THE SECRET TO SUCCESSFULLY WRITING HUMOR

Updated: Oct 10



You know you're a nerd when you get to the point of analyzing humor. 😁 In my defense, Dr. "O" started it. He was my Introduction to the English Language professor in college. He was also among the teachers who convinced me that while just about any professor will say the occasional strange thing, the English/English-language professors say genuinely weirder things than anyone else!  During one of Dr. "O's" lectures, we spent a significant chunk of time on what exactly makes something funny. Some comedians default to jokes about bodily functions or unmentionable-in-polite-company topics for this purpose. Luckily for us, there's a classier--and more effective--way to get people laughing.  According to Dr. "O," as we live life, we learn "scripts" (sets of expectations about what happens, how people behave, and what they say) for common situations. For example, the "script" for going to the grocery store would probably involve walking into the store, getting a cart or a basket, finding your items and putting them in your chosen receptacle, and checking out. The "script" for meeting a person for the first time, at least in American culture, would probably include shaking hands, telling the other person your name, and saying, "It's nice to meet you."  Humor results when we realize that someone is following the wrong script for a given scenario. Maybe the person is behaving in an exaggerated way, or maybe they're doing something that's logical in whatever script they think they're following but doesn't make sense in the actual script for the situation. Whatever the cause of the deviation, the sheer ridiculousness of the incongruity makes us laugh. For example, those of us who grew up watching Disney know what to expect when a couple shares a romantic moment in a musical, right? One person launches into a beautiful love song, the other joins in, and sparks fly. The Studio C sketch "Love Duet" gives us . . . shall we say . . . an alternate take on that situation. 🤣 The way I see it, the humor of this sketch comes from not just one but several script violations:

  • Script 1 (the most obvious in this sketch): The classic musical duet. Violation: Adam. Cannot. Sing. (I have no idea whether that's true in real life. Poor guy.)

  • Script 2: In movies, people who experience love at first sight often stay twitterpated even if their love interest does something dumb. Violation: Tori clearly shows that she's attracted to Adam at the beginning of the sketch, but she does a complete 180 as soon as he sings his first line.

  • Scripts 3 and 4: People who can't sing well are usually painfully aware of that fact and avoid singing at all costs. People also try to show their best sides in front of those they're attracted to. Violation: Adam screeches his way through the song with glee, apparently heedless of how awful he sounds and how unattractive it is to Tori. 

  • Script 5: When Person #1 demonstrates a clear lack of interest, Person #2 ideally takes the hint and leaves Person #1 alone. Violation: No matter what Tori does (moving away, putting a book between them, throwing her shoe at him, etc.), Adam continues the duet as if she's just as invested as he is.

  • Script 6: Unpleasant noises can cause pain in the ears. To avoid this, people put in earplugs or leave the area. Violation: Tori's ears don't just hurt from hearing Adam's singing--they're bleeding. To end her misery, she nearly cuts her ears off!

  • Script 7: Given a choice between hearing an unpleasant noise and undergoing an experience that could cause significant injury or illness, most people will choose to endure the noise. Violation: Tori declares that she'd prefer to hug a cactus, eat roadkill, or continuously donate plasma for fifty years rather than be stuck with Adam and his singing.

So the next time you need to add some humor to your writing, consider the script for the situation you're writing about. What do your readers expect you or your characters to say and do? Then think of how you could tweak that just a bit to cause incongruity. Studio C is a great example of how to do this in family-friendly ways, whether they repeatedly mess up a tongue twister, go to extreme lengths to test a psychological phenomenon, or just switch a prop. Write on, Candice P.S. If you're struggling to find the funny in your work, I'd love to help you. Click here to book a call today! (Thanks to Darius Bashar for sharing their work on Unsplash.)

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