Wednesday, May 20, 2020

# Comedy # guest post

Wordsmith Wednesday: What Little I Know About Comedy

So I said I'd write about what I know about humor.  But then I realized I couldn't just write down the word nothing a thousand times or so.  So I feel I should come with a disclaimer. This is how I work humor. Some of these tricks are universal. But the real challenge of humor is that it's a matter of taste. You have to accept that you aren't always going to be funny, no matter how amazing your dad joke is. Or mine in this case.


So my novel is apparently pretty funny, quirky for sure. So how did I do it? Since “I have no idea” is the kind of answer that you didn't come to read, I'll give this a shot.

Comedy is hard

Groucho Marx wasn't kidding. Drama is easy.  We all understand pain. We all feel pain. Humor is a more fickle beast. Jokes that may crack you up. They may not. Comedy is very subjective. So with this great truth, how do we approach humor then?

It's okay for jokes to be bad

So let's look at Peter Parker. Peter cracks jokes all the time as Spider man. I find Spidey is written best when some of his jokes aren't funny. Peter David in particular is great at this technique. He will make Spider man drop some stinkers. Don't get me wrong, David definitely puts a few extra bit of punch in his zingers too. But part of how that works is the fact that some of the jokes are bad.

There are a few lessons to take from this approach. Comedy isn't a steady line of laughter. It's about taking your reader or listener on a journey. Sometimes you go up with the laughter, and sometimes you go down with the groans. Good comedians sprinkle their A material with some not quite so nice stuff. It accentuates the zingers and the A material when it comes out of nowhere.  We can't all be funny like Robin Williams. We just don't have that gift, but we can use technique, and this is a good one.

Dirty your jokes a little bit with some bad ones. They are the ones you tell that you think are funny but aren't. I recently wrote an interview with a zombie. My beta reader for said jokes didn't understand one of them. It wasn't that the joke couldn't work, but the joke didn't work as it was. I modified it to add a layer.

Is it my best joke? Nope. But it sets up my best jokes.

Fun is contagious

Now, there's a point where the quality of jokes don't matter anymore. Comedy and music are similar that once the song is fully in motion it doesn't matter what the tune is, people will dance to it. Finding that balance is tricky.  That all said, another great technique is to have fun with it. Enjoy your own material. Be okay that it won't all hit (it won't, no matter how good you think you are) , but that your authenticity will carry you through the routine.

Here's the thing about fun.  Fun and play are contagious. If you are having fun, and people catch on, they will start to too. Without much in the way of actual nuance, you will convince your audience that you're having a good time. Once they are convinced of this, you will find they will be with you.

Show me a person who doesn't like to play and I will show you a liar. Everyone wants to play. Give them that excuse and more often than not they will do the work for you.  This is true in fiction as well. If the reader can pick up that you are having fun, they will too. They'll want to interact with this experience the same way.


Great humor must include a surprise. One of the great joys of comedy is how they bend the expectations of the reader or listener. Comedy more than anything else, challenges expectations. If anything, expectations motivate comedy to distract you with those very things you come to expect.

Surprise is the true goal of comedy. The outcome will make you laugh, and if the comedian is great, they will make you think. Terry Pratchett is one of my favorite comedians. I remember Eric in particular is where Pratchett eviscerated expectations. There was a reference to a great and noble knight that was going to slay the dragon. Everyone knew it. They talked about it. It was all over but the shouting they'd say.

But the dragon won. That was funny. And then Pratchett took it one step further. The dragon, now in charge was requiring sacrifices and people were doing it. Because they were afraid of the dragon and the dragon would spare their lives for these people being killed.  Comedy turned into deep thought.

There was a famous line in watchmen that shows how a comedic line changed everything. Great comedy challenges convention. The great ones not only make you laugh, but consider the world around you in a new light.

There is more but...

I don't know much more than this actually. I hope if you read the Cloud Diver that you will be pleasantly surprised, and maybe laugh at some of my terrible jokes. That all said, my real hope is that I make people think while enjoying themselves.

Maybe. Or maybe I'm like Peter Parker. Only I laugh at my jokes.

I'm okay with that.

Joshua Pantalleresco writes stuff and podcasts too.  His forthcoming book, the Cloud Diver is his first novel, and fourth book.  Joshua always has written poetry for Mirror World Publishing, and has been published in magazines such as Onspec.  He writes a column for First Comics and has made the leap into the freelance world.

His podcast Just Joshing is fast approaching 400 episodes. He has interviewed debut novelists, New York Times Bestselling Authors, musicians, illustrators, pro wrestlers, politicians, comedians and other creative people twice a week, and reads from his work, along with other authors every weekend. He has won the Aurora for his podcast, and has been finalist for that award twice.  He lives in Windsor currently, but has been known to wander at a moment's notice.

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