Rochelle Frank wrote humorous bits for her college newspaper many years ago. Her funny observations have continued in print and online.
Can People Learn How to Write Humorous Articles?
An editor I once worked with, asked if I could teach her how to write "funny stuff".
Until then I had never thought of humor as being something that is taught. I had always thought that people had a humor gene or they did not.
Trying to teach humorous writing would seem to be like trying to teach someone to have brown eyes if they were born with blue eyes. Or it would be like trying to teach them to be brown-eyed when they already have brown eyes. In either case it wouldn't accomplish much.
Also, I felt if I tried to analyze the essence of humor, and unravel the deep mystery of what it really is, the fragile elusive Humor Muse would be ticked off and forsake me for discovering her address and true identity.
Another reason is that I hesitate to call my written offerings "humor", I usually call them "silliness". However, she was The Editor and had the final say. I happily accepted her judgment.
How Can You Tell if Something Is Funny?
When I finish a humor column I often re-read or rewrite or it about fifteen times. As you can imagine, in my mind it quickly loses the element of surprise. Surprise is important.
I sometimes go from "this is sort of funny" to "this might be funny" to "I'm not so sure this is funny at all." I sometimes run my ideas by a certain friend, just to check. (She has a great laugh.)
However, "The Editor's" question challenged me as a teacher, and I began giving it some thought.
In the past I have taught people basic drawing techniques. It helped them to improve but that did nor necessarily make them great artists. I'm not sure I could teach anyone to write humor, but I can give my ideas about what makes certain things funny.
In a sense, analyzing DOES scare the muse away.
Think about reading a scientific, medical, clinical manual about the human physical procreative procedure. It may contain all of the correct information, but it is not sexy.
It is similar to the act of trying to explain why things are funny. It may be correct, but it is not, in itself, funny.
Sex is sexy, humor is funny. Expaining the basic objective facts of either is not usually sexy or funnny.
Serious Thoughts About Writing Humor
Disclaimer: I am not a humor expert. I'm not a psychologist. These are just my thoughts on the subject. There's nothing particularly profound in this, but here goes my opinion:
- Humor is based on truth, literalness, humility, objectivity, possibility and sometimes impossibility.
- It is a viewpoint and an attitude that most of us have as children. I believe it comes more naturally to those of us who have never quite grown up.
- People will read a humorous piece, laugh and say "but that is SO true," and often it is. It can be based on the truth of what is, or the truth of what might be.
My Dad was a rather quiet, very kind, agreeable man who had a wonderful way of defusing a tense situation with a quip. I remember one time I called my mother "Maw." She got upset and told me not to ever call her "Maw." Daddy spoke up and said, "call her Mammy." This broke everyone up (including Mom), because what he was saying was, "It's not as bad as you think... what if it were this way." It was also silly.
A Way of Understanding Humor
One key to understanding humor may be to understand why people laugh when they are physically tickled.
Some people would say it is because it feels funny, or because it stimulates the nerve endings of your, well . . . wherever part is being tickled. I think there is another explanation, and it's related to the fact that people can not tickle themselves.
A tickle is a physical assault, quasi-aggression. Because it is not usually objectively harmful or hostile, there is no defense against it. It would be inappropriate to haul off and slug your tickler, even though we are genetically and mentally programmed to defend ourselves from any kind of attack.
You cannot justify giving your parent, or child, or friend or lover a black eye to retaliate for a tickle attack. We are helpless, frustrated, and confused in such a way that we react with laughter to release the tension.
Also it creates a mood-elevating effect which apparently can be measured chemically. That is not an authoritative explanation, but it is MY explanation. (Scientific studies DO say that laughter reduces stress hormones and strengthens the immune system, so it's all good.)
Humor is threatening, frustrating, and almost impossible to defend against, partly because we are not aware of why it is threatening, and also because we know it is that it is not hostile. It is also often from someone we know and trust.
Humor is a psychological tickle, a friendly assault. Some "humor" can be mean spirited, but I do not think this is real humor. It lacks the friendly, or non-hostile, element.
Some people think sarcasm is humor. I don't. I try to avoid it. OK, maybe a little irony or or a gentle gibe, but nothing corrosive enough to harm the environment.
Erma Bombeck Writer's Workshop
The traditional sterotypical image of a court jester in Medieval times is often a small, sometimes deformed, and weak appearing person. He is a "fool," an object of derision and contempt. Often he was dressed in ridiculous fashion, but because of his non-threatening persona he could speak the truth, often in unflattering ways toward the royals and nobles, and get away with it. A great example of the psychic tickle.
When Don Rickles poured his outrageous insults out on an audience (an obvious form of attack), people laughed. This short fat old bald guy who looked like a (non threatening) turtle, was telling the truth about people for the most part, and they were defenseless. His verbal attacks made the audience mildly uncomfortable because most of them would not dare to use such impolite expressions.
He did this so well that if anyone were to really get mad, they would look absolutely stupid. At the end of such a routine he always thanked people for being good sports, thus making himself non-hostile as well. This is NOT my favorite style of humor, I would never personally attempt it, but I must admit he was a genius at it.
I enjoyed reading the work of a local humor writer who contributed to a paper I read regularly (name omitted to protect—me). He was very funny. Of course he has an advantage over me by having two live-in teenagers to provide inspiration. Actually I must credit him with my original decision to try "columning " in the same publication.
