(Click here too read Part One)
4 Ways to Get a RISE Out of Your Audience
In Part Two, we talked about how to find humor in big and little crises. In this final segment we’ll talk about how to build on that beginning so your story will R.I.S.E. to a veritable flood of funniness! (Yes, I realize that’s a ridiculously cheesy statement.)
Ridicule – There may be no more basic form of humor than ridicule. We all do it. Wives tease their husbands. Employees lampoon their bosses. Kids mock their parents. Ridicule (as opposed to bullying) is directed at what others are proud of: authority, self-image, dignity, expertise. For example:
I had a particularly pompous college Literature prof who loved to pontificate. Once he’d made a pronouncement, there was simply nothing more to be said. The class was aching to see him taken down. One day he made the judgment, “All books titled after characters are named for their protagonists (heroes). Period.” He started rattling off examples: “Huckleberry Finn, Anna Karenina, Don Quixote…” Then the class anarchist Stuart quietly muttered, “Moby Dick.” The class stood and cheered.
Don’t forget to ridicule yourself too. You’re the person it’s safest to make fun of. Plus, self-mockery displays an even-handedness that buys you the right to make fun of others. And besides, you deserve it.
Inappropriateness – Inappropriate responses or behaviors are extremely popular in current culture, from Zach Galifianakis in The Hangover to Melissa McCarthy in Bridesmaids. One running bit on The Big Bang Theory has Sheldon showing shocking insensitivity toward scientist Stephen L. Hawking’s disabilities. What makes this work are Hawking’s hilariously rude responses.
An upcoming comedian I saw referenced a news story about a man who was bitten by his pet cobra. Reenacting the moment, the comedian drew back his hand and admonished, “No! Bad cobra!” The absurdity of the pet owner trying to make it a teaching moment—just before the he died—captures the essence of inappropriateness.
Exaggeration – (Yes, I know, E should be last. But it’s not. Deal with it.) Humor is about truth (see Part One), and exaggeration is arguably the most fundamental way to emphasize truth. Exaggeration holds up a magnifying glass to how a person feels.
A high school friend named Joe and I argued constantly. We had Gym together, and one day we argued all the way to the showers and back to our lockers. We toweled off and headed for the exit, tossing our towels in the bin and walking out onto campus, still arguing. And then the laughter started. We looked around. For some reason, people were laughing at us. Then we looked down. And discovered we’d left the gym naked. When I tell this story, I say, “Two hundred thousand people were laughing at us—on a campus of twelve hundred,” because that’s how it felt. Then I add, “The next day I changed my name and moved to Tibet.”
Set-up and Surprise – I didn’t squeeze two S’s into one bullet point just so I could spell RISE. Well, OK, yes I did. But the two really are related. First, identify the funniest thing in your story. If you have several funny bits, end with the funniest. And don’t “telegraph” your ending—that is, don’t tip off your reader/audience before they get there. The biggest laughs generally come from Set-up and Surprise. Read a first class humorous writer like Dave Barry and you’ll see this at work. Or watch a good stand-up comedian or a well-written sit-com.
My daughter Beth had reached the stage where she was ready to use the potty-training seat all by herself! “Squeak, click,” went the bathroom door. A moment later, there was a blood-curdling scream. I turned into Uber-Dad and flew to the water closet. Shake! Rattle! The door was locked! “What’s wrong, honey?” I was answered by a plaintive cry of despair. Smash, crack, bam! I kicked the door open and tumbled into the once peaceful cubicle. Beth stood cradling her finger, whimpering. I grabbed her finger and kissed it all over. “Ohhh, what happened honey?” Tears gathered in her eyes.
“I got poo-poo on it.”
Humor is truth.