrageous—that we should have babies so that we can…eat them.
Important Note: You don’t want anyone bogging down on the “baby” business. You don’t want your audience to know that “humour isn’t funny”. Just keep drinking and above all… keep being real.
Humour is about the bare-assed truth.
No one knows this better than Conrad Morris, the hero of my latest (unpublished) novel. Conrad, a would-be comedian, loves to disrupt dinner parties with such pithy and outrageous and incongruous truths as, “All disease is constipation.” To explain why this is funny, here’s Conrad himself:
“Finding a cure for cancer has so far cost…what?…a trillion dollars? And all this time the answer lies…excuse me, where?…in the toilet? The idea of all disease reduced to ‘constipation’ is comical because it is absurd yet earnest at the same time. It rings true. The implausible is not impossible.”
The implausible is not impossible. (Are you taking notes?)
Conrad is absolutely correct. Feeling unwell? Skip to the loo and drop a chalupa. We’ve all been there. The logic in the absurd—as long as you don’t think about it—is funny.
Assignment: In the following chunk from a Woody Allen short story, please locate the possible that plops out of the implausible:
“The Walt Disney Company shareholder suit over the severance package paid to departing president Michael Ovitz was jolted today by the testimony of an unexpected witness, who was questioned by counsel for the entertainment giant.
“COUNSEL: Will the witness please state his name.
“WITNESS: Mickey Mouse.”
That’s all folks.