Thursday, July 29, 2010

What's So Funny?

So my friend and Digressionista, Mari had a blog this week that got me thinking, and you ALL know how dangerous it is for me to think... Her question was about GENDER and who was more FUNNY... and she had some great points and generated a FABULOUS discussion. So it would be good to read that, but what I got to thinking about was WHAT MAKES FUNNY.

I thought I'd give the humor TYPES I could think of, along with some examples, whether I think men or women both DO and LIKE each, and my personal opinion on them (fun, ne?)

Slap Stick

Three Stooges, Looney Tunes, Certain skits of Monty Python... Humor based on silly physical actions and accidents. This is a male genre—men definitely prefer it compared to women. I suspect more men write it, though it isn't something you can appreciate in writing really.

I like it in small doses, but without a British accent and a straight face, it isn't really my preferred thing, and the performances of it I like best, I think I LIKE because I like the performers doing other stuff so well, so it carries over.


This oughta sound familiar... situational comedy... you know... SIT COMS. Where stuff happens because of who is thrown together how. This is a television staple, and unfamiliar to NOBODY. It is also seen in some chick lit, YA, and Cozy Mystery. I'm not sure anyone does this better or worse, but I find it is a preferred staple of women, while some men do and some men don't. Blogs like 'I'm Not Hannah' (which is FABULOUSLY funny, in a 'life is too real' way) use it very regularly. This very blog uses it with some regularity, though not exclusively.

I tend to love it if it is the form that turns dark things inside out and makes them funny. Not as big of a fan of the overly silly version that is most often on TV. The situational comedy I like on TV right now is Grey's Anatomy season 3s Christine... her inability to deal with emotion cracks me up like CRAZY, though I also like Izzy in her silly stage, and Bailey (see dry humor). In case anyone missed that... what I find FUNNIEST for situational comedy, is funny breaks in the dark stuff, or dark stuff turned funny. I'm twisted that way.


This is where somebody GETS somebody else... they do something TO them. There is a perpetrator and a victim. I think this is ALSO a guy thing... not exclusively, but mostly. The only literary example I can think of is the Prank Wars in the Harry Potter series between Snape and the Marauders. And this is a perfect example of how I feel about them.

NOT FUNNY. There are exceptions, but they are rare. For the most part any activity that can be said to have a victim is not my thing.


Turning words around to make jokes... My favorite example is A Series of Unfortunately Events. This thirteen volume, thirteen chapters apiece series is a giant grammar/wordplay smorgasbord. I don't know that this is more male or female, either in production or appreciation.  The blogs I read that use a lot are Tara's with her Taffy stuff (for a lesson, go here), and Hyperbole and a Half.

I ADORE wordplay. Misattribution isn't my superpower for nothing. This is one of my favorite things to do, but I do it almost exclusively in interaction, not writing. While I REALLY appreciate it in writing, I appreciate the really smart version of it, and what I seem capable of is a pretty silly version of it.


These pieces often say something serious, but include an irony, or say something other than what they mean but with enough information that you can tell the meaning is different. Most often though, it is just a truth at a really inappropriate time. Somehow this seems feminine to me, but I don't know if it is just because the characters who USE it are often women, or if it is really more often written or appreciated by women.

I LOVE dry humor, often because it is the tension break in more serious works.

(Geek Humor—totally me) -------->


This is rarely seen as the whole piece, except in parody type pieces—more typically it is a device within a situational comedy or relief within something else. I think this is an equal sex offender.

And I like it IFF it isn't overly mean. Sarcasm is often mean-spirited, and that, I am less fond of.

And while I'm at it... a couple funny things from the Blogosphere this week (male, though the above two links to funny stuff are female)

Fall down funny this week
 Christopher Allen keeps in touch with his inner princess:
This one is only a little funny so far, but the idea of a Battle of the Cereal Mascots tickles me, and so you should go vote for who will be in it.

Also wik:  Which reminds me of potty humor (a male art form), and self-deprecating humor (both use it, but males seems to use a much broader range) and rude humor (picking on people or talking mean about them)--both genders use it and of the 3 it is the only one I don't like.

Also also wik:  Absurd humor: Much of the Monty Python stuff falls here and I ADORE IT.

So what kind of humor do you like What did I forget? (as I know there is a bunch)


Cold As Heaven said...

My favorite is the wordplay type of humor. I also like the humor in the books by John Irving, and in Catch 22, but not sure what genre that would be >:)

Cold As Heaven

Ted Cross said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Ted Cross said...

