Friday, February 06, 2009

What's So Funny?

This is how we protect our deer in Minnesota.
It must be spring in Minnesota. The deer are out running around again.

Kathleen here. Miss February on RWTTD. It's my month to suggest a theme. Foregoing the obvious for February, I give you humor. Why? Because I'm so not funny, but I enjoy people who are. The one who doesn't forget the punchline. The one who has the rubber face to go with the story. The one who gets timing. And I think humor is absolutely essential in fiction, even a multi-hankie read.

Jokes and photos forwarded in e-mail can cause an irritating in-box clog. They can also make your day. And they can say a lot about a person's sense of humor. I thought I'd throw out a few thoughts on the subject of humor and see what strikes you.

One of the interesting aspects of my 38+ year cross-cultural marriage is humor. I may have mentioned once or twice that hubby is American Indian. Hollywood has long portrayed Indians as stoic, but Indian humor is alive and well and wonderful. It's rather dry, full of irony, and the teasing can be merciless. I'm the straight man in our duo, most of the time quite unwittingly. I have fallen for so many put-ons it's not funny. Well, it is, but you know. So I really love watching my Indian cowboy put other people on. For some reason it's easier for me to see it coming when it's someone else. He did it the other night to a caller looking for a political donation. A well-meaning female from the East--even over the phone he can spot them and he can't resist putting them on. Well, she was asking for me, but I let him go for a few minutes before I took the phone away and let her know she'd just been introduced to Indian humor. And here's the lesson: Clyde's humor broke the ice for a long and lovely conversation between two women who would never have spoken more than a couple of minutes otherwise. And never will again.

I love satire. The Colbert Report, The Daily Show, Bill Mahr. When they come on, Clyde often leaves the room. Saturday Night Live has had its ups and downs for me, but lately it's been terrific. I've never been much of a slapstick fan. I love Steve Martin, Billy Crystal, Whoopi Goldberg, Robin Williams most of the time--I could go on. Romantic comedy is hit-and-miss for me, as are sit-coms. Loved Seinfeld and Cheers.

Here's what I think: Humor plays an important part in the development of human relationships, which makes it essential to our books. Writing humor is hard. Really hard. Human foibles, fears and tragedies are at the root of all humor. When the going gets tough, the tough see the humor.

Where does humor come from? What's funny to you? What isn't? Is there anything you think people should never joke about? What pitfalls do you run into when you're writing a funny scene? As a reader, what works for you and what doesn't, humor-wise?

Can't resist posting these, forwarded by my dear animal-loving daughter. Mom and babies are doing fine. We used to say, "Oh, for cute!"


catslady said...

Oh how cute - that light doggie looks like he wasn't quite ready lol.

I have to have humor. It doesn't have to be a lot. It's my one requirement when watching drama on TV - if they take it all too serious I hate it - CSI NY for one. Whereas CSI or NCIS makes me laugh and cry.

I liked all the same comics that you mentioned.

Cindy Gerard said...

Catslady - that's why I like NCSI so much. the drama mixed with the humor is just a must in my book

M. said...

1. Hahaha! Did the guy in front lose the coin toss? Because if not, he has to be saying "Come on, now! A little justice already! Geese take turns flying at the tip of the V formation to share the strain!"

2. Is it just me, or is that a piglet? Looks like a cloven hoof to me, and the nose, it just doesn't seem dachshundish.

Betina Krahn said...

Okay, Kathy, the puppy pics are just too cute! And I agree with M. - the little pale one kindof looks like a piglet. But I can't see the others well enough to tell if they're similar except in color.
Congratulations on the births!

Meanwhile-- humor is necessary for life. If we didn't have it, we'd explode. . . individully and as a society. On second thought, if we didn't have the capacity to laugh at ourselves and each other, we probably would have killed each other off a long time ago.

I've heard it said-- and believe strongly-- that laughter is like an internal massage. That it shakes the tension and the kinks out of our internal workings and restores balance. Like hitting a reset button. It enables us to level the playing field and get on with life.

Even in the direst of circumstances we humans can find reason to smile and laugh. That's why things like "cancer humor" are so vital. They may seem weird to those outside the situation, but they make total sense to those slogging through tough times.

