Mechanics of Comedic Prose
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September 22nd, 2011 (9:53 PM). Edited September 22nd, 2011 by Putin.
Join Date: Dec 2010
In writing comedy, how can you be funny and not just stupid? <-- There's also a great article for writing non-serious satire on Uncyclopedia.
Ah, Uncyc. I've had some Wilde times there over the years. Anyway, the one overbearing rule here (other than what you will find in said Uncyclopedia article, which I recall being rather accurate in most regards) is to always- er, never- Force your humour. If you look for a joke and you aren't following a method or inspiration, it will suck. This is why 95% (a real statistic from the bureau of my backside) of all pun based humour and double entendre is really terrible and makes you want to groan, or, if you are a more violent sort, punch the speaker in the face. They only work when apparently ad-libbed and pertinent to what has been said(see the second sentence I wrote). Most other humour works this way, too, but puns require searching for and exploiting a flaw in a language, which means that, since they are dependent on pre-existing conditions, they almost never fit fluidly into a conversation (on the obverse for the form, however, one sufficiently knowledgeable to an eclectic extent in the workings of one or more language(s) should have little difficulty peppering them in for the sheer volume of the average language's lexicon).
Er, kinda went off on a tangent about puns there. The point is, it shouldn't be out of place or rely on the principle of "lol I am dumb and this is funny" (a principle I am sad to see television and screenplays taking up more and more by the day). If your humour relies on degrading yourself, chances are you're being pretty stupid; And if it involves patronizing your audience (as with the pun) it isn't funny.
Is your comedy planned or can you come up with jokes in a flash?
For me it's spontaneous. Planning for me is only either when I secretly do not want things to succeed (whether in art or in life), or when the only alternative is destructive inertia. I think my keen intuition helps me with this, though; I know a great deal of my very talented friends and acquaintances lose it if things aren't planned (which is why I never work with these people on pretty much anything). And I know a good deal of comedians and comedic individuals use formulaic or planned humour.
I don't try to be funny; I think that's the other important thing to note here. I have not since I was nine years old sat down and tried to think of ways to be funny or actively tried to come up with and perform jokes or humour of any kind. However, I have an innately foolish personality and constantly, maybe unconsciously, find opportunities for a sly remark or humourous observation of come kind. Recently I have noticed my humour becoming too subtle or dry for most people to catch, though. :\ There's the tragedy of being at the top.
Any specific mechanical elements of comedic prose you might want to share? (eg. punch-line, twists, etc.)
Well, for me, at least, a punch-line is right out in prose. I just want to say that first. In dialogue it is okay (I'm pretty sure it was Bobandbill that was citing basically everything I have ever loved, especially Black Books, and therefore Pratchett as well? Pratchett has a lot of good examples of this). Otherwise, a no-go. It's amateurish, sloppy and contrived. Even Pratchett took a while to get the hang of it (and humour writing in general; Just try reading "The Color of Magic," it's terrible).
I use really subtle wordplay and lateral thinking-style twists of logic almost to an excess. I guess since (as I mentioned earlier) nobody seems to catch them most of the time, and I throw enough of them in that my text (for example, this text) is completely saturated in them, most people are bound to at least catch a couple. That's my comedy of choice in writing, but I don't really write comedy (or, I should say, to stop misusing that word for a t least a moment, I don't write humour); I just write tragedy (and also real comedy) that happens to be funny.
I've recently started my first-ever actual humour piece (and, true to my style, it's dark humour, noir), and though I'm not sure what I'm doing differently, it does seem much more humourous and the jokes easier to grasp.
How would you use the narrative in writing comedy? (Not necessarily using the narrative creatively, but more the tone in which you write.)
Sarcastic and/or ironic as you can make it. Also, first-person works best for this and no other semi-respectable genre of prose. That way you can make the narrative wryly observant and even come to a complete immersion in your own bollocks, presupposing the existence of the fictional universe you craft, without seeming smugly patronizing or breaking the fourth wall accidentally (as in, the suspension of belief in particular).
Do you have any advice for writing comedy, asides from just go with it, because that doesn't really help people who aren't funny and 'going with it' tends to just end in forced-humor.
Here we go, technical description is where I excel.
Spoilered for reading convenience.
The first thing I am going to point out that there are multiple levels of humour. Though I call these "levels" for the very obvious reason that some are distinctly superior to others, IDEALLY, ALL SHOULD BE USED IN UNISON IF THE MEDIUM ALLOWS IT. I'm serious about that. I also believe all forms of debate should be used at once, from ad hominem to the well-formed logical parry and retort, but in the case of humour I have more reputable sources than myself backing me. Roughly, in ascending order, these levels are:
Physical humour - violence, sex, et cetera, as a direct form of humour. Don't bash it, Shakespeare used it excessively, as do a good deal of respectable playwrights.
