Wednesday, May 13, 2009

Me Funny Part II (or What I Learned From Stephen Colbert!)

Tip of the Day: If you ever need a big laugh, watch some episodes of the Colbert Report. You won't be sorry (but you might pee your pants).

Since my post last week about funny books and how to write funnily (or funnilier than the spelling of this word), I've come to three conclusions as to what makes me LOL when reading a book (or watching TV or a movie, etc):

1) Deadpan jokes. How does Stephen Colbert do it? How does he say something completely outrageous with a totally straight face?

The one time I actually had a captive audience laughing was in my undergrad communications class. We had to give a speach to persuade the listeners that they should adopt an idea that was against the norm or a current insitutionalized belief. Some students discussed why alcohol should be sold to minors, or why pot should be legalized (very important topics to the undergrad population), while I did my speech on why there should be an open hunting season on squirrels in our college town. With as straight a face as I could, I described the serious menace of squirrels today, complete with evil photos of the tree rats, and a supported list of evils they caused, such as eating Halloween Jack o'lanterns, chewing through garbage cans, and blowing out the power on the entire street when they exploded themselves on the street's power transformer (true story). The class was actually laughing at my speech! I was so happy! I don't think it ever happened again.

And now years later I realize why: the deadpan approach.

2) Narrative voice. Our own Tina and Emily have this one covered (and yes, I am jealous of the brilliant saracasm they can cast in their narrator's voice). Here's an excerpt from THE ESPRESSOLOGIST by Tina to illustrate this point:

"So, Jane Turner, isn't it?" Melissa asks. "Still dating family members, Jane?" Both girls laugh.

I grab the cream instead of the skim milk and pour it into the foaming pitcher. There we go -- we'll see who's laughing when she gets on the scale later.

3) Dialog. In real life, listening to people's conversations can yield hilarity even if you don't know what they're talking about. Sometimes that makes it even more funny. Different word choices or described situations can make me laugh. Here's an example from Robin Benway's AUDREY, WAIT! between best friends Audrey and Victoria:

"See, now, Evan wouldn't have done this," Victoria pointed out as she took her drink. "He wouldn't have noticed that you were even thirsty, much less that I was. I mean, you could both be walking in the Sahara desert and you'd be dying of thirst and he'd be like, 'Hey, Aud, I've got this killer idea for a song.' Totally useless."

I swirled my ice with my straw. "Evan used 'killer' last year. This year, everything's 'fool-ass.'"

"Okay, Audrey? Let me introduce you to something called The Point. You are missing it."

So now, my personal mission, should I choose to accept it, is to write something funny this week in a WIP.

What if my breakout novel ends up being this funny WIP? Then will there be pressure to be funny all the time? ACK! Does the pressure never end?

Deena, Miss Subbing for Pubbing


Summer said...

No the pressure never ends. Good luck! Funny is... well, funny. haha. It's good!

Kate Fall said...

I always wanted to write slapstick, physical comedy well. People falling down stairs, climbing walls like Spiderman, walking smack into sliding glass doors. It's a lot harder to write than it sound--and least to write it funny.

amuse me said...

Colbert is the master at delivering his lines -- should be called Professor Colbert. Great post -- very interesting.

Anonymous said...

I always wonder: Do funny people intentionally set out to be funny, or can they just not help it?

Lisa Schroeder said...

I really wish I could write funny.

Okay, that one little teaser made me want to read Tina's book all the more!!! :)

Emily Marshall said...

Very interesting stuff Deena. I love Colbert, not nearly as much as I love Chelsea Handler though. But I love that they both have smart humor.

I love adding humor to books, but don't really set out to do it and wish I could be funnier to. But I do think you can play it up a bit. I just think what would likely happen to me in a situation or scene and exaggerate it. I think that's the really funny stuff. That which people can relate to on a personal level, and stuff that they could see happening to them or something they'd like to do in a situation when it would be okay to unleash their darker side.

DeenaML said...

Em -- you ARE good at situational humor! That is where I'm really lacking. I think bc I'd need to make sure the voice was humorous while describing what happened.

I need Professor Colbert to help me! :)