Okay, personal opinion time. I think that writing humor is incredibly difficult. In fact, it’s far more difficult than writing drama. With drama, the feelings are more universal. Whereas with comedy, well, it’s much more subjective.
What I mean here is that almost everyone responds in a similar fashion to dramatic events. You know, like the loss of a loved one, loss of a pet, a breakup. The same goes for happy events, too. The birth of a baby, a graduation, a marriage proposal…almost everyone feels the emotion and possible tears. It’s universal.
With comedy, however, things get more complicated. Something you find funny isn’t necessarily going to apply to me. Take comedy movies, for example. There are people who love Adam Sandler movies. Me, not so much. I mean, there have been a few funny ones, but for the most part I find his humor to be a bit too juvenile for my tastes. This doesn’t mean that he isn’t funny, just not to me.
Same goes for Larry David and his show, Curb Your Enthusiasm. It’s one of the few shows I watch regularly and enjoy, but I have a few friends that find it too cringe-worthy and don’t like that sort of humor. Which is fine. But it goes to show how varied tastes can be when it comes to humor.
The big question is: Why is humor so subjective? Like I mentioned above, sadness and happiness are generally universal, so what sets comedy apart?
I know there have been studies done on this phenomena, but it’s complicated. Basically, it comes down to being able to accept incongruity. Meaning, one has to be able to accept things that don’t match up. For example, consider the Warner Brothers Roadrunner and Coyote cartoons. When the Coyote (Wile E. Coyote, for those in the know) is hit on the head with an anvil, many people will accept the absurdity of the situation. An anvil hitting him on the head doesn’t kill him, but only raises a ridiculously large lump. And there’s usually a flock of birds circling him, as well. It doesn’t make sense, it’s silly, so we laugh.
However, for someone who can’t disassociate from reality – maybe someone who is offended by any sort of animal cruelty, even cartoon-related – it’s more difficult to see the humor. The incongruity isn’t accepted.
So maybe the answer is that while happiness and sadness are almost always based in reality and are more tangible, humor and comedy are more ethereal and require the ability to suspend disbelief. For some of us, that ability may be limited or isolated to things we aren’t quite so attached to. The animal-rights activist may not find the adventures of Wile E. Coyote to be funny, but they may find the Three Stooges hilarious. Both are physical comedy, but the activist is probably more empathetic to the plight of animals, even cartoon ones, whereas with real people they are able to accept the incongruity.
I think it takes a special talent, a unique gene, in order to write comedy that has a wide appeal. People like Mel Brooks, Jerry Seinfeld, Chris Rock, Whoopi Goldberg, George Carlin…they all can reach those wide audiences. Me, I’m just glad if I can make myself laugh.
And I’ll leave you with this:
Today a man knocked on my door and asked for a small donation towards the local swimming pool. I gave him a glass of water.
2 thoughts on “Writing Humor isn’t Funny”
People have gotten hypersensitive nowadays. Wiley Coyote and Roadrunner have been banned because of the violence and animal cruelty, Speedy Gonzalez went first because he was “racially insensitive”. How one reaches that conclusion when he always made Sylvester look like a putz is beyond me… That’s why almost all of the old Looney Tunes have disappeared, and even much of the attempted modern replacements of Animaniacs and Tiny Toons.
As for the writing not being funny… The story goes that the old WB animation team used to have the bosses come down and yell at them regularly for not working and joking around. They were actually talking out various skits for the cartoons, LOL
I remember when the outrage over the cartoon violence built up to the point where they took the Bugs Bunny/Roadrunner show off the air on Saturday mornings. It was a sad day…
I think collaborative humor writing would have to be easier than doing it solo. More ideas, the ability to test the humor on others, and not having to carry the weight alone. Oh, what I’d give to sit in on some of those WB writing sessions back in the 1940s and 50s.