Self-degradation or audience-degradation. That is, saying "yep, I'm an idiot" or making jokes at the expense of yourself or your audience; This more generally involves everything from racism to misogyny (and militant feminism) to general bigotry as a form of humour working doubly on this level (you are degrading the group in question, and degrading yourself by showing consciousness of your bigotry and pointing it out nonetheless, cementing it as a joke at your own expense as well and allowing you to skirt the line between "funny" and "offensive").
Build-up to a punchline; Aka the twist. This consists of making the audience think you are going to say one thing, which would be satisfying (like when a non-musical person listens to a new song and feels satisfaction when the notes fall into place in the way they expect them, not realizing that all songs use like the same twenty chords), then shocking their senses by substituting an unexpected, but equally suitable (in most cases) alternative. "The nagas of Upper Burma believe the Sun only comes out at day because, being a woman, it is frightened to be out alone at night." (That works on a lot of levels, including two not yet mentioned, observation and allusion; Nagas are a mythological beast that lives in tribal communities and has the body, head and arms of a man but a snake's tail or snake tails for legs, by the way. Joke courtesy of the Principia Discordia.) Or, "If a tree fall in a forest, and it hits a mime, does anybody care?" Or, "Roses are red/Violets are blue/Most poems rhyme/But this one does not." (Or you can double the humour of that one whilst taking a gamble on losing some interest by spinning it thus: "Roses are red/Violets are blue/Most poems rhyme/But this is an haiku." It's like a double bluff of humour, which will hopefully be enough to trick the audience into thinking the lie that it is an haiku is funny in an absurdist way rather than just dumb.)
Reference or Allusion. Usually placed higher, but I feel its overuse, misuse and dilution drags it down somewhat. This is basically referring to other works or mythos to bring more character into yours and appeal as amusing to those which are reminded of the other work, and thus feel a relation to the authour. This has grown to include Internet memes, unfortunately, which is the main factour in the lowering of the level for me.Whilst funny, memes and in-jokes are cheap humour.
Observation. Pointing out things that are real but do not make sense when another system (usually language) is applied to them. Some etymologist or philologist out there knows why you drive on a parkway but park on a driveway, or why when you oversee something you watch it but when you make an oversight you miss it, but for most of us it makes no sense, so the observation is funny. this can intermingle with the bigotry of degradation/deprecation humour to take more of the sting out (or making it more caustic, if you play it right), and to make it much funnier.
Deep or Intrinsic Truths. Taking Observation, and turning it from a technique to an entire art unto itself. This works on the same basic principle as the highest of Moses' Mystery Schools, the School of Metaphor, in that it seeks to make accessible through art certain pieces of knowledge which are impossible to explain or understand plainly, or that would not be believed without a logical example. In humour, this usually means taking something that people never realize (because any importance it has is illusory) or that people unconsciously know but will not admit, even to theirselves, and saying it in such a way that they laugh at it (and in most cases accidentally start believing it). It kind of skirts the line of NLP, sort of almost, in that regard. If you missed my example of it, look back to where I said "because any importance it has is illusory." Whilst apt, this would not immediately occur to the audience, and yet is actually of
no real importance
to the passage. It's also self-referential, which I didn't notice when writing it, but eh, whatever. In other words, it is an example of this form of humour. Use it wisely, Padawan.
As for delivery, candor is important. There's two ways I know of to get it. A skilled worker in the medium may be able to take a flint axe and with two hard, fast cleaves make a spearhead out of a bone. That is similar tot he first way- If you are innately smooth of speech, you can just
it. On the other hand, someone that is weak and knows nothing about holding a flint axe or how to angle it to cut bone or how it will slip when it connects can still sit there with a knife and rag and whittle shards of bone away until it comes to a point and then polish it until the surfaces are smooth, and maybe even end up with a better product than our first hypothetical caveman. The downside of this is that it takes flipping forever and who has that kind of time anyway? NOT ME, AND PROBABLY NOT YOU. Well, I probably do, but my situation is most unique.
Er, I can't help but feel I haven't written everything I wanted to, but my mind is feeling fuzzy tonight and this post has gotten rather long anyway, so I will cut it here.
EDIT: Oh, yeah, I forgot to add. Cutlerine, another good example of escalation to the point of chaos is definitely the work of Molierre. Which also reminds me that I forgot to mention absurdist humour, which lets the authour throw any sort of rules to the wind and
basically be completely random.
The best part being that if you mess up here and there the reader will assume you did it ironically because clearly, being as funny as you are,
you will not end up in the spiked pit of a faux pas unless you have climbed in intentionally.
A great way to trick the audience into thinking they have been amused is to make a joke that will invariably go ver their heads because it really isn't there. (Have read/do you read Homestuck at all? Sweet Bro and Hella Jeff is a good example of absurdist humour, as well as some of the normal levels, and Dave in general is guilty of the "Make jokes that aren't really there" mindset in general.) Remember- The American system of currency is based on imaginary gold (it used to be based on real gold, and the English currency is a pound Stirling), and yet the dollar (while suffering at the moment) is historically strong. There doesn't have to actually be anything there for it to have merit.
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