Hi, Gang. Craig with you again, and we’re going to try something different. It won’t work for everyone, but what does in this business?
I’m of the belief that you can’t just bleed for 300 pages. Even in serious tales you have to give the readers a breather. My go-to in those instances is a bit of humor. This can be a snarky comment or an unexpected moment, but something.
With no scientific evidence at all to back me up, I propose that humor might be one of the most planned bits in any story. Even on the written page, delivery is crucial.
I like to start off with a definition, but never found one that suited me. Comedy can involve misunderstanding, absurdity, physical elements, and more. In a novel, it’s more complex than telling a joke.
I’m going to give you a list of common elements. The idea is to demonstrate that you’ve seen some of these before, and can use them yourselves. If you stray into different territory or modify them, that can work too.
I named some of these, because I observed them in action. Others I found names as I searched for things to share with you. Away we go…
Cue the Flying Pigs: I first observed this one way back during the old Lavern and Shirley television series. It involves someone saying something stupid immediately before Lenny and Squiggy walked on scene. Basically, if someone calls it out, either make it immediately happen or prove them wrong.
You know I like film for my examples, so think about Young Frankenstein. Igor says, “Could be worse. Could be raining.” What immediately happened?
Scott Lang signs up to be Antman. He said, “Good, because my days of breaking into places and stealing shit are done. What do you want me to do?”
Hank Pym said, “We need you to break into a place and steal some shit.”
Known by Emergency Services: This one helps build character and can be used for good or bad. Basically, we’ve got someone who cried wolf and the reckoning is upon him/her.
In the movie Goonies, Chunk calls 911. He is immediately greeted with, “Is that you again, Lawrence.” The gag continues to include a subsequent poke at a different Spielberg movie, Gremlins, which Chunk pranked them with.
Think about Howard, from The Big Bang Theory, being on a first name basis with the woman from HR.
The Noodle Incident: (I didn’t name this one.) It gets used when you’re bringing in a new character and don’t want to spend a lot of time making the reader like them. The idea is that if an established character likes them, you can move forward a little faster. It involves an event that happened outside the covers of the current book.
The setup is that the newcomer and the established character share a past that you don’t have to explain.
I enjoyed the Matthew McConaughey film Sahara. It had one of these that worked pretty well.
The new guy wants to pull a “Panama.”
Sidekick: “What’s a Panama.”
Basically it involves a physical maneuver. The characters were in Nicaragua, but only thought they were in Panama. They called the move a Panama.
In the movie “Red” John Malcovich says, “I never thought I would say this again. I am getting the pig.”
No, no, no: This one involves an attempt to get someone else to do something, but they get it wrong. It plays best if there is a ticking clock.
In Star Wars The Force Awakens, Rey and Fin are trying to repair the Millennium Falcon before it floods with poison gas and kills them all. Rey is in the hold trying to make the repair while Fin assists from above. She asks for a specific tool. Fin hands her the wrong thing…No.
Repetitiveness and absurdity are your friend in this bit. They go through about six versions of “No” all while the clock is ticking away. It devolves into, “I’m pointing at it.” “No.” “Look where I’m pointing” etc.
It’s funny, but it also establishes Rey as a capable woman, and Fin as a doofus.
There was a similar scene in the second Guardians of the Galaxy film. Baby Groot is sent for an item that will allow Rocket and Yandu to escape the Ravagers. He brings them a multitude of items including a glass eye and a severed toe. None of which are even close to what they need.
What’s better than one gag?: This involves either a gag that keeps coming back, or repeats immediately.
In the second Guardians of the Galaxy, the Ravagers are approaching the heroes’ camp. Rocket has placed some kind of science fiction land mines for them. When the Ravagers appear on scene, Rocket blows them up to the treetops. After they fall, he does it again, and again, all while laughing maniacally.
Rocket also makes a good example for the returning gag. He keeps stealing things because they might be funny (They aren’t, which makes it even funnier). There is a mechanical leg in the first film, and it repeats with the artificial eye in the second film.
One more, because this is getting long.
Beyond Weird: Something obviously weird is going on, but the characters call out something completely different as being the weird part. It boosts character.
In The Big Bang Theory, Howard built a long distance kissing machine. He and Raj try it out with two telephonic looking mouths while Leonard looks on.
Howard flinches because Raj bit his tongue. “I was being playful,” Raj says.
Howard responds with, “Why do you have to make everything weird?”
This has gotten long, so I’ll wrap it up. I have more in my living document about comedy. If the post performs well, maybe we’ll do a follow up. The idea is to keep your eyes open to the way this stuff works. You can include it in your stories, too.
What do you guys think? Are you alert for these things and study them as you read or view your fiction? Let me know in the comments.