I like most kinds of humor if done well, though I'm with you in disliking the so-called humor that has a victim. I don't like humor based upon someone's discomfort, which is why I couldn't stand movies like Meet the Parents.

I wish I could do humor, but I can't do it on purpose. There are times I can have people laughing up a storm, but it always comes accidentally. When I TRY to be funny it doesn't work.

Oddly, while I love comedy in movies, I generally don't like to read funny books.

M.J. Nicholls said...

That's unusual because I would have said dry humour was more common in male writers. Usually broader humour like physical or sarcastic humour is more common in works by women.

The Alliterative Allomorph said...

What a great post! My fav is wordplay by far. They always have me in stitches. I have a lot of it in my writing. I hope I succeed in making people giggle! Otherwise ... I fail ...

Here's a short example: (background - main character making fun of menu typos)
“Should I order the ‘lamp in lemon sauce’?” I’d say with a cheeky smile.

“Yeah, that’ll be light,” he’d reply.

DCAllen said...

Great post! As a writer of satire, I'm often confronted with readers who confuse satire with sarcasm.

One of my favorite writers, Jincy Willett, is very good at deadpan, which I suppose goes along with "dry" humor. And I agree: it is a rather feminine type of humor (whether it be written by a man or a woman).

And thanks for the mention, Hart. Sweet. I and my inner princess are honored. :)

Elizabeth Spann Craig/Riley Adams said...

Love the Oscar Wilde type of wordplay humor! But, yeah, I usually write situational. :)

I think it's hard to write slapstick.

Hart Johnson said...

CaH-I haven't read either of those, though Catch 22 is on my list, so I can't help there.

Ted-I tend to be funnier when I am not trying, too, and my 'in person' humor is REALLY DIFFERENT from my written humor--I'm not 'quick enough' or outgoing enough to do what I do in writing in person--in person it tends to be dry and underspoken.

Mark--Women and physical humor? Really? Other than... say AbFab, I can't think of any women using it, but lots of men. As for dry... you may be right--I was writing off what was coming to mind, and the examples in my head happened to be female.

Jessica; lamp in lemon sauce? *snort* I use some of that kind of word play, too, I think.

Christopher-SATIRE! Ha! One I forgot. Usually love it, though it usually has a point, so my liking is tampered by whether I agree with the point or not. I also notice it is OFTEN misunderstood--taken literally by stupid people.

Elizabeth-I adore Oscar Wilde, especially the quips in works like 'The Importance of Being Ernest'... wordplay in the title, even.

L. Diane Wolfe said...

I like outrageous or dry. And I'm partial to LOL Cats.

Old Kitty said...

Oh I'm all for pics of kitties and doggies with clever silly captions! :-)

Also isn't Young Frankenstein the most hilarious film on this planet ever??? Or that jail scene with Gene Wilder and Richard Pryor in Stir Crazy the most gut busting hilarious skit ever known to the human race ever?!?!

Oh and Homer Simpson.


Take care

Justine Dell said...

Sarcastic...that's me ;-) Maybe not. I didn't realize there were so many difficult types of comedy.


Alex J. Cavanaugh said...

I like dry humor and sarcasm. Movies like Zombieland and Blazing Saddles leave me rolling!

Rissa said...

I love word play--puns always crack me up. I also love satire, sarcasm, and dry humor.
(they are kind of sub categories are they not?)I agree with anyone who loves Oscar Wilde.

Not a huge sitcom person-but love stuff like "The Big Bang Theory" and "How I Met Your Mother" because they are infused with wit.

I've always thought of two branches of humor-intellectual and non-intellectual. The obvious difference being you have to know something or think for it to be funny with intellectual humor; non-thinking humor is mindless and fun for all ages.

I pretty much will laugh at anything that isn't truly mean.

Will Burke said...

An episode of Writing Excuses Podcast talked about hgow humour relied on the unexpected. For example, I went to a woman at work and said "Since I've become a parent, I can't hear a child crying without lactating."
Here's my favorite geek joke: Rene Descartes walks into a bar, and the bartender says, "Hey Rene, do you want a beer?" Rene replies "I think not..." And disappears.

Cruella Collett said...

Excellent post, and a nice follow-up to my debatable topic. I think I can love all sorts of funnies listed here (I agree with you that pranks with victims aren't funny, though I have a soft spot for mutual prankers - people who prank each other - though those kind of pranks need to be relatively innocent). Some types of funny need a certain type of setting or performer (like slap stick - I love how you listed MP for this, since it clearly applies, eve though they are also funny in so many other aspects).

