HUMOR – WHAT MAKES US LAUGH?
I discussed humor as an essential element in an article a long time ago. What made me think a little deeper was a conversation at dinner the other night. The subject of the movie A Million Ways To Die In The West came up. The majority of the time, when I find something funny, I may grin or smile, but a lot of the time it’s internal. I love humor but I rarely laugh aloud. It’s just not something I do. I do chuckle during conversations when I’m cracking wise with someone.
During the movie A Million Ways To Die In The West, that was the first time I’ve openly laughed aloud in ages. In fact, I almost went into convulsions. There were several scenes that set me off, the first one where that block of ice drops on a guy. It set me off, and there were several more scenes that made me laugh aloud, just like that hair gel scene in Something About Mary. Very few movies have ever done that. The first one I can remember was a very obscure movie from 1961 called One Two Three about a Coke executive in Berlin trying to keep his daughter from marrying a Communist from East Berlin. It starred James Cagney (of “You dirty rat!” fame). In one scene, there’s a car chase in East Berlin and they’re in an East German car that falls apart along the way. That set me off.
As for books, I can remember only one printed word scene and that’s from a very obscure author named Jack Douglas who used to appear on the Mike Douglas (no relation) show. He wrote a book about his young life and in one scene they’re at camp and he had a camp counselor they called “Uncle Fart.” Being a young lad of eleven or twelve, you can guess I saw the humor in that!
As for music, since I never pay attention to lyrics unless they’re dirty or funny, the only lyrics that ever made me laugh aloud were by The Mothers Of Invention from Frank Zappa’s early work. I certainly won’t recite them here!
HOW WE PROCESS HUMOR
When you add humor to your story, are you expecting people to laugh aloud, grin, smile or internalize? When I go to a comedy show, of which I’ve seen plenty living here in Las Vegas, the only time I’ve ever laughed openly is when Dennis Miller said a joke about Keith Richards. He said Keith was like a old wallet that mumbles. Despite the literally thousands of jokes I’ve heard over the years, that’s the only one that set me off. Yet I love humor and love jokes and smile, grin and internally laugh. Yet I hear people around me laughing aloud and going into convulsions over jokes that to me are just grinners, or whatever. Sure, I think they’re funny, but they don’t strike that over-the-top, out-in-the-open laugh, like happens when I’m talking to someone.
What all this means is when I write humor in my stories, I don’t expect anyone else to always either necessarily get my humor, or if they do, I’m not disappointed if they don’t laugh aloud, or even grin. If they find it humorous and internalize it, fine. If they don’t, it’s just part of the emotional palette they either get or they don’t. Do I still write it that way? Of course. That’s exactly what you should do. If you have a sense of humor or want humor in your writing, put it in there!
DON’T BE AFRAID TO USE HUMOR
That’s the point of this article. Don’t be afraid to let your funny bone out, mild or overt. Don’t be afraid to salt your story with humorous moments, no matter how dour, dark, or serious the story might be. There should always be a time and place for a little humor. After all, there needs to be some ups and downs. You should also not be afraid of people like me who may very well appreciate the humor but don’t necessarily externalize it. You should also not be afraid of those that don’t have a sense of humor, or think your humor is stupid. If they don’t get you, they probably don’t get the rest of your writing either. They’ll probably find a lot of other stuff to pick on also.
Humor is an essential part of who we are. We all process it differently, we all appreciate it differently. Keep in mind the place setting and the appropriateness of your humor, but go for it if it’s warranted. If you don’t feel comfortable with it, don’t do it. If you feel compelled, I say why not?