After reading some of his work, I said to myself, "Myself, you could do this. Here is this guy writing silly stuff off the top of his head ... and being an embarrassment to his friends and family . . . how hard can that be?"
Though he made himself out to be a foolish, hot-headed know-it-all and borderline ignoramus . . . I'll bet he is none of the above, and that is part of what makes him funny.
Visual, verbal, cognitive shift, and conceptual humor are usually based on the non-physical tickle. Humans like things to be comfortable, controllable, and predictable. The unusual, exaggerated, incongruous, or unexpected thing is mildly threatening and uncomfortable.
Puns and double entendre are ambiguous, confusing, and surprising but they are harmless and we can't defend ourselves against them. Though people like to be in their comfort zones, most also like to be slightly threatened, occasionally. If they did not, why would there be horror movies and roller coasters?
Children laugh more than adults, partly because they have not learned to hide their emotions, partly because they are innocent, and often because they see nothing wrong with telling the truth. They often make us laugh as well, because of these (threatening) qualities.
The story of the Emperor's New Clothes has always been a favorite of mine, because everyone is suddenly exposed to the to the truth about the emperor (and about their own self doubts and fears) by a child who sees nothing wrong about telling it like it is.
Who's on First
The classic Abbot and Costello "Who's on First?" routine is funny mostly because of the confusion of having the players named "Who, What," etc. Just at the point where we almost understand it, another confusing element is added, keeping the hearer slightly off balance . . . tickled.
Cleverness, wit, and creative associations may be slightly more sophisticated than the ticklish humor discussed up to this point. but it still has some of the same elements, including surprise and the annoying realization that someone else thought of it before you did.
Perceiving someone else to be smarter than yourself can be threatening, but if that person is not hostile, or pompous, or mean spirited, it still goes back to the tickle effect.
Do I Think of These Things When Writing Humor?
No, not at all, but going back and looking at some things I have written, I can see that they do generally apply.
When I call garden gnomes odd, that's the truth. Even people who have garden gnomes know it. But those people cannot be mad, especially because I came back and said I had nothing against odd things and defended the right of garden gnomes to make a living (incongruity).
There are a few things that I do consciously to "enhance funniness," besides writing in comic book font (and see, that's funny because there's no way that could really make a difference—so that's kind of the flip side—or the flippant side—of truth. Something seems logical about it, but it's not).
When I wrote about the time I fell down when walking my dog, that was honest-to-gosh deeply felt pain, but beyond that there was some element of slapstick. When people see (or hear about) others in pain, especially non-disabling pain, there are a set of reactions:
One is "that was really stupid," but we know it's not nice to think that way so there is guilt (threat). Also, we are glad it did not happen to us—but we know it could (threat). If the victim over-reacts or under-reacts to the pratfall, it is threatening (incongruous).
Some things are just funny in themselves. Anti-aging cream does it for me because it doesn't make sense that you should be able to rub a substance on your skin and it stops you from getting older.
Anti-aging cream goes against the laws of physics. It goes against the theory of relativity and the space/time continuum. If it did work to stop aging, users would never get another birthday present. All of these things are absolute truth.
I use my thesaurus a lot. Some words just sound funnier than others. The thesaurus also gives synonyms with a slightly skewed connotation (incongruity) ... or words that sound pompous, antiquated, or too "important" (incongruity)... or words that make it possible to turn a phrase into an alliterative string or a rhyme.
I'm not sure why alliteration seems funny. I'll give that part some more thought. I think Gilbert or Sullivan understood this . . . whichever one did the words.
Exaggeration is funny, especially the exaggerated truth. This is partly because of the uncertainty it causes. We often know that something is being exaggerated but it may also be true, and we are not quite sure where the line is drawn (uncertainty, threat).
My mop directions were confusing (to me) when I first read them, but in order to make the point, I'll admit that I exaggerated the confusion, for the benefit of those who generally understand things better than I do, so they could get the same feeling.
Most of the things I write about are true happenings. I think the purseless story is one of my funnier ones, because it's all true. But I have to look at things in a very objective manner and ask myself if my reaction or non-reaction to a situation is true, or is there another way to look at it.
Nothing but the Truth
Speaking of truth,—which I was, somewhere along the way—let me give another example:
Some time back someone sent me an internet item that said something like "You are almost as good as your dog if you can..." then it had a list of things like:
- If you can be happy with the same simple food every day....
- If you can be loyal to those who sometimes ignore or mistreat you...
- If you can forgive those who wrongfully accuse you ...
- If you can be cheerful even when those around you are unkind...
- If you are willing to risk your life to save a child
- etc.. on and on and on about canine attributes.
It was very nice.
I knew my friend who volunteers at the animal shelter, would appreciate this, so I sent it to her. Now I like dogs and other animals fine, (and I know you do) but I have a slight problem with those who tend to idealize them and make them more virtuous than they really are. So I added a few items to the list which are also absolute Truth:
You are almost as good as your dog:
- If you are willing to humiliate yourself and do almost anything for approval and a pat on the head...
- If you see nothing wrong with drinking out of the toilet...
- If you are not embarrassed to have sex in public with someone you have never met before...
When she got my list, she said her husband came in her workroom to see what she was laughing at.
