Funny Writing

Having recently gone on a P.G. Wodehouse bender (it was pretty much awesome), I’ve now turned to wondering: what makes funny writing so funny?


Obviously, one of the biggest problems with this is that humor is subjective. Surely someone out there must have found Carlos Mencia hilarious, otherwise there’s something even more wrong with Comedy Central than I’d previously thought. (The South Park episode with Kanye West, by the way, sums up what I think of him.)

Rant aside, I have this problem too–my natural voice is sarcasm, which is especially prone to misinterpretation in writing–it can also sound like the writer is just extremely stupid or keen, and on more than one occasion people within my intended audience have asked me if I was indeed being facetious. So…it doesn’t completely work. Which is why I’m considering a more obvious way to show humor: if I open with humor, people will be disposed to think of the rest that way, and voilà! problem solved.

P.G. Wodehouse-wise, he’s obviously got a formula, and if I read a lot of his books I think I would get bored out of my mind (I’m already imagining the sexy British accent). Nevertheless, he’s got a voice and it is so very comic…of course, a lot of books have funny moments, but at the moment I’m blanking on other hilarious authors I’ve read (and I do mean laugh-out-loud funny, so Terry Prachett’s older works–namely, the Rincewind series–also fit this category)…without further ado, the next bit. In which I shamefully borrow from my hint of a background in psychology.


V.S. Ramachandran’s giant book of fun case studies, written at some point around 2001, hypothesizes a possible origin for laughter. It’s this strange repetitive noise that’s universally recognizable: well, perhaps it started as a signal that there was no imminent danger? Linked to the idea of the smile as a bare-toothed grimace that stopped halfway: say Cro Magnon man starts baring his teeth at an approaching stranger, but as soon as the stranger gets close enough, Cro Magnon realizes it’s his favorite bro and stops midway. Hence, a smile…. In a similar fashion, laughter may have transformed over time to apply to social as well as physical situations where a sense of ‘danger’ was averted.


In short, do something unexpected. Threaten dire consequences and let everyone off with less than a slap on the wrist. Bam! (If you have trouble realizing the second sentence is metaphorical, I recommend staying away from humor entirely.)


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