Sunday, February 21, 2010

Funny Ha Ha or Funny Because It's Not You

By Bryon Quertermous
It's come to my attention that some people (cough cough Joelle cough) don't know what a laugh riot I am. Send a woman one or two stories with suicidal strippers and murderous sales people and she jumps to conclusions. But as I looked back through my last few published short stories, I started to realize girlfriend might not be as off her mark as I thought. That's some dark shit. And even the funny stuff is only funny in the way watching somebody's pants fall off while they try to escape certain death from acid and gunfire is funny. So why was I under the impression outsiders should think I was funny? Well, I shouldn't and now is time to change that.

And this is an important thing for me to correct, because I think my humor is one of the things that set me apart from others mining the same noir-tinged field as myself. And the next project I'll be working on when I'm done with my current novel is going to be a humorous project and those tend to work better, I've heard, when they're funny. The whole subject of that next project is an important one, but it also requires an entire blog post of it's own so in my own whorey version of cross-promotion check out my personal blog tomorrow for behind the scenes info on what you can expect next from me.

But for right now, let's talk about funny. I remember once reading a book on comedy writing for television and coming to a couple of conclusions. First, you catch teach comedy writing. The only reason that book worked for me, was it helped put names to comedy tricks I already knew and were using (like circular jokes) but couldn't articulate. Once I was aware of what was actual comedic technique and what was my own raw instinct, I could work on trying to hone my skill. Sadly, the only place I ever used that was on one TV sitcom script for FRIENDS and half a sitcom script for FRASIER. Even now looking back at these scripts, both written when I was 20, they hold up better than I ever would have expected they would.

After that though, I moved on to short stories and then to novels that relied more on humor as a side effect than as a plot device. My two biggest influences in this were Robert B. Parker and Dave Barry. They made humor look effortless. It was off the cuff and natural, not choreographed and perfect like all of the sitcoms I'd seen. Any time I tried to read a "humerous" mystery I ended up abandoning it a short way in because it seemed so contrived or forced. I've always liked a nice mix of humor and darkness. That's why my favorite type of humor is extreme, over the top satire. The kind of humor that takes a little thing and blows it up so huge that you can't help but laugh. Victor Gischler is one of the best we have in the crime field at this. Carl Haissaan as well. The only way that guy has been able to get so far without sounding like a preachy condescending asshole is because he puts his strongest opinions in the mouths of boobs and buffoons.

The biggest theme I think I can draw from all of my humor choices, matches with my use of humor in real life. I'm not as bad as I used to be, but I'm still that guy who uses humor to disarm awkward situations or break the ice. So my favorite humor in fiction comes from dark places, or dark people trying to maintain their humanity. I love gallows humor. I remember reading David Simon's non-fiction masterwork HOMICIDE: A YEAR ON THE KILLING STREETS and absolutely cracking up at the opening scene which has two homicide cops joking about fixing a leaky hole in the head of a recent murder victim.

So about you DSDers? What do you find funny? Why? How do you use humor?

And seriously, check out my blog tomorrow to find out why humor is so important to what I'm working on next and why those sitcom scripts are so important.


Joelle Charbonneau said...

Hey Bryon - well, gee! I never knew I could be so influential:) I can't wait to see your funny stuff because your dark writing is quite gripping.

What do I find funny? That depends. More often than not I find that which is believable, but absurd funny. I love over the top characters who remind me of people I know in real life...and I always laugh at the characters who say things that I always wish I could say aloud.

Dana King said...

Just about anything can be funny. Or not. Context and delivery are crucial.

Humor is a part of life; it's hard for me to enjoy a book with no humor in at all. The only thing worse is when the author thinks he's being funny, and he's not, either because he's not pulling it off, or because the situation is inappropriate.