How To Write Funny Stuff: Irony, Mark Twain, and the Danger of Humor | Fiction School Podcast Season 5 Episode 7

How To Write Funny Stuff: Irony, Mark Twain, and the Danger of Humor | Fiction School Podcast Season 5 Episode 7

A wise teacher once told us that the least funny thing you can do is explain a joke. So, we decided to make a whole show explaining humor writing, because we are not wise.

Actually, this show is a lot of fun. You should listen. Hear the ol’ Fiction School talk about the incredibly hard and tedious work of writing funny stuff. Hear Baker tell the “secret of comedy” joke. Then hear Tommy tell it over and over. Learn Mark Twain’s source of humor. Discover the writer’s difference between TV and novel humor, between sarcasm and satire. And just maybe have a few laughs along the way. (We promise we won’t explain why you’re laughing. We have no idea.)

Show Notes

  • Baker gets a high five for having an awesome writing week, cranking out a complete short story draft in an afternoon. A draft, mind you. Not perfect, maybe not good, but it exists after one sitting.
  • He got the idea from Harlan Ellison, who used to write stories in bookstore windows. (This was an offshoot of an old writer drill, where you’d sit around a coffee shop, eavesdropping and creating characters based on the compilation of people in the shop. Then, you’d sit down and write the whole story in one go.
  • Baker, without being creepy, tried his hand at this. He did it in a coffee shop but didn’t eavesdrop. Instead, he did his old meta-move, listening to Coffitivity in a coffee shop.
  • Baker then reveals that the secret to comedy is timing. But he does it funny, if you listen to the show.
  • Tommy ma
    6vwd_xnzpuu-kait-herzog
    Oh, irony. How we do love you.

    kes an even better point about comedy: timing is good for jokes and humor out loud, but a writer needs other tools. Like this: Why do you go to a coffee shop to write? Ambient noise, smells, people, coffee. What does Baker do when he gets to a coffee shop? Open a track of ambient coffee shop sounds.

  • It’s funny ’cause it’s ironic. Irony is a writer’s best tool for being funny. This may be a new Team Tommy tenet.
  • It is important to note that funny on a written page doesn’t come across like it does in person or on film. Funny stuff on the page must be subtle and careful.
  • Family Guy or The Office would not be funny in novel form. They depend on the actors, facial expressions, and quick cuts from scenes.
  • Baker recalls a time in workshop when an author’s comedy turned unintentionally gothic, because he’d just written it down as he would’ve spoken it. 
  • To be funny in writing, you can’t just write down what you’d say.  You have to be very nuanced and layered in writing to be funny, rather than relying on verbal cues as you can in real life.
  • Tommy’s favorite comedy book is Confederacy of Dunces, with its many minor characters and subplots. A lot of time in writing, humor is often when the subplots and minor characters come together for the first time.
  • It’s also in the imagery that writing can be most funny. But even then, it works on a deeper level. It’s not in the description of the how someone is dressed that is funny, but the metaphor you as the writer choose to use that makes the reader think about it.
  • So, Rule #1: Writing funny is totally different than showing funny, like movies and TV shows do.
  • A few other funny books to research writing funny: Straight Man by Richard Russo, and Wonderboys by Michael Chabon. 
  • Funny comes through character. It’s only funny if you know and love the people on the page.
  • But remember: humor is dangerous. Humor is a risk. You always risk pissing somebody off.
  • Then we discuss how humor often comes from a dark place, or even sadness. Mark Twain once said, “The secret source of humor is sorrow, not joy. There is no laughter in heaven.”
  • Tommy explains the difference between sarcasm and satire. Satire is sarcasm with a purpose.
  • Flannery O’Connor is Southern Gothic funny! She is also Baker’s home girl.
  • What books do you find funny? Call Baker’s house.
  • Timing!

Images courtesy Unsplash: dog and sign

Leave a reply