So, There is Threat, Incongruity, Truth and More
Referring back to the clinical procreation manual I mentioned before, these may be some of the technical elements of doing anything. Just as in writing humor, I think you just have to actually do it yourself to understand the wider implications.
The subtleties are hard to explain; it takes a little love, patience, and practice, but you will know when it feels right.
© 2008 Rochelle Frank
Rochelle Frank (author) from California Gold Country on October 03, 2019:
I agree, mostly. "Non funny" people might have more trouble creating a funny character, but everyone laughs, at least once in awhile. Humor is in there somewhere.
I also agree that communicating humor, is the same as every kind of communication. There must be a capable sender and a capable reciever.
I appreciate your observations.
Joe Read on October 03, 2019:
My mother told me years ago, that an author could bestow on his Character any attribute that he/she did not have .. .except for that of being funny. A non-funny author can't make a person funny if they themselves don't have the humor.
"funny" like "beauty" is in the eye of the beholder . . .not the author.
Rochelle Frank (author) from California Gold Country on August 27, 2019:
I appreciate the comments. Please add your expeience when you have a moment.
Jithesh on January 06, 2019:
Absolute delight to read this. Thanks for the laughs.
Rochelle Frank (author) from California Gold Country on July 03, 2017:
As some of you have noted, sometimes life events barge in and noting seems particularly funny. Sometimes you have to dig out the humor. It's still there-- just dig.
Maree Michael Martin from Northwest Washington on an Island on July 15, 2012:
Oh this was a fun one to read and learn from. Such a wonderful hub. I am happy to be spending some time over in my twitter world, funny that is how I found ya. I've been researching on social networking. Laughter is the best medicine, so more humor please, now onto reading more of your funny stuff.
Rochelle Frank (author) from California Gold Country on June 14, 2012:
I like your analogy to music, and it brings to mind the fact that not everyone will appreciate humor, no matter how clever it might be.
Thanks for commenting, Pennypines.
Lucille Apcar from Mariposa, California, U.S.A. on June 13, 2012:
Just as I love good music of all genres,I lso enjoy poking a little fun at people especially those inclined to be a little pompous.
Unfortunately it can backfire though, just like those who are tone deaf and cannot share enjoyment of music, there are persons who take offense at the little jabs, however innocent they may be. Bob Hope loved to poke fun at Washington politicians, I sometimes wonder how they felt about it.
Andyes on April 05, 2012:
Thank you for your reply.
I personally enjoy being surprised. I agree that no-one enjoys being criticised, unless it is constructive and is recognised as being helpful.
There is a big difference between criticism and comedy. For example, if a comedian was to directly say what they think to an audience, it would possibly invoke some resistance and anger because people generally do not like being told what to do. A good stand-up comedian knows how to get their opinions across in a non-threatening way.
It is similar to a story teller who can engage their audience, while teaching at the same time. The audience does not feel threatened by the comedian who gets his message across in a funny way.
The closest comedy ever gets to criticism, is satire. This is a great way to expose the silly and absurd in human behaviour. It shows how things really are.
If a stand up comedian ridicules a person in the audience, that person does not usually laugh. It is the rest of the audience who laughs because they are not threatened. The person in the audience being ridiculed will only laugh if he/she is not threatened and does not take it personally.
When I go to see a stand up comedian, if they are good, then I feel empowered both during and after watching them. This is the opposite to being threatened. They make me feel great because they are saying things about society that are true and what I believe in. It reassures me to hear someone saying what I think is right. There are many things that are inherently wrong and ridiculous in society and comedians often highlight the truth that the audience recognise and agree with. This is the opposite to being criticised or challenged. It is freeing and permissive.
Good stand up comedians are empowering because they are brave enough to stand on stage and risk being heckled and abused by the audience. If anyone is to feel threatened, it is the stand up comedian who faces a lot of drunks, who want a quick laugh, at their expense.
Regarding other comedy outlets like sitcoms, cartoons, sketch shows, movies etc, I cannot see how anyone could feel threatened by watching them.
Rochelle Frank (author) from California Gold Country on April 05, 2012:
Andyes, thank you for your comment. I respect your perspective.
The level of 'threat' may be different for different people, but I still think it is still there, even if barely perceptible.
When we are surprised, when our beliefs are countered, when we are told we are wrong about something, or when our ways of thinking are challenged, there is an element of threat.
When we find out it was not meant to be harmful-- there is a sudden release from that confusion.
It doesn't have to be anything which involves fear of physical pain or insult by public humiliation.
I agree that tickling may not be a perfect analogy, but it served to show my feelings-- a purely personal view-- about the 'mechanics' of humor. I have no credentials in psychology or even humorology to back up my theories.
I appreciate the time and thought that went into your response.
Andyes on April 05, 2012:
This is a well written article. I agree about your views on feeling threatened, only to the extent of when being at a stand up comedy gig near the front row and worrying if the comedian is going to pick on you. That is the only time I believe feeling threatened can occur. If I am at a stand up gig far away from the comedian, I would never feel threatened.
I do not believe comedy is threatening in any way, apart from when a person is the victim of ridicule. The only other way is when a comedian makes jokes about something the audience is directly involved in like an occupation, hobby or even place where they live. If they take it personally, then they can feel threatened or insulted even though it is not directed at them individualy. Other than that, most humour is non threatening. For example, it is impossible to feel threatened when watching a comedy sitcom on TV, a comedy movie, a series of comedy sketches, or a joke book.
