I didn’t make this picture, obviously. But it’s a better way to open this post, which is about humor.
What strikes us as funny? There are several kinds of humor. Here are a few:
This is a very old form of humor, physical comedy characterized by broad and exaggerated action. Slipping on a banana peel is an example of slapstick. The late great John Ritter, playing Jack Tripper on the 1970s-80s sitcom Three’s Company, did a lot of slapstick on that show. Huge reaction shots, hitting his head frequently, falling and breaking things were par for the course.
Two silk worms had a race. They ended up in a tie.
Most consider puns the lowest form of humor. A play on words gives the joke a double meaning—the conventional one, i.e. silkworms make silk, it ends up in a tie—and the funny one. “Ha ha, the worms are in the tie. Get it?” the jokester says, and punches you in the arm.
Monty Python and the Holy Grail is a King Arthur parody by the amazing English comedy troupe. Parody tells a familiar story in a new way, adding humorous elements that may be serious in the original. For years MAD magazine (sadly gone downhill since the death of publisher William Gaines and the departure/demise of some of the Usual Gang of Idiots) had at least one parody of a popular movie in its magazine. Or see this, a parody of a popular fashion item.
This is when people joke about something that isn’t funny, like 9/11 or really gruesome accidents. The worse the incident, the blacker the jokes. There are two kinds of black humor: one relieves tension or is generally funny. Jokes cops make at a murder scene is an example of the former. Another example is black comedy in films, designed to make you laugh and squirm at the same time. It’s common in horror movies like Return of the Living Dead (also a parody) and Ravenous.
The other ticks people off. Gilbert Gottfried’s recent remarks about the Japanese earthquake/tsunami disaster, the ones that got him fired from his job as the AFLAC duck, offended people. Now they’re looking for a new duck.
A lot of people have trouble with this one. It means the opposite of what you are saying, or of what is expected in a situation and what actually happens. An example would be saying “Lovely weather we’re having,” in the middle of a blizzard. I find the comic I posted at the beginning ironic, both because the star does the opposite of what she wants and because THAT’S MY LIFE.
Roald Dahl was the master of irony. One of my favorite Dahl stories is “Parson’s Pleasure,” in which a crafty antiques dealer dresses as a clergyman and fakes people out of their treasures, then sells them for a handsome profit. He gets the tables turned on him quite well. Listen to Geoffrey Palmer read this classic Dahl tale here (in two parts). It’s also in his story collection Kiss Kiss.
A person who likes sarcastic remarks will have a very different personality to someone who prefers slapstick or black humor. The type of humor a person uses can reveal character. If you are struggling to define a character in one of your works, try writing different scenes of him using different types of humor, or making a list of things she might find hilarious. Your basic mean girl would laugh if her rival fell down the stairs, but a more gentle soul might prefer family-friendly puns, for example.
What’s your favorite kind of humor? Funny movie or book you like the most? Is there something you find funny that no one else does?