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On Humor and Being Funny

6

May 18, 2012 by Renee

I can make people laugh. I know this. I’ve seen evidence when my friends are all “Stop!” or “Have another beer!” because booze apparently makes me a downright fucking riot. I’ve seen it on my blog, on OFW, and in the feedback I get on my writing. I’m funny. But here’s the problem: I don’t know why.

Seriously, I don’t know what it is I’m doing that’s so damn funny, aside from being honest. I don’t try to be humorous, not consciously anyway, but somehow, people laugh at what I say and do. It’s a little unnerving to be honest. I’ve often been told I should write humor. Just humor. Nothing else. The advice is coming from a good place, and I’d like to introduce myself as a humorist or a comedian, but my gut says “Oh no, sweetheart. That’s a bad idea. You are not that funny.” And also, I like being serious from time to time, and I like books that have something to say. Funny doesn’t always do that.

And I am not so funny I could make a career out of it. Things come out of my mouth that, in my head sound very intelligent and not humorous, but once they’re out someone laughs and I nearly shit myself in shock. Sometimes, when I’m supposed to be sleeping, I’ll go over something I said and try to deconstruct it to find the funny. I never succeed in this endeavor and then I’m tired and cranky in the morning because I wasted valuable sleep time in my extremely self-absorbed ponderings.

If I don’t know why I’m funny, or what it is about my writing that’s making you all laugh, how can I sit down to make that a goal? Does any comedian know why they’re funny? Am I simply normal in that I’m shocked when people are like “God, you’re hilarious.” Should I be more like, “Of course I am you puny unfunny jackass.” What is the etiquette among comedians? Do you mention the funny or not? Do you act humble? I’m horrible at etiquette.

A friend said the other day that I write satire. I quickly Googled it. I have a grasp of what the word means, just not how it relates to writing, so shut it.

Satire, as a literary genre, takes depravities, idiocies, abuses, shortcomings, etc. and holds them up to ridicule, ideally with the intent of shaming individuals, groups, or society itself, into improvement.

A common feature of satire is irony or sarcasm. (I am good at sarcasm, although its effectiveness is rather hit and miss.) Parody, imitation, exaggeration, comparison, analogy, and double entendre are also frequently used in satirical writing. With satire the writer strives to first make people laugh, and while they’re caught off guard, you then force them to think.

Hmm. Is that what I do? Yes. I want to make people think. I’ve learned that coming out with both barrels locked and loaded is not the way to do that. In life, I’ve often coated my opinions and whatnot in sarcasm and humor to make what I’m saying more palatable to the recipient. Unless of course they’re fucknuts, then I coat nothing. You’re an asshole. No joke. No sugar-coating. That’s how I roll.

But still, I don’t dare call myself funny or comedic. I think perhaps because comedy is an art that I’ve always enjoyed, respected and in some cases revered, I can’t put myself in that position and feel as though I belong. Comedians have a special skill. It’s damn hard to make people laugh. Sure, we can all make someone laugh, but thousands? Pfft. Good luck, Chuck. Not gonna happen. It’s a rare person who can tickle the world’s funny bone. I am not that person.

So how do I apply my small comedic tendencies to my writing? Should I start focusing consciously on writing satire? Should I try to make you all laugh? Do I go and research that which is funny and try to apply this knowledge when I write? (You know I’ve already done that, right?) Or do I just keep trucking the way I always do and label whatever results whichever way seems right?

I know, the question of whether or not I should write humor…or already do write humor, shouldn’t be so difficult to answer, but it is. If I were to write “Satire” in a query letter, would that get a snort and a delete? If I leave it out, am I being inaccurate and thus ruining my odds of getting a request for the manuscript. What if you people are the only people who think I’m funny? Not that I’m assuming every one of you thinks I’m funny. I mean, some of you probably think I’m annoying as shit, and the only reason you still follow this blog is because like me, you haven’t figured out Blogger’s magical formula for unfollowing a blog.

I. Don’t. Know.

So I’ll just keep doing what I’m doing, and we’ll see what happens I guess. What about you? Did you know the genre you should write in straight off? Or did it take some experimentation to figure it out? If so, were you surprised at the results?
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6 thoughts on “On Humor and Being Funny

  1. Vero says:

    I started out trying to write to genre definitions, and fucked up real bad. Then I got annoyed and applied my general love of authority to writing as well, and just wrote whatever the hell I wanted. It turns out I write psychological thriller in a sci-fi setting, or something. Or was it adult sci-fi romance horror? Nah. No clue. And I don't care. I found that whenever I try to write a certain way, it's messy and it sucks. When I just write, it always coalesces into a certain direction and it's clear and I like it. Does it wear a label? Probably. But I think others might see the label clearer than I can. All I am interested in when I write, is the writing. That's not supposed to sound poetic, it's just what it is.

  2. Renee Miller says:

    You're right. When I try to be funny, I bomb. When I'm just me doing what I do…voila! And when we defined genre in the Companion, I was so overwhelmed by the sheer number of genres and subgenres in fiction that I had a mini-stroke at first. We settled on taking the most popular (right now) genres, and the generic ones (romance, sci-fi, horror, etc.) and defined those. This adaptability is what I love about books. The need to "label" it is what I hate.

  3. I can't be funny on demand, but when something strikes me as funny, it just bubbles out without any effort.I think what makes you funny (to me) is that I never know if you're serious about something you said or being sarcastic. It's that sense of danger that attracts me. 🙂

  4. Renee Miller says:

    Haha. So it's kind of like nervous laughter that I inspire. You know, you're not the first person to say that. My mom says that often, but she doesn't find it funny at all. 🙂

  5. Glad I found this blog via Vero on Twitter! I love funny. I live for funny. But I don't read Humor. For me, the truly funny book comes from a writer whose nominally serious writing keeps veering to the absurd, the wonderful, the marvelous weirdness of ordinariness–the hilarity that comes from some unexpected collision of things–metaphors, character quirks, whatever. Gish Jen and Sherman Alexie are among my favorite writers for this reason. (Johnny Depp said that there's nothing so weird as a person who is considered completely normal)–that's the kind of funny I love. It's innate to how you view the world. Maybe you're such a writer & the thing to do is not fret and just go ahead, put your feet up and take care of your parrot.

  6. Renee Miller says:

    Thanks for visiting, Helen. I think you've nailed it. I write about serious topics, but I don't like to be "heavy" if that makes sense. I tend to put the funny into characterization, so what you're saying makes sense. By the way, Johnny Depp is among my favorite weirdos. I will do as you advise and just let it flow as it wants to.

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Renee

Renee

I like to write stuff. Sometimes it's funny. I've published some novels and short fiction. I also battle an addiction to cake and potato chips, and I sometimes have inappropriate fantasies involving Kevin Spacey.

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