Published: Wednesday, January 23, 2013
Updated: Wednesday, January 23, 2013 23:01
One thing that I don’t feel particularly confident writing is prose or poetry that is intended to be humorous. Don’t get me wrong, I think my one-liners and usually sarcastic observations about daily life can sometimes be hilarious. But there’s a difference between making an offhand, witty remark and writing humor that flows naturally in the context of the piece.
In general, I would say that if something is funny when spoken (and is not funny because of the way it is spoken), it’ll be funny in print. Maybe it won’t be written exactly as it happened, but it will be funny. The difficult part of writing humor is making the humor flow correctly and not seem like it’s forced. That’s a lot easier said than done.
There are a few authors that I think do a remarkable job writing humor into their books. Oddly enough, not one of the writers I have in mind wrote one of those “101 Jokes” type books. Anyway, the first funny author I can think of is the irreplaceable Bill Watterson. Yes, I realize that he drew and wrote cartoons, but frankly, I think that comics are just as valid a form of art and literature as the more conventional forms. How does Mr. Watterson make “Calvin and Hobbes” funny? He takes a pleasant mix of nostalgia, common life experience and just the right amount of ridiculousness and puts it all together. Calvin is funny because we can see his struggles as our own, we can see Hobbes as our somewhat lackluster conscience and we can laugh at ourselves without actually laughing at ourselves.
Another notable author who writes humor well in his books is Jonathan Stroud, author of the “Bartimaeus” series. For those unaware, his books are written generally in the first-person narrative, often from the perspective of the titular demon. The way Stroud incorporates a majority of the humor is in Bartimaeus’s commentary in the form of footnotes. Because the commentary is often hilariously sardonic and unflattering to persons in positions of authority, it is simultaneously arrogant and endearing.
The last author I’d like to mention is Bill Bryson. Unlike the previous two authors, his books tend not to have overarching narratives, and are often simply observations about wherever he happens to have traveled in the past year, or what part of history he’s recently been interested in. It all sounds very dry, but honestly I have found myself bursting into laughter upon reading one of his lines. Bryson doesn’t tell bawdy jokes, nor does he make fun of the locales he frequents in the traditional sense. Instead, his descriptions of the things, people and places he encounters are light and conversational – he possesses the talent of being able to employ a subtly humorous tone to his prose.
The one thing that all these writers have in common is this: their humor isn’t serious. That may seem like a given, but I know that I’m guilty of overthinking my own humor. Remember, it’s supposed to be funny – you don’t have to write it like you’re F. Scott Fitzgerald – unless that’s what makes it funny.