Humour… let’s get this topic started.
This is not meant to be an all-encompassing dissertation on the nature of ‘funny’, simply a few notes to get your brains oiled. My focus here is aimed primarily at humour in fiction.
There are many different reasons for a character to use humour, including seeking social approval, self-defence against a bully, or even to facilitate bullying, which can lead right back to ‘social approval’ and ‘self-defence’when the reason for bullying is examined. For me it was always about self defence. I was a little guy who got picked on a lot but when I could make them laugh, they stopped shoving me around and listened. I also did my share of bullying for the same reason. I’m not proud of that.
Different styles of humour include sarcasm (Wikipedia: “a sharp, bitter, or cutting expression or remark; a bitter jibe or taunt, usually conveyed through irony or understatement”), self-‘defecating’ (when you crap on yourself before anyone else can. Rodney Dangerfield: “I was so ugly when I was born that the doctor slapped my mother!”), puns (word play which suggests two or more meanings. George Carlin: “Atheism is a non-prophet institution”), and what stand-up comics call ‘street jokes’: “A priest, a rabbi, and an alien walk into a bar…”
In a piece of fiction, humour can be used to define a character: a goofy character with low confidence and self-esteem might make fun of themselves; or an insecure female supervisor might use humiliation and sarcasm to lift themselves up while putting underlings down (Janice the Supervisor in the film “WANTED”).
Or it might be used to relieve tension amongst the characters: “George, if you don’t put the gun down, Bob will shoot you in the… hey! Who farted?! George, was that you? Goddammit, George!”
…or tension in the story: The Shining. Jack Nicholson’s character, Jack Torrance, snaps, takes an axe to the bathroom door, pokes his face through the opening… “Heeeere’s Johnny!” In spite of the situation Shelley Di=uvall’s character is in, the moment makes us laugh a little and snaps the rubber band of fear building up to this point.
A character can also be defined by their lack of sense of humour, with regards to the situation or the other characters. A wise-cracking thug might just get shot in the head by a crime boss who just doesn’t get the joke.
Humour can be overdone, too, like the best friend who’s always claiming that the street jokes he’s telling really happened to him “I was working in this bar when a priest, a rabbi and an alien walked in…” or the one who has to make a pun of EVERYTHING. Used effectively, though, both good or bad humour is a writing tool to add depth to characters, scenes and your overall story.
Irma Bombeck had readers laughing from her opening sentence and she still got her message across. Stephen King uses humour to pop the bubble of tension so he can build you back up to a higher plateau of fear before scaring you off the summit, screaming land shaking all the way to the bottom.
Not everyone is funny, though, and that includes writers as well as their characters. You may have to watch a few YouTube videos to find out both what appeals to you as a reader/listener and as a writer. Humour is a language and if you’re not fluent, you can still study a little, take what you need, and make your story even more relatable to the readers.
Just my thoughts. Take ’em or leave ’em.
Ciao for now.