You ever have that one friend who is really awesome and hot and skilled, but just way too intense? Like laughing would somehow ruin the brood they’ve got going on? That’s what dealing with heroes is like. Heroes have some serious baggage—and that has a tendency to weigh them, and the story, down. A little injection of humor here and there can do wonders to lighten things up, as well as give some contrast to your heroes. Humor is also automatically engaging and conversational; it says your audience is important to you, and that in itself goes a long way. Take it from a sidekick, whether you’re writing essays, books, or tweets, humor is an invaluable tool.
Of course, humor is also terrifying. Nothing is louder than the absence of laughter—except, perhaps, for a pity clap. When I asked what people feared more—writing a love scene, a fight scene, or a humorous scene, people overwhelmingly said humor. (Which is news to me, because love scenes are freaking terrifying.) But if you’re going to use humor, you need to check your fear at the door. It takes thick skin and lots of practice to perfect the art of making people laugh, and even then, it might not always work—but it’s well worth the attempt. Seeing your audience smile is one of best rewards an author can ask for. And besides making people laugh, you can make people think, saying things with humor you couldn’t get away with any other way.
But how to unlock the benefits of this trickiest of tools? There are plenty of excellent and detailed guides for budding comedians out there, but just to get you started, here are some of the funny business basics, and how you can use them.
The unexpected is the heart of humor. We love to be surprised—and humor often plays on our expectations to serve us up deliciously funny points of view. The set-up is where you set up your audience’s expectations so that you can surprise them later. In most forms of humor, the set-up is in total stealth mode: you only recognize it if you’re really looking for it. It usually consists of something so mundane our unsuspecting minds glaze right over it, with something else to distract us for good measure. This is a very important part of humor: if the audience is prepared, your punniest pun will evoke far more groans than laughter. Here are a few of my favorite examples of strong set-ups--and don't worry, I'll give the punchlines in the second part!