Writing Excuses 4.1: Types of Humor

Welcome to Writing Excuses Season 4, featuring new, shorter episode titles! Also, if you don’t count the bonus episodes or the Parsec Award Acceptance Speech, this is our 100th Episode!

Brandon kicks this off by asking “What does Howard do that’s funny?” and then by categorizing the sorts of things he finds Howard doing. Obviously this puts no pressure whatsoever on Howard to be funny during the podcast. Which is good, because he really wasn’t, cold medicine notwithstanding. Again, we manage talk about humor without being funny.

We manage to cover character-based humor, physical humor, and non-sequitur, brushing alongside cognitive humor and exaggeration as we go, but hey… we only had 15 minutes to work with. Oh, and we ran over by 4 minutes and fifty-seven seconds.

Writing Prompt: Write something funny using non-sequiturs and cold medicine.

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25 thoughts on “Writing Excuses 4.1: Types of Humor”

  1. And now, a personal apology from Howard!

    This episode was on the server last night at 7:00pm, but I wasn’t watching for it. By the time I saw that Jordo had it ready to go, I’d already sucked down a full dose of Nyquil, and my brain was turning off. I decided to go to sleep rather than attempt to write anything while under the influence of drugs.

    I really did intend to get this thing posted around 7:00am, but apparently the drugs didn’t wear off until about 10:00am, which is when I finally made it downstairs to my computer.

    Wait… that wasn’t an apology. That was an EXCUSE.

    Now I have to be sorry TWICE.

  2. Humor is a subject that I’ve given a lot of thought to in the past, and the conclusion that I’ve reached it that humor needs two things: a victim (the “butt” of the joke) and something bad that happens to them (the “punchline”). It helps if the victim is someone who the audience doesn’t like (depending on the audience this could be “the boss” or “tourists” or some random character who is established as being unlikeable within the setup of the joke, or whatever) but the most important aspect is the punchline. In order for a joke to be funny, the misfortune that befalls the victim must be something that the audience cannot imagine happening to themselves. When this happens, the audience’s laughter comes from a sense of immense superiority. Whether the victim is empathetic or not, the unfortunate situation that they fall into should not be (at least to the specific audience of the joke). I think that when the audience does not find a joke funny (like Brandon with “What About Bob?” and Howard with “The Office”) it’s because there isn’t enough of a barrier between the audience (Brandon or Howard) and the humor, therefore the audience can imagine themselves suffering the same misfortune as the joke’s victims, and the entire situation becomes more empathetic.

  3. @Jeff Creer: You are in for a treat. The Dresden files is currently eleven books of awesome and still going strong. So ready for book twelve to hit in… April I think.

  4. @Brenton: The humor you’re describing is not universal. It’s just one of many types. It’s a valid dissection, of course, but there’s a lot more to good humor than just establishing the right victim.

    Though I suppose if you define “victim” broadly enough you can make anything fit.

  5. Somehow about two minutes into the podcast I just knew that you were going to recommend Storm Front as the audio book this week. It was surprising and yet inevitable – surprising because I was actually right. Maybe it has something to do with the fact that I just started re-reading it last night O_o. There are so many good things about the Dresden Files, but Harry’s wit is right there at the top of the list. And there are examples of various different types of humor as well.

  6. Huh – Windows media player doesn’t like it, but QuickTime Player and RealPlayer are both happy to play it.

  7. Something is certainly wrong with the file, it has no meta tag data and WMP will not recognize it. This makes it hard as I use Windows to load it to my phone. No, I do not have an iPhone.
    Please contact Jordo and see if he can re-process the podcast and send it again. I could listen to it online I know, but that is difficult at 0300 in the morning without waking the whole house.

    Thanks

  8. Tsk tsk tsk. An entire 15-minute podcast about all the types of humor and not ONE of you even mentioned Monty Python? I’m frankly stunned.

    Tsk tsk tsk. :)

    The other thing I thought of while listening to this was related to something I believe Brandon said. There’s the “setup” which establishes the way things are, then when that is broken, that’s where the humor comes in.

    I remember reading a while back that this is why so many jokes–and other things as well–are about threes. Because #1 just gives you an event. Standalone, it means nothing. It’s #2 that establishes the pattern. Then the audience is aware that there is a pattern, and they expect #3 to conform to the pattern, and when it doesn’t, that’s where the humor lies.

    Three men walk into a bar. | A rabbi, a priest, and a Baptist minister are on a plane. | Did you hear the story about the three eggs? | Etc.

    Even in Shaggy Dog stories, it’s usually threes. Before the giant says, “Silly Rabbi, kicks are for Trids!” two other people have to try to beard the giant in his den, or the surprise of the third attempt doesn’t have any impact.

  9. I just started reading Scott Lynch’s ‘Lies of Locke Lamora’ and I found myself laughing out loud from the beginning of this book. What category would this type of humor fall into? Since much of what I find funny seems to be the audacity of young Locke juxtaposed with the exasperation of the Thiefmaker, what type is this? And what would you call the type of humor that comes from verbal sparring between various characters?

  10. psst… not sure when it changed, but the version I just downloaded plays nicely in Windows Media Player. No joke.

  11. L.M. Montgomery wrote that a sense of humor was just a sense of the fitness of things. It seems to me that there are two extensions of that: the non sequiteur, which blows our expectations by not fitting at all, and any other form of humor, which changes our expectations by fitting the wrong way.

    Nothing new, really, but an interesting angle on the topic, I think.

  12. Thanks Jordo! (And howard :) )

    @Kaa: While I like Monty Python, Brandon definitely did go over much of the components of their humour. They were excellent at the non-sequitur, and they improvised to find their way to a “surprising but inevitable” punchline. :)

  13. Yea! Now I can listen to the cast! Yes, I know I could have listened to it online, but I am stubborn.
    Also, I tried, but trying to listen at the computer, well, let’s just say that there were to many distractions.

  14. I think the best example of non sequitur humor is everything Douglas Adams ever wrote. None of it made much sense and yet you find yourself laughing. The improbability drive was basically a non sequitur manufacturing machine. The whale falling from the sky was possibly the most hilarious form of this humor. In fact, I would venture to say 90% of the Hitchhiker’s Guide was non sequitur

  15. Gosh, I’m such a sucker for non sequitur. Even really bad non sequitir. I just laugh and laugh and nobody else does.

    (You should laugh now because of my pain)
    (I should stop this before it goes too meta)

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