Tickling is not an accurate analogy because although you cannot tickle yourself, you can make yourself laugh by thinking funny thoughts and ideas, or by writing comedy.
Rochelle Frank (author) from California Gold Country on March 09, 2012:
Evaporation is always a worry. I haven't written much humor lately, don't know if the political season has wrung it out of me--- or it may just be hibernation rather than evaporation.
And yes, I see how tickling can be mean-spirited. Humor can be, too. Neither should be allowed into the wrong hands. Always practice safe and sane humor to avoid injury.
Rochelle Frank (author) from California Gold Country on March 09, 2012:
Thank you, Nare Anthony
Sherri from Southeastern Pennsylvania on March 09, 2012:
The discussion in your hub about assault, defense, and tickling struck home as I recalled being tickled by certain of my older male relatives when I was a kid. It was not a kind thing. Eventually, I found my defense to it when I was grown and confronted them with their behavior. There's a dark side to tickling.
With that said, I think I'm funny. Maybe not so much in writing but in conversation. Some see that side of me, although some don't. A friend once told me, when I shared with him that I might like to try stand-up comedy, "Don't quit your day job."
You presented great information about the qualities that define humor while at the same time you can be very funny. I think it's interesting that you can be a humorist and also explain what that means. As for me, I find moments when I can make folks laugh, but I have no idea why. Whatever muse-in-training is responsible for this talent I have from time to time, I thank her and don't want to dissect her. I don't want her to evaporate.
Thanks for an enormously insightful read.
Rochelle Frank (author) from California Gold Country on October 20, 2011:
Thanks, wwww-- incomprehensibility is funny,itself.
wwww on October 20, 2011:
Rochelle Frank (author) from California Gold Country on September 11, 2011:
Thanks for reading, Ashutosh. Yes, I am, but hubber scores only go up to 100.
Ashutosh on September 11, 2011:
Rochelle, are you a millionaire?
Rochelle Frank (author) from California Gold Country on May 30, 2011:
I LOVE that you came to read this, ahostagesituation. Your screen name sounds so serious, I was delighted to read some of your hubs and find out how funny you are.
And yes the truth is threatening. You are seriously funny, and that's the truth. Deal with it.
LaRoussou on May 30, 2011:
I LOVE that you did this, and have wondered this as well. I heard a comic postulate that humor is a form of aggression, and you're right that it is definitely an exposure of raw truth. It's so interesting, I have no idea what makes things funny, but I'm almost always laughing. I became funny because OTHER people were laughing. I'd say something that I was completely serious about and people started laughing. So, I figured I was joking. Eventually, I was.
But truth is threatening to most people as you say. There's a verse in the bible where Paul says something to the effect of, "Well, now, have I become your enemy, now that I have told you the truth?"
What an interesting subject to tackle! And it does seem if you analyze it too much you might lose it. THANKS!! Gonna bookmark this one.
Karen Wilton from Australia on May 21, 2011:
Your point about teaching someone to draw doesn't mean they'll become an artist was spot on. I have absolutely no idea why something is funny to one person and deadpan serious to the next. Good tips for the beginner trying to write with humour, thanks.
Rochelle Frank (author) from California Gold Country on March 15, 2011:
Thanks for commenting. Humor is a practically painless way to gain insight.
betweencracks on March 11, 2011:
Very useful article.Humor is my passion too.
Especially slightly offbeat, looking at the world sideways, type of humor, that makes you laugh but offers a little insight as well
" Besides eating, humor is the best survival mechanism i know "
Rochelle Frank (author) from California Gold Country on March 06, 2011:
Than you, bobsimpson. Commas are for editors.
bobsimpson from Largo Florida on March 05, 2011:
Thanks for the good read.
Humor can sometimes be such a serious deadly enterprise. Have you ever agonized for 30 minutes on where the comma should go?
No, I really never have either.
Rochelle Frank (author) from California Gold Country on October 01, 2010:
Thanks, Dream On. I'm glad you found something in it to spark thought. As I have mentioned, It was something I had not really tried to explain to myself until someone asked. Certainly there is more to it than I put forth here, but I still think I got some of the basics right.
Hope to read more from you.
DREAM ON on October 01, 2010:
You had me hooked from the very beginning.I felt like a fish dangling in mid air.I was helpless until your line broke and now I can be with the other fishes who thought I was toast.I learned so much from your hub and so many hubbers who commented.I find it difficult to laugh at new humor people that use alot of swearing to get a laugh.I love the simple humor growing up from t.v. programs like Threes Company and Gilligans Island.I admire those writers who were perfect on timing.I loved the art but never understood it.You explained so much.I read your hub but was pressed for time.I didn't want to leave but it was running late.So I decided I would stop and come back later.Right then and there I decided to stop and no matter how much I still wanted to read more I couldn't.I finally stopped and had to check how long the comments were from where I was.There were three comments left.I found your hub even funnier.Great job I will read it again and again.
Rochelle Frank (author) from California Gold Country on September 25, 2010:
The best part is, everyone sees things from a slightly different viewpoint. Thanks for commenting, ChrisLincoln.
ChrisLincoln from Orange (or Lemon...) County, California on September 24, 2010:
According to my wife there is a very strange world in my head, and when I share it, it is apparently hilarious. She no longer asks, "what are you thinking?" unless seated.