I think wordplay funnies probably, possibly are among the highest ranked ones in my book too, though.

Not Hannah said...

I don't know if it has a name (maybe absurdity?, but I love deadpan humor that points out the obvious with a twist. It's honest and ridiculous at the same time. David Sedaris writes like this and whoever writes Awkward Family Photos does, too. I go on that site and laugh like a lunatic until people think I'm...well, a lunatic.

I HATE humor that is embarrassing. Laverne and Shirley and The Office make me want to bury my head in a cushion. And I don't like most of Will Ferrell's stuff. It just seems kind of...dumb to me. Although everybody I know loves it, so it's probably me.

Creepy Query Girl said...

great break down! I'm a fan of all of the above. I love to laugh. Don't need an excuse in some cases....*bwahahaha insane cackle*

Hart Johnson said...

LDW and OK: I clearly love the LOL cats, too. In fact I like MOST photo captioning, if it's done well.

and I LOVE Young Frankenstein. In fact I love most of Mel Brooks stuff, even though the style, in somebody else's hands is usually too obvious for me. And I love the Simpsons, but not Family guy--for the dumb, bad dad to be funny, it needs to be clear that the writers KNOW he's dumb, and Homer is offensive in sillier ways than Peter. I think Lisa redeems the Simpsons because she makes it clear the writers get what the better way is.--Family Guy has no redeeming character.

Justine--a lot more than I listed, even. As I posted I began to realize all the categories I missed.

Alex-I loved Blazing Saddles as a kid, but haven't seen it as an adult. I should rent it and make my kids watch... Zombieland was pretty funny, too.

Rissa-GREAT point! I definitely prefer smart humor to obvious humor, unless the unintellectual humor is SO over the top that it BECOMES intellectual (the French Taunting comes to mind)

Will-that's a great point about the need for the unexpected, and you may have NAILED why i think the Pythons are so funny. *snorts at Descarte joke*

Mari-I can enjoy most, though get annoyed with the adolescent humor of... say Adam Sandler, who just annoys me.

Hart Johnson said...

Ha! A couple of you snuck in here.

Heather-I think you and I are on a VERY similar page. I hate Michael on the office for the same reason I hate Peter Griffith--bigotry and ignorance are not funny. And I LOVE David Sedaris and the awkwardness thing. I feel like his stuff falls a little into self-depracation, but it is more a 'my awkward family' depracation.

Katie-always great to love to laugh. (I do too, and the people I enjoy most seem to be those I laugh with)

Cheeseboy said...

Wow, thanks for the blog shout out! So cool.

This is a terrific subject and I am not sure if I actually have a favorite. Each type of comedy, if done right, makes me laugh equally as hard.

I do try my hand at writing different styles and some are definitely easier to write than others. Generally, I can write situational and absurd comedy with no problem. Wordplay and dry comedy is much more difficult - at least for me.

Finally, in regards to the battle of the sexes funny - I'd say that men are generally more funny than women, but I am biased. However, the funniest author out there right now is Sloane Crosley. Her 2 books make me laugh more than any man's I've read... including Sedaris.

But that is just my two cents.

Sugar said...

I love it all.. I love to laugh. I am sadly ok watching others make asses out of themselves. As long as it isn't at my expense.

Dawn said...

That's a great list. I love wordplay of course, and situational is a close runner up. Sarcastic is good when done without malicious intent - but too many people think their sarcasm is funny when it actually verges on mean :-(

LTM said...

what's the humor when someone actually DOES fall? Real life or on screen, I always laugh at that... does that mean I'm headed straight to h-e-double hockey stix? :o|

I was thinking about the humor-gender debate, and I decided you can't look at professional comedians to decide if men or women are funnier. You have to look at the real people you know to decide.

So far, it's a 50-50 game for me. good stuff~

TreeX said...

Hart Johnson said...

Cheeseboy-you're welcome! And I think humor style goes with voice, so 'dry' and 'silly' are rarely seen from the same people. I have some dry characters, but I don't think I could pull off a full dry piece at all.

Sugar *snicker* You're forgiven. I actually feel pained, sometimes, with what people are willing to do, though things like Wipe Out are funny (my family LOVES that show--it amuses me, but not like it does them)

Dawn-totally with you on sarcasm! My son is hysterical when he's sarcastic, but usually it's because he's claiming to have done something he couldn't have done. People who put their sarcasm on others though, are usually trying to be mean, but claim they aren't because the 'words' aren't.

