Writing humor is no laughing matter.

imageHumor is hard to write and even harder to sell. This probably explains why so few comic television series survive. As someone who loves to write humor (I know, not what you expected from a gal who’s written 15 suspense novels) I can tell you it’s much more challenging than writing drama. Why? Answer the questions below.

1. What is sad?

On this, I’ll bet we can agree. The death of a child. Human suffering. The power of addiction. Violent crime. Are we together on this? These are all terrible and tragic. If I wrote a novel featuring any one of these themes, we’re all going to feel similarly when we read it, if I’ve done my job well.

2. What is funny? Someone slipping on a banana peel? Bathroom humor? Esoteric jokes? Lies and subterfuge? Hmmm. Now we’re getting into some disagreement. Do you think Woody Allen’s humor is funny? How about Dumb and Dumber? Case in point is the movie Anchorman. My daughter thought it was hilarious. I found it juvenile and crude. Am I wrong? Is she? Nope, we’re just not going to agree because funny is a moving target.

That is why many publishers will not take a chance on humor. It’s too much of a risk to guarantee the books are going to sell. I so appreciate Harlequin Heartwarming for allowing me to write a book which is truly penned in my natural, goofy, voice. I think it’s got some hilarious moments. Will readers think so? No guarantees!

Have you ever seen a movie that was supposed to be funny and you didn’t find it so? Or conversely, did you laugh through a movie and have others disagree with you? Would love to hear your thoughts. Giving away a gift card and two books this month.

13 responses to this post.

  1. I think you’re dead on about how difficult humor is to write. One example I can think of is the movie “Hall Pass”. My friends raved and raved about how funny it was, but when I watched it all I saw was a depressingly accurate depiction of dysfunctional marriages. I was barely able to finish it.

    Thought provoking post!

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  2. Posted by Joye on July 24, 2014 at 4:55 pm

    It wasn’t a movie but a theatre production. In London a few years ago, we saw a play (Tales of Chaucer) and our party of Americans laughed and laughed. The British did not. They laughed at certain quips and we looked at each other and said “Huh”? The play was just as good as the Canterbury Tales book. The British laugh was just a soft tee hee.

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  3. I remember a few years back someone recommended the movie RV with Robin Williams. The audience was cracking up and I just remember feeling bored and restless. I thought I’d love it because I did think Mrs. Doubtfire was funny with Robin Williams. Now, what do I find funny? I always laugh when I watch the old movie Arthur with Dudley Moore and Liza Minelli, The First Wives Club with Goldie Hawn, Diane Keaton and Bette Midler, and 9 to 5 with Dolly Parton, Jane Fonda and Lilly Thomlin. Those movies ALWAYS make me laugh. Also, I will think I Love Lucy is funny until the day I leave this world!! I Loved all of the cast and thought they were all funny. Incidentally, while reading Return to Pelican Inn I burst out laughing when Cy went to repair the car’s tire saying “I’m goin in”, and Pike looks at Rosa and responds the way he does (I don’t want to give it away, but you know what I mean). That was hilarious to me. I actually put the book down to chuckle for a moment. But really, humor is relative. Some like dry, some like obscene (unfortunately), some like silly, and whatever else falls in between. It’s just a personality thing I suppose.

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    • Posted by Shanda on July 27, 2014 at 4:48 pm

      I loved First Wives Club and 9 to 5. My mother loves I Love Lucy, but I cannot watch it. Humor has so many layers to it, generational, cultural, social–I think the gender gap may be wider than I thought when it comes to humor. Ever notice that men really appreciate fat jokes, while women are like he could have a thyroid condition?

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      • Those movies ALWAYS make me laugh whenever I see them. And I think you’re right about humor having many layers to it. Although, my daughter is 25 and she LOVES I Love Lucy!! She grew up on it. Give it another chance. Some episodes are funnier than others, but I just love it overall…forever. And lol at men and fat jokes. That’s so true….men and women can see humor in a different light.

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      • So true, Shanda!

        Dana Mentink award winning fiction author http://www.danamentink.com

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    • You’ve hit upon an important point, that there are some rare gems that seem to hit the universal funny bone, like I Love Lucy. They sure don’t come along too often. Thank you for the post (and the kind words about Pelican Inn.) 🙂

      P.S. (I agree with you about the movie, RV!)

      Dana Mentink award winning fiction author http://www.danamentink.com

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  4. Posted by Shanda on July 24, 2014 at 12:33 pm

    I love dry humor, the wry observation, and, to others’ cringing disdain, the clever pun. I find amusing what others find puzzling or often am put off by vulgarity that someone else thinks is hilarious. Humor, while subjective, can have a formula or something close to a formula, but its finding its audience is key. I have watched Last Comic Standing a few times lately and find only three of those people to be funny. However, I can appreciate the setup and payoff of some of the jokes I do not find humorous. Only the structure, though. 🙂

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  5. Hi Dana, I think it can have a lot to do with our mood, too. I’ve purposely watched a movie or chosen a book when grieving a loss, hoping it would lift my spirits, only to miss the humor completely. A year later, if I watched/read it again, it seemed hilarious to me. Us fickle humans — who can figure us out? Ha ha (That was supposed to be funny.) 🙂

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