Balancing Humor

September 18, 2007 1:19 am

Balancing Humor… Slapstick

Humor is one of those things that can be as elusive as inspiration. Like inspiration, it can be instantly recognizable, or utterly incomprehensible to someone else.

No, I’m not going to try to define “what’s funny,” that is up to you. By definition, if you find something funny, then it is. It may be a situation or a picture, even something someone said.

Trouble is, many do not know when to stop…where the line is, or where the point between adding to the humor, and “beating it into the ground” lies.

There are all kinds of humor, and one of the most used is “slapstick.” For those of you who don’t know the term, it comes from the days when clowns and circuses were pretty much all there was. The clowns had a long paddle-like plank that had a small “something” that would make a noisy, but harmless bang, when “slapped” on something… usually the butt of another clown.

Most slapstick originated with the early circus clowns, and was expanded on in movie comedies and Vaudeville. Names like Charlie Chaplin, Harold Lloyd, Buster Keaton and Mack Sennett come from the early era, the Marx brothers and The Three Stooges, later, and more recently are the Mel Brooks movies.

Most people laugh… but not everyone. There are people who do not see the humor in a particular “genre.” No one has any definitive answer as to why this is.

My point ? (Yeah, I know, I’m getting long winded.) The point here, is that you will never be able to present something that will make everyone laugh. If you try, the odds are very good that you’re going to end up with what I call “Pudding Stew.” You start to make a stew, but someone wants pudding, so you add that. Then someone else wants bananas in the pudding, then oranges… I think you get the idea. I had a cousin who actually could eat something like that…Ergh.

You’re writing a book... you want it to be funny. Ok. You read through what you’ve written, and decide it “needs something more.” You search your mind for funny bits and add a few… then a few more, and so-on. It doesn’t work. If you really pay attention to most of the successful humor out there, you’ll see that there is a lot of scene creation… “set up.” If your reader, or viewer, has no clue why, for example, slipping on a banana-peel is funny, then it isn’t.

Some humor takes advantage of human nature, which can have its funny bits, too.

The movie “Blazing Saddles,” from Mel Brooks, has a sequence in it that does take advantage of it. For those of you that may not know, Blazing Saddles is a slapstick comedy-western.

In one sequence, the “bad-guys” are going to completely wreck this town. They are riding across completely empty desert… forty or fifty of them, when they come upon a toll gate. Not on a road… not for a bridge, or anything that says they HAVE to go through it. They could easily just go around. Instead, they pay a ten-cent toll (each) to go through… exact change only. Human nature is funny about things like this. People would, if only for the novelty, pay the toll.

Books? Terry Pratchett is one of my favourite writers of humor. Lately, I have reread “Hatful of Sky.” In it there’s a sequence where the Nac Mac Feegles ( “Pictsies”: little blue guys, about six inches tall ), want to get a ride to a town too far to walk to. They steal a bunch of clothes (they’re world class thieves) and arrange themselves in the assembly, so that they will look like a normal human. A “bigjob”… they think. The sequence that follows is incredibly funny… to me, anyway.

Does this book have a “situation” in every chapter? No. there are quite a number of funny bits in it, though, scattered throughout.

Cartoons. Many of you won’t know what I’m talking about, but you can probably find these by doing a net search… Calvin and Hobbes (Calvin is a kid about seven years old). In one example, the father is sitting on the couch in the living room, Calvin comes in and asks if he can have a flamethrower. The father says “no.” Calvin continues through the living room, thinking, and as he’s going out the back door, asks: “Even if I promise not to use it in the house?”.

Other excellent examples are Gahan Wilson, who has produced cartoons for virtually everyone from Playboy to The New Yorker and Gary Larsen, who does “The Far Side” cartoons. Most of these are a single scene. The thing to take note of is that everything in the scene supports the joke.

Yes, I seem to have wandered, but I do have a point here.

When you want to do humor, be it a book, a movie or a cartoon, be careful of how much you put in. A laugh on every page or every scene tends to get dull, leaving you with feeling that you need something “bigger” for the next bit. If you ever find yourself feeling like that… stop! Take a look at where you’re headed with it, and think about whether or not it’s really what you’re trying to do.

Another good idea is to find someone who doesn’t really have much of a sense of humor, and let them check it out.Then find someone who is always making jokes, and listen to what they have to say.

My real name is Louis Meert... I'm archdruid here at Renderosity. I have been read to, and have read nearly everything I could find since the age of six. My particular passions tend to be Fantasy and Science Fiction. I love humor, especially in a Fantasy setting. I have also read the autobiographical novels by Gerald Durrell. I have travelled the world, mostly courtesy of the US Army, including Antarctica ("wintered over" there with the army). I love horses and hope to have another string again. I'm teaching my daughter bladework (full length Claymores, for now... lighter blades later). Currently, I have written one, and collaborated with my daughter on a second book, which "we" are working on animating. I have been in and around computer graphics, in one way or another, for the last thirty five years and am currently "independant" (I work for a slave driver... me).





September 17, 2007

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Article Comments

FutureFantasyDesign ( posted at 12:00AM Thu, 20 September 2007

Your article brought a smile to my face! If only because it brought up some of my favorite things, Farside and Calvin & Hobbs! I see where as time goes on it is easy to forget the irony of life, and take the stupid things way too seriously... ThanX for the breath of fresh air, and clearing the cobwebs. Ariana

koosievantutte ( posted at 12:00AM Thu, 20 September 2007

pictured a girl wielding a claymore (1,5 m long - 2,5 kilos)and the consequences, it ended up with a whirlwind image LOL love the books about the (night)watch by terry pratchhett the best.

deemarie ( posted at 12:00AM Sat, 22 September 2007

From "dry wit" to "gut busting" humor, I enjoy it all. However, I am still confused about the "manly admiration" of the Three Stooges :] Thanks for the reminder to keep laughing! Dee-Marie

sandwood12 ( posted at 12:00AM Sat, 22 September 2007

It was good artical to bad it is not enough this going around this world, if it was it may be nice place live in. The question I ask new people just starting work,"Do these professional boxers punch in before they start work?"