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You're the Guy Who Stole My Bananas: Humor Made Easy-ish
Dear God, What's the Point of it All?
Me - I am the world's funniest man of all time, but lately I've learned to be modest about it.
You – You write book, you write article. You are the person who looks to make writing better, make joke, make sexy, yes? You want write about Calculus and need make interestly a boring subject with humor. Okay, we make for you this.
What the Hell am I Talking About?
Article writing can be very dry, given the topic, but writing with humor can help an article in numerous ways. Humor lets people know there’ll be a few breaks in between the intense bits, giving your mind a little breather. It also helps makes dry articles – how should I say it – less dry. Humor lets people know you can be trusted not to take yourself too seriously. Now having made my claim that this article would be about humor I have set a bar for myself, that I have to be funny, and it better be the funniest thing you’ve heard in the last ten years or it’s a let down. There’s nothing more unfunniery than someone who’s trying to be funny. But what this article will attempt to convey is that humor can be, and should be used to spice up an article, especially one about humor.
Increasing Our Gross National Happiness
Okay, be honest, if you haven’t laughed yet you’re either writing about current US politics or some world religion, one of the two. Maybe both. In which case, I’ll pass on the invitation for coffee. The Taliban forbid laughing. Can you imagine? I forbid you to laugh! I would have been responsible for many an incarceration by my actions, if I lived there. Just my face is very funny, so I would have been forced to wear a veil. I don’t even have to say anything, and people in Afghanistan would be hauled off to jail. Even the Laugh Police would have been afraid to approach me for fear they would end up arresting themselves. "You have the right to remain silent. Any joke you say may be used against you in a court of law."
Some topics can’t be spiced up with humor, it’s simply impossible. For example, a technical writer composing a manual on heart bypass surgery pretty much has to stick to the script, all those yawning, non-smiling medical students be damned. Or writing about war - that can be tough to slip a few jokes in while discussing violent death and upheaval. Oh alright, there have been a few humorous stories even in the midst of war, one of which I will share with you later on, but generally speaking it’s not a major topic that lends itself to being marshaled into the canons of humor. In topics that deal with human tragedies or abuses, it goes without saying, it would be very unwise to introduce any humor at all, and would probably hurt your message.
Or let’s say you’re Thomas Jefferson writing the Declaration of Independence and you suddenly decide to sprinkle it with a humorous aside here and there. - We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men were created equal (whereupon we note the exception of a few of my bulbous-nosed colleagues and their questionable offspring, har, har, har) - You can see how that wouldn’t be appropriate. Dry it is, and dry it must remain.
Just about everything else is fair game. I wrote a book about accumulating wealth, which can be extremely dry at times. How dry was it? It was so dry it scratched my throat on the way down. But enough about me, lest I should convince you that I am not sincere - I am sincere. Very sincere. I will respect you always, my darling. Be mine. Forever. Uh, yes, where was I?
Did you know that humans think about sex every fifteen minutes? I’m not one of those people. I never think about sex. Sex, sex, sex, that’s all I hear. Everywhere I go, that’s all I see. On TV, movies, magazine stands, advertisements, everywhere you care to look. It rings in my head, over and over and over, pounding me, smashing my brain, thrusting itself on me until I can’t take anymore, making me scream. So no, I don’t think about it as much as the average man.
Let’s step back just a second to the title. I was visiting a friend (who must remain nameless) in a care facility for the aged. This institution was set up for people with dementia. With three other people, I walked into his room, which he shared with another patient occupying a neighboring bed. The neighbor pointed his finger at me and shouted with scorn draping his face, “You’re the guy who stole my bananas!” I found it funny, what can I say.
And that’s the point. Everything can be spiced up with a little humor, well not quite everything, but when’s the last time you wrote the Declaration of Independence hoping to get a few more readers. Never, I tell you, never! Damn your eyes!
So sprinkle an article with humor, a little more judiciously than I do perhaps, and you’ll find your readership will increase.People will enjoy what you write just that little bit more. If your humor is subtle, like mine, they’ll be scanning your work thoroughly, keeping them hooked to the end.
“Your honor, I arrested Mr. Schofield in Kandahar Square for inciting the public to laugh. He was charged under Section IV, Article 1 and 2, and I quote, 'It is unlawful for citizens of our great nation to laugh, chuckle, or blatantly guffaw in public. It can also be deemed that citizens inciting others to do so, be it that they may snicker, chortle, hee-haw, cackle, or any other displays of said behavior pertaining to the anti-laughing code under stipulated proscriptions of above, shall be deemed guilty of same said offense.”
“But your honor, in my defense, no one ever laughs at my jokes!”
Okay, enough with the Taliban parody. Having decided to sprinkle your article with judicious use of humor, let’s examine what makes a thing funny, but I promise to avoid my manhood, just like everyone else.
Doctors found in a recent study that four out of five people suffer from diarrhea. The other one enjoys it.
Kandahar Police Blotter 1996
Funny joke about tourism.
Very funny toilet joke: danger to society. Whipping recommended.
Not a funny joke: polite laughter only
Classifications of Outlawed Humor as Defined in the Criminal Code
WARNING: THE FOLLOWING DISCUSSION ON HUMOR IS NOT VERY FUNNY. READING THIS SECTION MAY CAUSE RECTAL LEAKAGE, LIVER PROBLEMS, DIARRHEA, ABDOMINAL CRAMPS, AND FREQUENT URINATION. FOR A LAUGH LASTING LONGER THAN FOUR HOURS YOU SHOULD CONSULT YOUR PSYCHIATRIST. PREGNANT WOMEN OR WOMEN WHO ARE THINKING OF BECOMING PREGNANT ARE ADVISED NOT TO READ THIS SECTION.
