Allison's Book Bag

Make ‘Em Laugh, Guest Post by Laura Toffler-Corrie

Posted on: January 10, 2011

Laura Toffler-Corrie, author of The Life and Opinions of Amy Finawitz , graciously agreed to both allow me to interview her and to write a guest blog. Last week I posted our interview. What follows is her guest blog on the how-to’s of writing humor.

As a person who writes humorous books, I‘m often asked these basic questions: How do you do it? Is it hard? What’s the formula? Is there a formula? And how can I do it? My answers are typically straightforward: I don’t exactly know. Sometimes. Don‘t have one. Probably not a good one. You can try.

The End.

Just kidding!

But seriously folks, comedy is a funny business, mostly because everyone loves to laugh. Now, of course, some people are funnier than others; some are stand up comedian funny, and some just think they are, but everyone cracks a few funny jokes now and then. So then can almost everyone write funny? The answer is a decisive maybe yes, maybe no. It‘s often an elusive ability. Sorry. That’s just the way it is. But before you get too annoyed by my opinion, I will say this about that: if you want to write humor, you should certainly try and, if you follow my humble guidelines, you have a better shot of pulling it off (in my humble opinion).

Did I mention that I mean this in the most humble way possible?

Anyway, here goes:

Read Work From Funny Authors:

And not just current, living authors either. Dead authors can be very amusing too, oft reminding us that people have been cracking each other up for centuries. Plus, with dead authors, there’s virtually no chance of being subjected to pesky, inferior sequels. Writers such as Charles Dickens, Kurt Vonnegut, Woody Allen, (yes he’s written books too) Oscar Wilde, Samuel Beckett and Joe Orton are a good place to start. In kidslit, some humorous books I like are Amelia Bedelia, Junie B. Jones, The Princess Diaries, Angus Thongs and Full Frontal Snogging, Eighth Grade Super Zero, and Emma Lazarus Fell from a Tree. Of course there are many more.

And don’t be a funny snob (meaning, a snob about what’s funny). See classic, funny movies (which, presumably, started as scripts) by the Marx Brothers, Mel Brooks and Woody Allen. Plus, see silly movies like Sixteen Candles and Zombie land. Of course, there are dozens more of these too.

Listen to the Way People Really Talk:

People rarely ever say what they mean in a straightforward way. As a matter of fact, the thing that makes soap opera writing seem melodramatic is that the conversations are too on the nose. Real people talk in riddles, metaphors, innuendos and often at cross purposes. There’s lots of room for funny in that.

Don’t be ‘Jokey’:

Ironically, most jokes are not funny in humor writing. With all due respect to the writers of Disney type comedy shows, that kind of forced, trying too hard to be funny humor mostly doesn’t work (even with charming, cute teen stars selling it). You can be sure that jokey humor will certainly not work in a book (especially minus the teen stars interpreting the words).

Put Characters at Odds with Each Other and their Environment:

Set up a situation that organically has the potential to be funny. For example, In AMY FINAWITZ, there’s a scene where the boy Amy crushes on comes over for a study date. Then her father answers the door in his bathroom. Then her brother arrives with a gaggle of obnoxious musical theater friends. Then Amy’s elderly neighbor and her very religious nephew come calling for her. Now, if I couldn’t make that scene funny, than I’m an idiot.

Recognize the Absurdities in People:

We all want stuff, but mostly there are obstacles to what we want. I don’t mean world peace, although that would be nice, I mean the little things we sweat over and how we handle them. Start recognizing the silly absurdities and contradictions in people. Even someone wanting a long line to move faster can be funny. Pay attention to the details.


Play Nice:

Making fun of people is rarely funny, at least to me. Certainly this kind of humor will not float in kidslit. True humor comes from understanding people and having compassion for them. That’s what makes good humor universal. It should come from the heart.

8 Responses to "Make ‘Em Laugh, Guest Post by Laura Toffler-Corrie"

I am extremely pleased to discover this web site. I want to say thank you for this great reading. If you can add Reddit button to your web page, it will help you to reach extra individuals on the web. Regards

Readers can now email, print, or twitter a post: email, print, twitter. If they prefer, they also also share it through Digg, LInkedIn, PressThis, Reddit, and StumbleUpon. Have fun spreading links!

Awesome! AMY FINAWITZ is a lovely and hilarious read!

Thanks for all your great feedback everyone. Some of you have make some really good points!
Laura 🙂

If anyone is interested in a few comments on writing humor from a non-writer…

I completely agree with Laura on the need to read funny books and watch funny movies. And don’t stop there. Take in some stand-up comedy. Spend some time with your funny uncle. Or find some funny friends. Basically it’s a good idea to surround yourself with funniness. Humor is a tricky thing, so the more you are exposed to it the better. And even if you are never able to write your own jokes, there’s nothing to stop you from stealing your uncle’s.

Now, here’s one of my humor-related pet peeves: Characters in humorous situations who do not acknowledge the humor. This occurs in a lot of sitcoms today. One character delivers the setup, the other delivers the punch line, but neither laughs. Why? In real life, when someone says something funny, someone usually laughs. Isn’t that’s why people make jokes? Seinfeld, widely regarded as one of the best sitcoms, generally allowed its characters to be humor-aware. Many of today’s sitcoms unfortunately do not.

A second pet-peeve: Humor should not be confined to comedies. There’s a lot of humor in real life. There’s nothing I hate more than a drama in which no one ever smiles or laughs. The daughter may die in the third act, but can’t she enjoy life even just a little bit before she snuffs it? Have mercy on the poor girl. Life is nutty. People are nutty. Sick people laugh. Serious people laugh. Old people laugh. No, you don’t put slapstick in the middle of a tear-jerker. Just put a little joke here and a little joke there. A cute scene with some smiles. People make jokes when they’re uncomfortable, to cope with stress or tragedy, to cheer up a sick friend, whatever. Real people laugh.

Wow! This has been very informative and inspiring.

I just listened to a fine humorist at the Knoxville Writers Guild last Thursday:

“The multi-talented Judy DiGregorio has made a name for herself as a quipster. Full of verve, the Texas-born DiGregorio has called Oak Ridge her home since 1969. The city has proven itself a creative spawning ground for Judy, her vivacious personality shining through amusingly in print, on stage and at readings near and wide.

DiGregorio pens humor columns for The Oak Ridger and writes press releases for the Oak Ridge Playhouse. Playhouse audiences have become quite familiar with Judy, for she acts there frequently. Most of her work time, though, is devoted to her own witty words about life’s everyday adventures. Many have been the publications in which DiGregorio’s delightful essays have appeared. Among them: the Knoxville News-Sentinel, New Millennium Writings, CityView and Army-Navy Times. The author of more than 300 columns and essays, Judy’s work can also be found in the Chicken Soup books and numerous anthologies.

DiGregorio has two books to her credit, collections of her humorous essays; 2008’s Life Among the Lilliputians has been followed by Memories of a Loose Woman, released this past May. From these books has now come an audio CD, Jest Judy, featuring the author herself reading eighteen hilarious stories. A raconteur extraordinaire, Judy is eagerly anticipating her date with the Knoxville Writers’ Guild, an organization to which she’s long been affiliated.”

I learned from her that she looks to her own life to find humor–she doesn’t mind at all making herself a victim of the funny tale. Apparently truth is funier than fiction. Her stories are a hoot.

As for myself, I am an appreciator of humor more than a composer of it. But at times it comes through more as satire and irony instead of down-right-funny.

Thanks for sharing!


The art of Poetry:

Great suggestions. I find humor hard to write, so I avoid it. Maybe I’ll work through your suggests (especially the ones about reading and listening). Thanks!

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