Dying is Easy, Comedy is Hard!
Dying is easy, comedy is hard – or, in my case, writing comedy is hard. The quote, first found in the 1982 movie featuring Peter O’Toole, “My Favorite Year,” is attributed to both Edmund Kean, a Shakespearean actor, and Edmund Gwenn, known for his role as Santa Claus in “A Miracle on Thirty-Fourth Street.” (for more on the origin of this saying, go here.)
I read this quote while making my first attempt at writing comedy and have learned the truth in the saying.
My nature tends toward serious subjects, such as death and dying and family crisis. But one can only take so much of this before needing a break. After eight books in my series, Dancing on a High Wire, I decided to try something different, lighter, to give myself and my readers a break. I also like challenges and so I decided to try comedy. While the actual writing was fun, putting it out there, testing it and editing is a challenge.
Comedy is Subjective
The problem is that comedy is so subjective. What’s funny to one person, falls flat with another. And then there’s all that political correctness to deal with. What one person finds hilarious, is offensive to another.
Some people like over the top, physical humor and slapstick, think the three stooges. Others prefer dry humor, like Bob Newhart. For me, I don’t like over the top humor such as that found in “Dumb and Dumber” and so many early Will Ferrel and Adam Sandler movies. I prefer more subtle forms of humor as well as political humor.
Much humor comes from “in-group” jokes. If you aren’t in the know, part of the in-group, you don’t get the joke. For those of us who have watched every episode of Seinfeld, there are certain phrases that, all you have to do is mention them and members of the “in-group” laugh. Phrases such as “soup Nazi” and “not that there’s anything wrong with that” (from episode where a reporter thought Jerry and George were gay).
If you use these phrases in your writing, you risk losing a whole new generation who aren’t familiar with Seinfeld—though with the availability of reruns, it’s hard to imagine anyone who hasn’t watched Seinfeld, not that there’s anything wrong with that.
Dying is Easy, Comedy is Hard
Suffice it to say, writing comedy is hard. What’s a writer to do?
I’m thankful that I was introduced to Steven Kaplan’s book, The Comic Hero’s Journey. (If you are interested in writing comedy, this is the book for you!) Kaplan takes Joseph Campbell’s Hero’s Journey and applies it to comedy. One of his basic premises is that you take an unlikely situation, throw in some flawed characters and see what happens. Now that I can do. No need to constantly try to come up with witty phrases or to say, wouldn’t it be funny if this happened. You let the characters and the situation unfold.
To this end, in my next book, Man of the Month, I have a crazy situation. My heroine’s mother, determined to find a husband for her daughter, starts a Man of the Month Club. Their objective – to find a new eligible man for her daughter to date each month. What mother in her right mind would pull a stunt like that? And what daughter would put up with it once she finds out? If you can accept that premise, the rest flows out of it. And what’s even more, Gwen, the main character, is a ministry intern at a church.
Gwen is a flawed heroine, an unlikely candidate for ministry. Yet God usually chooses unlikely characters to lead the church. All you need is to attend a ministry conference to witness that! God doesn’t choose the boldest and bravest. God chooses those with the heart to serve. That’s Gwen.
Dying is easy, comedy is hard. After years of ministry, walking with families through death, dying and grief, writing about these were easy. Writing comedy is hard and yet fun. I’ve grown as a writer through this attempt and will bring what I learned into future books.
What makes you laugh? I’d love to hear from you.
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