Kylie said...

Kathleen, we share similar tastes. Love Jon Stewart, Cheers, MASH, Friends, 2 1/2 Men...not slapstick stuff at all. Although I might suck it up and see Mall Cop just because Kevin James can make me laugh just by looking at him.

I mostly like my humor interspersed in drama, like NCIS (Cindy and I are similarly hooked although I suspect she has a thing for DeNoso and for me it's all about Gibbs!)

I was originally attracted to my dh because of his humor. Now it's supreme irony that at some point that very trait I found so attractive has also become my bigget annoyance with him...but he's still pretty irreverent.

My kids tell me constantly that I'm not funny but really I'm hysterical. Just because my humor is at their expense doesn't mean it isn't funny, LOL.

Helen Brenna said...

Cute pics.

I'm alot like you, Kathy, love humor, but can't tell a joke to save my soul. I either forget the punchlines or tell things out of order.

We humans need to laugh. Period. I think I remember reading somewhere that some wonderful brain chemicals are released when we're smiling. It's impossible to be depressed in those situations.

Kathleen Eagle said...

Okay, M. and Betina, you guys are putting me on. Right? You are, aren't you? You know "Pink" is a piglet, right? See what an easy target I am?

Actually, Elizabeth sent about half a dozen pix, and when I opened the first one, I thought Pink was a stuffed toy. He looks so fleecy. But he's a newborn orphan. According to the accompanying e-mail, the Doxie had a new litter, and she took Pink in without blinking an eye. Imagine what she'll think when she sees him in a year.

Wouldn't it be cool if they remembered each other?

Kathleen Eagle said...

I'm definitely going to check out NCIS. (I don't even know what it stands for.)

Michele Hauf said...

Whew! I was thinking, man, that one sure looks like a piglet, but I don't want to be the one to break the news to her.

And see, that's the cutest one of the bunch, too. ;-)

Debra Dixon said...

Love the pig. That's funny.

I am, sadly, all too often the unwitting straight-man in the vaudeville show that is my husband and son!

Kathleen Eagle said...

Betina, "cancer humor" is a great example. And then there's funeral/wake humor. Great example of laughing one minute and crying the next. After Daddy's funeral a bunch of relatives and old friends gathered at my grandmother's (Mama's side) house. There was lots of storytelling and laughter, which my grandmother thought was quite inappropriate. (Nobody said "inappropriate" back then. Anybody know when we got hung up on that word? Ah, a topic for another day.) Anyway, Gamma was scandalized. She took funerals very seriously. I'd never heard some of those stories--one of the guests was my parents' high school teacher--and I treasure them. They were hilarious! My daddy?!

Kathleen Eagle said...

Humor plays such an interesting role in cultural rituals and celebrations. Being a Christian, I believe I can say this with impunity: we are way too serious.

I love the Lakota Heyoka--the contrary. He's an essential part of the Sun Dance. He tries to break the dancers' concentration with his antics. We went to one in which the Heyoka was the Holy Man's son. They look so much alike, and it was amazing to see one as the flip side of the other. It says so much about life and human nature.

MaryC said...

I don't know how I could get through the day without laughter.

There aren't that many Asian comics out there, but I so identify with what they have to say. My brother-in-law(non-Asian) has given up trying to understand
why some things crack us up. He just shakes his head and walks away.

Being able to relate humorous stories about our parents made their funerals easier to bear.

Like catslady and Cindy, I am a big fan of NCIS(Naval Criminal Investigative Service.

Kathleen Eagle said...

I thing *sense* of humor is an apt term. We develop our senses through experience.

How much of a role does gender play, I wonder. I just wrote (polished, really) what I think is a funny scene from the hero's point of view, and it had to do with the mysterious (to us) part of human anatomy that women don't have (and don't miss). It's two men and a teenage boy talking about bull riding, and they make a couple of suppositions about how women might view the situation. A woman writing about men talking about risking their balls and what a woman might think about it.

This is one scene I'll have to run past hubby and see whether he laughs or gags.

catslady said...

OMG Well that shows how observant I am - I knew the pale one looked funny BUT I DIDN'T REALIZE IT WAS A PIG!!! I fall for everything by the way - so guillible roflmao.