(Continuing my series of blog posts about the Writer’s Digest Conference 2016 in New York City.)
Latest set of notes: At the Writer’s Digest conference, Mark Schatz spoke about humor, under the title “Humor Sells: How to Add Funny to Your Writing.” * He is the co-author of a book called Comedy Writing Secrets with Mel Helitzer. **
The presenter pretty much lost me when he said at the outset, “It’s about jokes. If you don’t like it, you can rationalize, but it’s about jokes.” Well, no, actually, it’s not. And if you tell me I am rationalizing if I disagree with you, then you have a self-referential and closed philosophy. However, I brought myself back to an open mind with an effort and actually got a few things out of the session.
With humor, you are attacking someone or something, and you need to choose your targets. He invited us to brainstorm targets, and then talked about which targets were “safe” and which were “less safe.” The safest person to make fun of is yourself, of course.*** It’s unsafe to make fun of health, race, or religion, and making fun of beliefs is high risk. However, you can be humorous about people, places, products, sex, words, attitudes, and actions. “Adult” humor includes obscenity, taboos, shock, and perversion. +
He talked a little about words because they are especially safe targets. Words by themselves are not funny, but names, double entendre, malaprops, reformations, takeoffs, and puns can be funny. Emotions drive humor.
All writers need a MAPP – Material, Audience, Performer, Purpose. Too much humor can turn something into fluff. You’re shooting for a smile in print. Test dark humor on the person you know who has the worst sense of humor.
He suggested some methods for coming up with humor: For instance, you can brainstorm – association, disassociation, visualization, and ranting. You can make lists: Freudian, words, people, things. You can mind-map with Scapple or MindNode, or make word clouds and “see the funny.” Get stuff on paper. Turn off your brain. For example, you could just make a list of things you associate with a place, or ways you could do something different with a common object. Make a catalogue of what works.
I am not sure why I was sitting in this session. I’m already a funny writer, but mostly because I can’t help it. When I was a kid, it worried me that I saw the world so differently from everyone else, but now I realize it’s just the way things are, and people often comment on my humor. (At least in my writing. People tend to think I’m “enthusiastic” and “bubbly” when they meet me in person. ++)
The one word that resonated with me was “rant.” That’s when I’m funniest. I don’t mean an angry rant, though I suspect that’s what Schatz meant, because he struck me as tense and angry somewhere underneath. No. “Ranting,” to me, is a joyous thing. When I write best, I disengage the control and let the brain freewheel, and what comes out has as much poetry and song in it as prose. Some of my favorite writers, like Carl Hiaasen, are ranters.
Speaking of which, ranting should not be done when you are genuinely upset. And thank you for asking, the nose is much better today, and I’m no longer quite as grouchy.
* I found the title of the session a little disturbing. I don’t think you can “add funny.” It has to be something integral to the writing. [She says, adding funny in the form of footnotes. But I think in footnotes. I’m not adding anything, not really.]
** The full title is Comedy Writing Secrets: The Best-Selling Book on How to Think Funny, Write Funny, Act Funny, and Get Paid for It. a) I realize it’s a revised version, but putting “Best-Selling” in a title is a bit much b) “Funny” is not an adverb, no matter how many times you repeat it c) This title has everything including an appeal to greed, and should be applauded for its industry. d) Mel Helitzer was a professor of journalism at Scripps University, but he’s deceased. I think the book must be a textbook.
***Yes indeed, and the best humorists are constantly taking the mickey out of themselves at the same time they destroy others, which is part of how they manage to persuade their audience they are telling the truth.
+ You know, it’s odd, but most “adult” humor strikes me as childish. But then I stopped being shocked by it a while ago, so that’s probably why.
++Shorthand for a number of things, including “naive” and “female.” Actually, I’m high-energy, sarcastic, distracted, and more than a little weird. I hop from idea to idea, I monologize, and I alternate inattention with hyperfocus.