Life is just so darned funny, you don't have to look that hard to see it, and it is so much fun to share it.
Rochelle Frank (author) from California Gold Country on August 09, 2010:
Well, lorlie6, you are up early this morning.(It is cooler before dawn.)Thanks so much for your comments!
Laurel Rogers from Bishop, Ca on August 09, 2010:
Apparently I am extremely funny in real life-my family thinks so, at least-but when writing it just seems to come over me. I wrote a hub about the recent heat wave which caught me by surprise-it was so hot I simply had to laugh.
Gawd, girl, you're a class act!
Rochelle Frank (author) from California Gold Country on July 30, 2010:
So it seems, quicksand. Though it seems contradictory, you have to be confident enough to not take yourself too seriously.
quicksand on July 29, 2010:
Hello Rochelle, I guess humor comes naturally to some people. As for the rest, naturally humor does not come at all! :)
Stan Fletcher from Nashville, TN on June 08, 2010:
I know what you mean. Overthinking kills it. But that leaves you vulnerable. If it's not 'working' there's not a heck of a lot you can do about it. Shades and I were just talking yesterday about how truth is the author of humor.
I honed my chops in class in Jr. High. Many have accused me of not advancing much beyond that! :) I would rather make people laugh than almost anything I can think of.
Rochelle Frank (author) from California Gold Country on June 07, 2010:
Thank you, Stan. You need no advice on this subject, you are a natural.
Now don't go and overthink, you already have it... and pay no attention to the man behind the curtain.
Stan Fletcher from Nashville, TN on June 07, 2010:
Wow! This is great. And you are smart.
Rochelle Frank (author) from California Gold Country on May 21, 2010:
Thanks, As I said, I'd never thought about it much until my editor asked. Just let it flow-- I think you have the humor gene.
U Neek from Georgia, USA on May 21, 2010:
Now I'm gonna hafta to do a lotta thinkingm 'cause I've never tried to analyze why things are funny either. Gee thanks, Rochelle. ;)
Rochelle Frank (author) from California Gold Country on April 20, 2010:
I hadn't thought of it either, ahostagesituation, until someone asked. I still think analysis doesn't quite capture the underlying spirit.
LaRoussou on April 20, 2010:
Thanks for writing this Rochelle. I never thought of analyzing it before.
Rochelle Frank (author) from California Gold Country on February 17, 2010:
I agree. Thank you for reading.
Rochelle Frank (author) from California Gold Country on January 14, 2010:
No, I'm sorry, edzee, That's wrong.
It is AA, A, B, C, D, DD, DDD... No, wait a minute that's wrong too. I think those are bra sizes . . .
Let me know if you remember.
edzee on January 13, 2010:
Oooh, Ooooh! I know this one, I know this one. I got the answer from my cousin in Kinarsie. She's stacked and snuck into the football team's locker room when they were all at the coaches office for a talk. The answer is A B C A B A C A B A A A B B....DAMN! Let me start over....
Rochelle Frank (author) from California Gold Country on January 10, 2010:
Thank you, htjh, I would be interested in seeing the results of your research.
how to jump higher on January 10, 2010:
Anglia @ buy flowers
I've been researching the web for my research on this subject. I'm so thankful what you shared bestows a new attribute to the data I'm accumulating. I really appreciate the way which you look at this field of study, it offer me a new way of looking at it now. Thanks for the share.
Rochelle Frank (author) from California Gold Country on November 17, 2009:
Sometimes, perhaps. I KNOW my dad was one, a man of few words-- but the ones that came out were often quite funny.
I appreciate your reads.
mega1 on November 17, 2009:
I think really funny people are just fabulous observers - they shut up now and then and see how strange and wonderful the world is and then it just comes out of them - my kids are like that! long silences and then spectacularly funny things - You are one of those observers, I can tell.
Rochelle Frank (author) from California Gold Country on October 17, 2009:
Thanks a bunch "abcd.." ,
(I love alphabetical things).
And, yes, The seriousness of life does eventually become absurd with enough time.
It is slippery-- I suppose that is why the banana peel thing seems hilarious.
It isn't so much that we don't feel sympathy for the banana peel victim-- it's just that we feel a bit treatened by knowing that it could easily happen to us. Plus it looks so absurd-- who wants to admit that we might look absurd, ourselves? A tickle, I maintain.
Thanks for your comments. I will be looking for your funny stuff.
abcd1111 from Glen Ellyn, IL (Chicago suburb) on October 17, 2009:
Explaining humor is such a slippery thing. I love the adage,
"Tragedy plus time equals comedy."
It definitely bonds people. I live for laughter. I have found writing humor to be one of the most difficult tasks because of reworking and reworking a piece. As you said, it loses it's surprise and you start second-guessing yourself.
Thank you for shining a little light on an ephemeral subject.
