Expansion Pack: Comedy

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.

69 thoughts on “Expansion Pack: Comedy

  1. Pingback: Expansion Pack: Comedy wrap up | Story Empire

  2. Pingback: Expansion Pack: The Return of Comedy | Story Empire

  3. I agree that you can have non-stop battles and extreme action for an entire book, Craig. It is exhausting for a reader and becomes tiresome too. Breaking it up with humour is great if you are humorous. Other ideas are a sub-theme or romance. I am not funny. Not in real life and not in my books. I remind myself of this quote from Matilda by Roald Dahl:
    ‘I liked The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe,’ Matilda said. ‘I think Mr C. S. Lewis is a very good writer. But he has one failing. There are no funny bits in his books.’

    ‘You are right there,’ Miss Honey said.

    ‘There aren’t many funny bits in Mr Tolkien either,’ Matilda said.

    Liked by 1 person

  4. That was an interesting and enlightening list, Craig. I tend to think of comedy as something that comes naturally. It’s part of us or not, there or not. I never considered that it’s actually something that can be crafted. Weird that I thought that! Of course there’s structure to it. Something to ponder for sure. Thanks!

    Liked by 1 person

  5. I love humour in books. Especially in yours, because you do it so well 🙂
    As for injecting humour in my own writing, not so much. I tend to write dark fantasy, and there’s not a lot of humour in that genre. I would like to try a black comedy one day (in fact I have an idea for a zombie apocalypse that has overtaken everyone under the age of 70, and the story takes place at a retirement village, following a group of survivors), but at the moment I’m so wrapped up in my epic tragedy WIP there’s no room for comedy 😦

    Liked by 1 person

  6. Great post. I think that a touch of humour doesn’t only give the reader a break but it adds character and contrast that can heighten the tension as well. I loved The Hat and that had plenty of humour and tension!

    Liked by 1 person

  7. Reblogged this on The Write Stuff and commented:

    Craig Boyack wraps up the week on Story Empire with a most excellent post on using humor, even in serious plots. His explanations are very helpful, and while I definitely try to use humor in all of my books, I’ve learned more about the various types today. Check it out, and you’ll see what I mean. And then pass it along, folks, as always. Thanks, and thanks to Craig for such a fun, yet informative, post! 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

  8. Wonderful post, Craig, and funny, too. I usually have a character or two that provide a lot of comic relief. Plus some of my main characters just can’t help making a snarky aside now and then, too. I like breaking up the tension (and/or horror) with a bit of humor, and always look for ways to introduce it. Your examples have opened my eyes as to the different types that can be used. I’ve never thought about it from that perspective before, but I’ll be thinking about it more now. Thanks! Sharing this (and looking forward to Part 2). 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

  9. Thanks for the post! I do hope you you share more from your bag of comedy tricks in the future. This has been informative, helpful, and I chuckled several times, remembering your more familiar examples.

    Liked by 1 person

  10. I think writing effective humor takes talent. I recently picked up a book to read that was listed in the “humor” genre, but I found very little about the story to laugh about. The woman had epilepsy and was obsessed with having influential friends, to the point it got absurd and I hated her. So, humor is not easy. You gave some good examples, Craig. Thanks for sharing!

    Liked by 1 person

  11. I love dry humor and a sly turn of phrase. Snarky, too. On the flip side, I’m also a fan of plain silliness. I experimented with that in my novella, In Search of McDoogal, and had a blast writing the dialogue and scenes. I’ve started working on notes for a second in the same vein.
    In other books, I have characters who will deliver a snarky line at the appropriate time. I never plan for those, they just happen. The character brings them at the right time, I guess.
    I enjoyed this, Craig. It was fun, and I’m interested in seeing what part two would bring.

    Liked by 2 people

    • I really enjoyed McDoogal, so I’m excited to see something else in this vein. A lot of it comes to me after the characters are established, because I know them better. These are bigger picture that you can plan for. We have a few votes for the “Son of Comedy,” so I’ll take it under advisement.

      Liked by 1 person

  12. Craig, Great post. Humor is something I use a lot in my books. I like using the sidekick smart-ass technique. That way, my main character can stay on task and his best friend and partner can provide the comic relief. Sometimes, when the tension of a story builds and builds, a little humor gives the reader a break. I’m going to share this on my blog. Great stuff.

    Liked by 2 people

  13. Excellent post, Craig. You’ve prompted me to think about my books, and I suspect the closest I’ve come to comedy is playfulness. Your examples help me envision how I can introduce laughter. Thanks!

    Liked by 2 people

  14. Pingback: Expansion Pack: Comedy | Story Empire | Welcome to Harmony Kent Online

  15. Comedy is tough. Timing is everything. Not only where you put it, but how long the gag is or how often it appears. I remember being told that the safest thing is the old rule of three. After three times in a row, a joke starts losing its bite.

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