No Soap Radio
By Kristen Thompson, Associate Coordinator, Bluegrass Writers Studio
This weekend, I attended a stage performance designed to elicit the full range of emotions. I'm good at verklempt, and I can do anger, but after the show, I spoke with one of the actresses about comedy. I just can't take it seriously. (Ba-dump tish.) We live in an LOL society and I must admit, I very rarely am made to laugh out loud.
There's an episode of Scrubs where J.D. is dating a woman who never laughs at his jokes. She just says, "That's so funny." It drives him nuts and he breaks up with her. Her reports back to Turk, perplexed: "She's not saying, 'That's so sad.' She's actually crying." Now that's funny.
Comedic writing aims to amuse, to be rewarded with a smile if not a hearty guffaw. For that it has to assume that you have the same sense of humor that it does. When people say, "he has a good sense of humor," they mean "he has my sense of humor." Most people, God love 'em, Met the Parents with uproarious laughter and cackled over that Something about Mary. Those in the local theater also looked at me like I was the love child of Mr. Spock and one of those Easter Island heads, as I sat stonefaced before the screen.
I guess the problem, for me, is that humor often relies on stereotypes, which are typically off-limits to good writers. Despite decades of political correctness, it's still considered funny to speak with an Asian accent, whether or not you are Asian. Y u no laughing?? Even in the Queen's English, inserting vehement cursing into otherwise poor dialogue seems to be a shortcut to hilarity. Another cheap tactic in humor is to misdirect the reader and jump in at the end with a twist, which isn't always narratively sound and can be off-putting. Additionally, on the stage and in film, timing can make or break a joke. In published work, dramatic pauses are more difficult to pull off, so punchlines can seem forced or cheap.
So how does any humor writer get the job done? It seems there are rules of humor writing that are different from writing in general. It's a gift and, though I hate to say it, most of the time I don't get it.
Published on July 03, 2014