What is humor? Isn’t that an interesting question.
Picture this: a man stands on the stage and flaps his arms as if he has wings.
What joke did this man just tell in order to use this pantomime to demonstrate the punch-line?
Answer: “I just flew in from Chicago“…then a drum beat or two….”And boy, are my arms tired!”
Would you say that this scenario is an example of humor? Or would you describe it as what is commonly referred to as a ‘groaner’? Was this humorous when it first made the comedy rounds (Vaudeville era, maybe?), but perhaps no longer causes our humor synapses to fire? What do you think?
Which leads me back to the two million dollar question (this used to be the ‘million dollar question’, but due to inflation we’ve had to up its value): What is humor? Who decides what is humorous and what isn’t? Is humor subjective or is there a united ‘funny bone’ out there that world populations share?
Good questions, I think, and especially relevant to any writer trying to write and publish humor that appeals to the huddled masses, or at the very least appeals to a collection of enough people to round out a cocktail reception.
Humor is tricky. The comedian onstage partly relies on audience feedback–groans or guffaws–to hone his or her routine to perfection. That story got exactly the reaction I thought it would; that anecdote bombed, so I either need to chalk it up to the fact that the audience doesn’t know what is funny or else they do know what is funny and that story isn’t it.
But a writer, clicking away on computer keys, imagining humorous conversations that would be sure to have mom and grandma rolling on the floor with tears running down their wizened cheeks, has very little to go by to gauge whether or not their humor efforts will appeal to anyone not related to the writer.
The Free Dictionary defines humor as: ‘The quality that makes something laughable or amusing; funniness.’, ‘That which is intended to induce laughter or amusement’, and ‘The ability to perceive, enjoy, or express what is amusing, comical, incongruous, or absurd.’
But even these definitions are subjective. ‘…that makes something laughable or amusing’…for whom, exactly?
As a writer who enjoys playing with words in an attempt to elicit emotion from readers, I’m always wondering how close I get to hitting the mark. What works? What doesn’t work? How will I know? And the bigger question–is it courage or is it downright foolhardy for a writer to even attempt to pen prose that will cause a reader (a stranger, after all), to smile or giggle or double over with laughter?
Some time ago I wrote a post titled, “What I Plan To Do Now Than I’m Mature” where I attempted to figure out who exactly my audience is–who should I be trying to humor? I thought about that problem, long and hard, and ruled out a wide variety of people, but still didn’t arrive at a definitive answer.
And I’m not sure that I have an answer yet, so have decided that for now I will write, first and foremost, for myself; if I catch a glimmer of humor in what I have to say, perhaps at least a few other people will, too. Maybe that’s all a writer can hope for.
Well, that and performing a stand-up comedy routine on the ‘Letterman’ show…
“Good evening, ladies and germs. Glad to see you all here tonight–what happened, did the Wal-Mart shut down early?”
“What do you mean, my time is over? I just began….wait…I’m not ready to leave….put that hook down…ahhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhh.”
What tickles your funny-bone? What makes you chuckle or laugh out loud? Is there a secret to finding that ‘humor erogenous zone’? I’d love to know.
Thanks for helping me out–and don’t be a stranger.