Gustave Kilthau from USA on September 18, 2009:
Hello again, Rochelle. Just so that you will know it, I grew up in a place named, New Rochelle. At that time, everyone (almost) was very poor, but as I recall, people smiled a whole lot more then compared to today. I personally do two kinds of writing. I write serious items for tech columns and papers for journals. They are really fussy things to put together - really tight formats and protocols. Humor is what I like best. I just today put the first three of many Hubs online that are ostensibly cooking recipes, but it was impossible for me to not combine them with some funny tales as well. (Redneck Recipe # ...) Good food, so why not some good fun, too. Thanks again for your fine article. I hope to see more stuff that you put together for the world to read. Gus
Rochelle Frank (author) from California Gold Country on September 01, 2009:
Well, thanks Gus, I'm not sure it will make you rich, but laughter does a person good-- and that is a special kind of richness, I do believe.
Gustave Kilthau from USA on September 01, 2009:
What a nifty article... You explained the whole deal such that I understood why it was folks laugh when I say or write something. Had I known this stuff earlier on, I would probably be quite rich by now. Ah well.. water under the bridge, right? Met a fellow in a dialysis clinic one time in Trenton, New Jersey. He was a fine fellow - old, wrinkled, and full of beans - even though he was as ill as a person can be and without a dollar in his pocket. He told me that his name was "Goode." Then he told me that he fell in love with a gal and they married. Her name was "Rich." Then he explained to me that, after they married, they were "good and rich." You could tell that he was lamenting his present circumstances, and so I had trepidations about laughing at his little story. Yet, he wanted me to laugh, and that was obvious, too.
Your article was a beauty, and I enjoyed learning from it.
Dave Manors from United Kingdom on August 16, 2009:
This is probably the best article I've read on HubPages. I've heard someone before state that there is a "humour gene" and that only about 8% of people have it. I find that really unbelievable, as sometimes my jokes will only have people shaking their heads in embarrassment, and at other times I have actually had a couple of people rolling around on the floor in laughter and one or two even pulling out inhalers to keep themselves breathing!
In essence, I love what this piece is about and enjoyed the advice rendered!
Sidney Rayne on August 14, 2009:
Incredible article....I was ironically involved in a discussion about the act of "teaching humor" a few days ago. A lot of humor is involved in the delivery...rather verbally or literally...and while I think people can pick up certain characteristics in this regard...to teach it is another story.
You really nailed the concept in this article and I loved the phrase - "If you are willing to humiliate yourself and do almost anything for approval and a pat on the head..."
Again...great piece of writing..was a pleasure to read!
kiwi91 from USA on August 12, 2009:
Writing humor is tough, and it seems brevity is what people find funny today. The more words, the less funny it is. Well, there's a lot more to it, but when writing, simple seems to work.
And Don Rickles is a genius, thanks for mentioning him. This is a great hub.
Rochelle Frank (author) from California Gold Country on August 11, 2009:
Yes, I understand the reluctance to put the humor label on a piece, simply because it is so subjective.
You are right about the randomness, as well. i think that is all part of the surprise factor-- and it is also mildly threatening because we think we should understand and we often don't.
I think you humor is superb-- therefore, this is especially appreciated. Hasta!
B.T. Evilpants from Hell, MI on August 11, 2009:
I have no idea how I missed this. You've done a fantastic job of nailing down a very subjective topic. For me, randomness definitey comes into play. The more random an observation, the funnier it is. I guess that's why one of my favorite comedians is Stephen Wright.
I also don't call my writing "humor." I merely aspire to humor people who need the occasional laugh. I do add a humor tag to my hubs, though. But that's only because it's more likely to be found with a humor tag than a "ridiculous and absurd" tag.
Thanks for this hub, Rochelle. It's yet another gem.
Rochelle Frank (author) from California Gold Country on August 11, 2009:
Thanks so much for your comments, HAYASHI Sora.
Yes, the definition of humor is very hard to capture. I think this is partly because different people react differently. Styles, subject matter, presentation, timing, word usage-- all of that and more comes into play.
HAYASHI Sora on August 11, 2009:
I came across this hub from a Google search on how to write humor. Ironic, really, because all it has done is made me question further.
I have realized something though:
The things I find funny tend to be tied in with the choice of words.
For instance, I was reading a submission on a certain fan fiction web site and the author was, quite obviously, trying to be funny.. and failing. Perhaps because they were using the oldest tricks in the book, perhaps because they were telling it as if it were an article on molecular gastronomy..
And then I went on to read another submission which I found absolutely hilarious. I had tears streaming down my face and I was clutching my side, trying to stop myself making too much noise.
The word which cracked me up? Manties. If it had said "men's underwear" I would've been thinking 'Well, that wasn't funny.'
I think something to consider, also, when writing humor is randomosity. If you have heard the same joke, the same line, before then you're less likely to find it side-splittingly funny. Throwing in some original material definitely spices things up, though, it would be wise to consider audiences first.
I know you have already pointed out that some words are funnier-- I am simply backing up your point and giving my two cents.
Fantastic article, by the way.
Rochelle Frank (author) from California Gold Country on July 06, 2009:
Just one take on it--yes, it is hard to pin down. thanks
nicomp really from Ohio, USA on July 06, 2009:
Quantifying humor is a big challenge; taking something that's supposed to be fun and analyzing the fun out of it. Great work!
Rochelle Frank (author) from California Gold Country on June 24, 2009:
I think everyone has to work with what seems most natural to them. I know a very funny guy who frequently comes up with funny quips and comments, but he has a heck of a time remembering a funny joke he has heard-- seems like he always leaves something important out.