Leigh-it definitely means you're rotten! (kidding)--my husband has exactly that humor-me, I can't laugh until I'm sure they're alright. So far as REAL PEOPLE--I seem to interact with a lot more women, so the assessment would be skewed, but a great many of them are hysterical. (it's just the kind of people I like best)

TreeX said...

I'd call the above 'pranks', yes? ;)

Hilarious in any case ;)

Lisa said...

What fun! I enjoy most types of humor, but the zingers that you least expect are my favorites. I find them in the writing of British Mystery series like Touch of Frost, Inspector Morse and Midsomer Murders.

RaShelle said...

Great post Hart!! When I was little Don Knotts and Tim Conway used to make me laugh out loud!!!

Hart Johnson said...

Joris-THAT kind of prank I like. I'm sure somebody had to 'fix it' so there is sort of a victim, but nobody was humiliated or hurt--it was done to 'an institution'--that is okay with me.

Lisa-I like those unexpected ones, too--probably why I like my humor in the midst of darker stuff.

RaShelle-- go look at this:
I loved those same guys when I was young, but in this scene, Vicki Lawrence steals it.

Jo Schaffer said...

Laughing is so much fun!!!
For some reason, Jack Black makes me laugh. And Will Ferell...
But the old classics do too. Groucho Marx. Genius.

TreeX said...

I always figured that kind of prank was the main kind of pranking in Hogwarts (and when did we ever hear exactly what went on, ne? ;) ), so I never got your issues with it, really... ;))

Hart Johnson said...

Jo, I am a 'sometimes' on Jack Black and Will Ferrell--I ADORE 'Elf' but the same behaviors without the genius rationale behind that bug me.

Joris--I figure the TWINS did a lot of that 'victimless pranking' and that didn't bug me, but the canon on the marauders was 'cursing anyone just because' (granted--canon from a ranting Lily, but canon nonetheless)--THAT, not so funny.

Helena said...

The older I get, the more I NEED comedy. Maybe what I love best is crackling dialogue, like what you'd find in Cheers and Frasier. One of the key writers, Joe Keenan, has written some very funny novels. Nowadays I like The Big Bang and the grown-up humor in movies like Finding Nemo. The shark interventions scenes and the dude sea turtles were classic.

ViolaNut said...

I'm with Rissa on the intellectual vs. non-intellectual humour, and there are some people who do both quite well (Stephen Fry comes to mind here - brain the size of a planet, yet still hilarious when he's playing a mentally-challenged hick who falls off the stage while Hugh Laurie sings and plays guitar). There are some things that are just always funny, like farts - I don't care how old you are, they're funny and if you say they're not then you need to read Walter the Farting Dog. ;-) However, things like your Schrödinger's cat LOLcat up there, I love love love those but someone like, say, my mother, will just sit there for about 10 seconds and then say "I don't get it." *facepalm*

I'll also add Parody to your list - there's the "this is pretty great and we're gonna have fun with it" kind, and then there's the "the original is so bad we can just take the mickey shamelessly" kind; you know I'm on a French & Saunders kick this week, but they really are the queens of parody. ;-)

Which reminds me, I was going to watch another one tonight. :-)

RaShelle said...

Oh my goodness - ROFL soooooo hard. That was great!!!! Thanks for the laugh!!!! My cheeks hurt. =D

Boonsong said...

Excellent analysis. I really enjoyed this.

I don't like prank humour. It has to be excellent before it becomes even remotely acceptable.
Micky-taking is OK if it's gentle and it must be funny - not a put down. I see it as on the edge of what's OK.

I expect it to come as no surprise to you that mine and Mrs Somboons' favourite humour is wet-suit on a rocking horse humour.

Have a nice day from the Giggling Sniggering Somboons

Anonymous said...

I've never really liked slap-stick but I do love sarcasm and dry humour. I find it really interesting the way people can use doses of reality and understatement to really turn a situation on its head.
Humour is incredibly subjective though. To say that doing this will make something funny is probably always going to end up failing.
Thanks for an excellent post and I loved reading the comments here.

Hart Johnson said...

Leanne--definitely hear you on mom's not getting some of that intellectual humor! And yes--I love parody if I'm familiar with the original work, whether I like it or not.

RaShelle-I aim to please!

Boonsong-we seem to be in total agreement on both pranks and taking the mickey... I just don't appreciate meanness. Ever.

Cassandra-you just reminded me of another form I love--the 'faulty logic'-- if this AND this, then THIS, but the last is a total misinterpretation. I LOVE that. Definitely subjective though.