Four Key Elements of Humor*
In Why Funny Matters we looked at the what of funny. Now let’s look at the how.
First and foremost, comedy feeds on conflict, or at least the potential for conflict. It can be an awkward situation (blind date, first ballet class, first football practice); a difficult one (going on an uber-restrictive diet, having to use your opposite hand due to an injury); a tense one (job review, therapy session), or even a dangerous one.
For example: My friend Barry took a skydiving class. During his first solo jump, both chutes failed to open! Fortunately, this potential tragedy turned into a comedy. Barry’s story about bargaining with God, then shouting for the people on the ground to “catch” him, and about his chute finally opening within the last few hundred feet, is hilarious. Whatever the situation, big or small, start with conflict.
Now decide how you want to tell your story. Use the DRIP method to brew up something funny (I’m proud of this stupid acronym, so just go with it):
- Different Perspective – Look for a skewed or unexpected way of seeing things. Much of comedian Demetri Martin’s best material comes from this approach. He tells us all vests are for “protection.” Then he starts naming types of vests: bullet proof (well, yeah), life vests (sure), sweater vests–wait, how are those for protection? “They protect us against girls,” he explains.
- Relatability – At my first big youth gig, I did abstract puns. It was hilarious. If you’re a college professor. Not so much if you’re a 14-year-old. I was de-hired because I “wasn’t funny.” So all the next day I got busy…weeping. Then I wrote completely new material for an upcoming youth event in Wisconsin. This time I talked about the 3 Ps: pets, parents and puberty…and got a standing ovation. Make it relateable!
- Incongruity – Look for mismatches: Roommate from Hell stories; Redneck Meets Sophisticate (O. Henry’s classic “The Ransom of Red Chief”). Many sit-coms and movies are built around incongruity: The Odd Couple, Two and a Half Men, Pretty Woman, Some Like it Hot, Tootsie, and Every Buddy Cop Movie Ever Made.
- Play with the meanings of words – Misconstrue words or concepts. There’s a scene in my monster movie Notzilla in which haiku (poetry) is used as a martial art in a battle between an American scientist and a Japanese paleontologist. Puns and groaners are also based on word-play (watch any episode of The Big Bang Theory.)
Next, we’ll talk about How to Get a RISE Out of Your Audience. I know, “Another acronym?” Hey, wait, that might be a funny bit:
“Readers sue blogger for cruel and unusual acronymage.”
*Or “Humour” if you’re non-American and don’t know the correct spelling.