HeXiS from interweb on May 30, 2009:
im finding that when i want to be funny oim not.. it just happens.. i also find i dont get some jokes.. usualy the inside jokes that people forget i wasn't arround for.. or i think something is much funnier than the others arround me especialy sarcasm.
since my current project is merchandise with "odd ball humor" i finding that i realy am an odd ball.. that or people like my funny they just dont wana buy it.. im sure it's a mix of not funny and not impropper sales pitching.. but since this is about humor i'd like to ask how you feel about deadpan humor. like the eye drop commercials "wooooow....." any advice?
Susan Ng Yu on May 22, 2009:
I find things that conjure absurd images in my mind funny. Like the aircon with two legs walking out the open door or the gate ringing the doorbell upon its arrival. Teacher Michelle, aka Ripplemaker, and I laugh about things like that at the office. I'm often the first one to start cracking up. :P
Rochelle Frank (author) from California Gold Country on May 05, 2009:
Very cool, Maggie. I love it when people share. It is a virtue.
maggs224 from Sunny Spain on May 05, 2009:
Like you just said in the comment above Rochelle there is a trick to getting it on paper and I think you have proved with this hub that it is a trick that you have mastered very well. You even made my son laugh with your additions to the canine attributes list and he is a tough audience to crack. I read that bit out to him after he asked me what I was laughing at.
Rochelle Frank (author) from California Gold Country on March 20, 2009:
There's the trick, getting it on paper. As a fan of Dave Berry, I was always amazed that he could do it time after time.
Iphigenia on March 20, 2009:
Everything you've said is very true and any writer who wants to tackle humour must study all of these lements; Life experience and personality add to the mix. For me I believe that when it comes down to the nitty-gritty - to getting the words down onto paper - there are two essential ingredients - the situation and timing.
crusty_17 on March 11, 2009:
This is very enlightening, and I am so glad I came across this hub really. I am always fascinated about the different types of humour. Congratulations on a very stimulating hub.
Rochelle Frank (author) from California Gold Country on March 07, 2009:
I am seriously happy about your post Bilrrrrrrr. I also think you are seriously funny, you still have a way to go. I am seriously older than you, but not seriously funnier.. I do try to spread the silliness when I can. CHeers!!
Bill Russo from Cape Cod on March 07, 2009:
Thanks for a seriously good hub.
The great radio personality Norm Nathan (50 years with WHDH and WBZ in Boston)
said that you should always try to leave the world a little sillier than you find it.
I'm trying to do my part.
I'm over 65 years old but I promise to never grow up.
I promise to keep eating jelly & peanut butter sandwiches.
I promise to watch 'The Stooges' and least once a month and to view four Seinfelds per week.
I promise to keep putting teeth under my pillow for the tooth fairy - but if they don't get exchanged for money overnight, the dentures will have to go back in my mouth in the morning.
Rochelle Frank (author) from California Gold Country on February 21, 2009:
Very intelligent? Well, modest as I am, I don't know that I would say "very", but thanks.
johnb0127 from TX on February 21, 2009:
Wow, a great hub from a very intelligent woman! Good job!
Joanna McKenna from Central Oklahoma on December 26, 2008:
The ability to convey humor is an Either Or. Either you're born with it or you're not. Can't be taught. And analyzing it DOES scare off the Muse. I wrote my "McCain Picked Sarah Palin" hub a week into a 2-week Cold From Haedes. The entire hub landed in my head when my defenses and the dreaded Writers Block were zero. If I *hadn't* been at death's door, I would've tweaked it for days, then *maybe* published it, maybe not. As it was, I just "did it" and it was an instant hit. Go figure.
Rochelle Frank (author) from California Gold Country on December 26, 2008:
I agree, Saa-- But if I am the only one who thinks something is funny, is it really humor? it is always gratifying if someone else thinks the same thing is funny. It creates a kind of bond.
HARRIS from Phoenix, Ariz on December 25, 2008:
i think humor should be some thing for your own self not for others. There are all kind of people out there some find tom and Jerry to be funny and some find BORAT or Ali G to be funny. Now you cant humor the both kinds , coz both are in different zip codes . So your humor should satisfy you more than others.
Rochelle Frank (author) from California Gold Country on November 18, 2008:
I think you are on the right track-- very funny response.
smarcuse on November 18, 2008:
Great insights. I've been trying off and on to analyze humor for a while without much success. I've found it way too complex and subtle. I have made some observations though:
I find humor liberating. It allows one to express things he or she otherwise couldn't.
For example, consider what the parody news anchors like Jon Stewart, Stephen Colbert and Keith Olbermann get away with.
I tried taking a systematic approach and analyzing humor grammatically. So far I have only been able to come up with this verb conjugation.
I am hilarious.
You are silly.
She is an embarrassing buffoon.
Finally, I have found that humor is something you have to work at. When I forwarded a piece I had written to a friend, he emailed me back saying, "I see you are still trying to be funny." I thanked him for his encouragement and assured him I will try harder next time.
Rochelle Frank (author) from California Gold Country on November 13, 2008:
Thank you RGraf-- I sometimes wish I could write more deep meaningful things-- but I DO think humor is important. Sometimes it helps us break out of a set way of thinking, and sometimes it just lightens our mood-- which might be the same thing, come to think of it.
(Please submit this to the department of redundancy department.)
