I’m a stern person by nature. Just ask my wife, she will confirm my tendencies to over dramatize simple situations or that I take things too seriously. I’m also not a big fan of comedy movies, and have an ever-growing list of comedians that irritate me. It also appears that I am afflicted with a medical condition known as “resting-bitch-face”, which apparently makes me scary to some animals and small children.
Comedy is, in my opinion, probably one of the hardest genres of writing out there. Not everyone has a sense of humor, finds the same things funny as you do or is capable of understanding a punchline. Regardless of the type of story, incorporating comedy can be of great benefit. Humor is a tool that is compatible with many other genres in literature, and comes in a variety of forms; from slapstick to wry wit, or from subtle to obvious. The ability to write Comedy requires skill, practice and a special awareness of your audience. So I plan on trying to absorb as much as possible from this lesson.
It is to laugh!
The basics of storytelling is a plotline which follows the exploits of the main characters as they attempt to resolve a conflict while making their way to their intended goal. So how exactly does Comedy differ from other genres? In comedy movies, laughs are achieved through actors performances, their reactions and their interactions while dealing with various situations. The same can be said for funny stories, however in books, the writer must pay closer attention to their pacing, point of view and how they feed information to the reader. Comedic forms require tight, vivid writing to make the reader experience the humour depicted by the writer (for more information see my post Showing and Telling).
To be effective, a comedian must see the humor in things others may overlook, and build up to it by creating expectations or adding a twist. Keep in mind that the unexpected is one of the main reasons why people laugh. Humor comes naturally when the logical and familiar are thrown out the window, replaced by things that don’t normally go together. Incongruity and misdirection causes our minds to recognize that something is out of place and try to find a way to correct them, which usually leads to funny results.
Of all genres, Comedy sets itself apart as it is seen as a socially acceptable way of pushing buttons and boundaries. There are a few different approaches that are effective when accentuating humour in a story. Let's explore some of the various ways of expressing comedic expressions
- Alternative Comedy: Form of humour which tries to break from the mainstream, either in terms of routine, content or delivery. Examples of this type of humour are satire, slapstick, surrealism or improvisation.
- Blue Comedy: Also known as Ribaldry, is a form of humorous entertainment that borders on indelicacy and indecency. Playing on sexual themes, its purpose is to make fun at the flaws and weaknesses of human sexuality rather than be stimulating. Blue Comedy may also use sex as a metaphor to illustrate a non-sexual subject.
- Dark Comedy: A story based on problems often involving gloomy and disturbing subjects, but to which is added a comedic twist in order to make light of the subject matter. Also known as gallows humour, Dark Comedy will usually broach subjects such as death, disease, drugs or war.
Deadpan: This form of comedy is defined by its delivery: telling jokes without any noticeable change in emotion. Also known as dry humor, the humour in deadpan comes from the connection between the joke and the contradicting tone in which it is delivered.
- Observational Comedy: Form of humour which focuses on aspects of everyday life, making fun of what society considers to be the standard. Observational Comedy is often achieved by over-dramatizing trivial things or by looking at the mundane aspects of life from a different perspective.
Parody: A form of humorous expression which focuses on mockery through imitation. This mimicry relies on elements such as satire, sarcasm or irony, and can be done for the purposes of good hearted banter or distasteful derision.
- Potty Humor: Unpretentious type of humor that relies entirely on obscenity and tastelessness. Also called toilet humor, this form of comedy is known for trying to get a reaction from the audience by being vulgar and gross.
- Prop Comedy: The term "prop" refers to any object an actor handles in the course of a performance. Therefore Prop comedy is humour in which performers use objects in humorous ways.
Satire: Is a type of humour which uses irony, sarcasm, and caricature to highlight the real-life vices and flaws of the intended subject matter. However, the purpose of Satire is not just to make fun of something, but to make a relevant social point while doing so.
Self-Deprecating: Probably the most easily accessible subject matter, this form of humor relies entirely on belittling one's own character. By making fun of oneself, the audience can better relate to the author, either through their socially awkward habits, common mistakes or other similar experiences.
- Slapstick: One of the easiest forms of comedy to identify, Slapstick achieves a humorous effect through manipulation of the body. This is usually done through exaggerated gestures, physical stunts or making funny faces. Good examples of this type of humour include mimes and clowns.
Surreal Comedy: Leaning towards the bizarre, this form of comedy attempts to defy logic and use nonsensical situations in order to achieve a humorous effect. When Surreal Comedy focuses on a subject, it will twist and ridicule certain aspects of that subject to the point of absurdity.
- Topical comedy: Humour which makes fun of current news and events. This form is easily accessible to all as it deals with pop culture and recent goings-on, but its subject matter quickly becomes dated.
- Witticism: Amusingly clever expression and manipulation of language which leads to memorable images in prose and verse. Also known as Word play, this form requires a quick mind, perfect timing and keen perception, allowing the writer to establish connections between ideas that are humourous.
The most important thing I learned today, is that comedy requires the writer to look at things differently and a lot more planning than expected. If you are going to be writing comedy, think outside the box and don’t be afraid to push your limits.
Until next time!
**All images in this post are considered public domain under the Creative Commons law (CC0)**