Rebecca Graf from Wisconsin on November 13, 2008:
The best paper I ever wrote was in high school with a friend. We took a boring assignment of an economic projects and laced it full of humor. Our teacher loved it and we got the highest score he had ever given for that assignment in all years of teaching.
Thanks for the hub!
andyjay on October 04, 2008:
I believe that "timing" is a very important element in humor (or in what constitutes funny). I guess it would be a little different if you are writing something funny or physically saying (or performing something funny). But I believe that humor and what is funny comes from the way we see things; our perspective on life. I can say that seeing life with a sense of humor has saved me. I don't know where I would be if I could not laugh at life and not take things so seriously. By the way, it is great to see a humorous blog getting so much attention. When I think of keeping a blog, I always think that it has to be about something "meaningful" and "life changing" for others to get something out of it. You have just proved that that isn't necessary. Now I know that there is a place in "blogs" for humor and light-hearted writing that will bring a smile to others when they read it. Great information. I enjoyed it!
Clive Fagan from South Africa on September 06, 2008:
I appreciate you balancing the scales so well with good examples. I prefer clever cute funny stories over the hurtful ones too. LOL
If you have seen my latest hub you may see some humour in that experience which more in keeping with my style.
Rochelle Frank (author) from California Gold Country on September 05, 2008:
Yes, humor usually is an uncomfortable truth to at least some degree.
As for the disturbed "funny people"-- troubled people can be found in any category or group. I would dare to say that there is a higher percentage of mad criminals than comedians.
On there other had there are many examples of comics who were wise and benevolent and charitable -- (Bob Hope, Will Rogers,...) And I can't think of any criminals, with the possible exception of Robin Hood, who are.
Personally, I don't find either sarcasm or hurtful 'humor' to be appealing.
Pam Pounds from So Cal Girl in the Midwest! on July 20, 2008:
Very funny, Rochelle...loved the dog list! Learned from your class - Humor 101!
Thanks, Pam ;)
Rochelle Frank (author) from California Gold Country on July 20, 2008:
Yes, "being there "is often the key.
trish1048 on July 19, 2008:
I so enjoyed this hub! You tackled defining humor, which to me, is a feat in itself. I have been told I'm 'so funny', and I like to think I do have a great sense of humor. There are even moments when you can say I'm 'witty'. Growing up with a brother 4 years my senior was possibly how I developed? my sense of humor. To this day, even if we haven't spoken for a while, he'll give me a call, and the witty comments come flying my way. He gets me every time, and I am always taken by surprise to the point that I cannot think of one appropriate come-back. He, to me, is the master of wit! I do however, have an occasional 'shining' moment when I get him back as good as he gives. It's then his turn to be taken by surprise :)
Thanks again for sharing,
PS: I don't have the answer to your question what makes something funny, I guess, as I find to be said rather often, 'you had to be there' :)
Rochelle Frank (author) from California Gold Country on June 17, 2008:
Preschool is a great place to find humor. Thanks for the comments.
In our school office , classroom assistants would come each month to pin up classroom artwork on the bulletin boards. Drawings were easy to put up, but one time a volunteer came in with "shoebox scenes" which were three-dimentional. "I don't know how to put these up," she said "I have dioramas."
The secretary advised her to take Pepto-bismol.
Michelle Simtoco from Cebu, Philippines on June 17, 2008:
Hi Rochelle, I enjoyed your thought provoking hub and all the ways we can actually be humorous. In our preschool office, we often laugh at the image that brings to our mind when we utter sentences like "kids please make sure to close the door or the aircon will go out" and "The gate has arrived." :) Love your hub. Thanks for sharing.
Shadesbreath from California on June 13, 2008:
Humor is hard to pin down even when it gets pinned down as neatly as this. I would add one thing about the court Fool back in the day though. It is something of a myth that they were misfigured and odd. The fool in many courts was an esteemed advisor who possessed a unique (and dangerous) position. As you said humor is often just truth, granted pointed out with style and tact and delivery etc... the fool was someone who had the respect of Kings and was allowed to point out things that no one else would dare. Shakespeare's Feste is a perfect example in Twelfth Night. The fool was often the only hope a nation had for steering its leaders away from stupidity, or at least pointing it out in a way that they might see. Needless to say, dangerous. Anyway, nice article. Thanks.
Oh, and CjStone... that's awesome.
Rochelle Frank (author) from California Gold Country on June 10, 2008:
Nothing magic about this-- just my thoughts and personal observations. If my editor hadn't asked, I probably never would have given it that much thought. Thanks for your comments, all.
Donna Campbell Smith from Central North Carolina on June 10, 2008:
I wondered how you do it! Thanks for another good hub.
Ricardo Nunes from Portugal on June 10, 2008:
I had to bookmark this one. I´ll read it every time I forget how simple humor can be and how seriously it can be write. Thums up ;)
funnebone from Philadelphia Pa on June 09, 2008:
I stand naked and exposed.
I am going to take this time for introspect and self discovery. I will read your article again and after deep thought I will reove my rubber nose and hula skirt and add my thoughts.
I thank you for another thought provoking and personable hub which you so steadily continue to produce.
Rochelle Frank (author) from California Gold Country on June 09, 2008:
That's a matter of opinion, i suppose. Read some of my humor hubs-- you decide.
And thanks for commenting.
glassvisage from Northern California on June 09, 2008:
So much information about humorous writing! You must know what you're doing :)