1) The Ridiculous:
The ban by a regime of public laughing is an example. By parodying it one can see just how ree-dicalous it is. It’s hard to be subtle using ridicule, but it can be done simply by toning it down. The risk is that a reader might miss it. A little like missing Jack Benny rolling his eyes; the crowd sees it and laughs, but you were in the kitchen making a sandwich and only heard the audience chuckle.
Ridiculous is when someone has gotten away with murder and you’re the only one to say anything about it. Like wearing those loud golf pants to work. That can be funny, especially if you point it out using exaggerated ridicule. Say the President has nose hair and you find it rather gross during speeches to have to look at. Well, to parody that and make people laugh you would have the President in your scenario receive a foreign dignitary, make a serious sounding speech, with HUGE nose hairs hanging out of his nostrils. In his own speech you could sprinkle in a few pointed references to it, which the dignitary would secretly find amusing. Now that would be hilarious. Okay, maybe not, but you get the idea. See, I told you there’s nothing unfunniery than trying to be humorous.
Stephen Colbert, was quite funny with his ‘truthiness’ skit, which ridiculed a US President.
2) The Inane
Inane is something that simply doesn’t make sense, is pointless or just plain silly. This article for instance. Most of Monty Python’s Flying Circus skits used this method of humor. The Ministry of Silly Walks, was quite inane (an Army Colonel interrupts the broadcast and says, “Stop that. That’s far too silly. I’ve warned you about this sort of silliness before.”) Then the show cuts away to another skit. Somewhat funny, yes, but not for everyone. Somewhat unstructured I suppose for a few who like their jokes with neon signs warning them. Hard to sprinkle that sort of thing in a recipe for meat loaf. Right! What the bloomin’ eck is this joke doing in my meat loaf? Steve Martin could be considered inane with his arrow through the head prop. Howie Mandel with his hand bag in the shape of a hand.
Hyperbole is the mechanics of overstating or exaggerating a small point out of all proportion to reality. It can be quite effective. Stephen Leacock, a Canadian humorist of the last century used it to great effect. He wrote a short story on how the Germans of World War One were so much more efficient than we were. He described a scene where trainloads of German soldiers were fed soup through open train windows using fire hoses while trains sped past on their way to the front. He would place it in a letter of someone who had actually observed German military efficiency. Quite funny.
This is used to great effect and developed into an art form all of its own by Woody Allen. It’s a form of self-ridicule or belittlement. It can be too heavy handed, however, so that a person sounds a little too pathetic. Watch a Woody Allen movie for an example. It gets big laughs in France, probably more so than in the US, so there seems to be cultural sensitivities to it in various places.
5) Societal Parody & Mocking
The best way to explain this one is to point you to the works of Groucho Marx and his inane brothers. The by-then outdated mourning coat with tails, top hats, the huge mustache and eyebrows, the intermingling with society big-wigs, the invaded operas and orchestras. Groucho and his brothers were making fun of high society. Great stuff. Groucho used to love reading Stephen Leacock stories though, and could be heard howling in laughter when alone in his dressing room.
The Muppets were extremely good at this form of humor, too, with their skits of debutante balls, Miss Piggy pretending knowledge of French with ‘moi’ interspersed in her dialogue. But The Muppets can’t be categorized solely in one slot; they had many, many styles of humor in just the one show. They had the two old guys on the balcony yelling insults, Miss Piggy dancing at balls, the Swedish chef being attacked by Mexican cowboys to rescue lobsters from his cooking pot, and Beaker, the poor lab assistant subjected to the experimentations of his professor, Dr. Bunsen Honeydew, where he would be forced to drink the latest concoction, causing his hair to blow off his head.
This is done by a form of deception. Take someone down a path, which goes one way through societal norms, and then redirects you to an unexpected place. Henny Youngman’s ‘Take my wife, please’ is probably the best known and shortest of these types of jokes.
Johnny Carson: “Can I have silence, please,” he asks the audience. Ed McMahon mutters, ”I don’t see why not, you’ve had it many times before.”
"I had to get to L.A. in the worst way. So I flew Air Canada."
"I've been in love with the same woman for 40 years. If my wife finds out she'll kill me."
Sarcasm is effective in mocking someone or something. You have to be careful with this one since not everyone will find it funny. It’s usually used in a derisive manner. “Oh really, you’re writing this article for our ‘benefit’? It’s so nice of you, so generous of you to think of your fellow man.”
8) The Puerile
This is meant for a younger audience. It deals generally with body functions and helps the child in us laugh at our weaker side – the fact that we all have smelly bits. But adults, we don’t laugh at such things, do we. Something About Mary comes to mind. Something about Mary putting what she thought was hair conditioner in her hair comes to mind. Something about an accident with a zipper comes to mind. Almost all those teenage coming of age comedies rely on puerile humor.
The Three Stooges were notorious for very bad puns. They own a dry cleaners and a lady comes in and asks for a man’s suit to be dyed to a different color. Shemp asks her “What color do you want?” and the lady says “Henna”. He asks again to confirm, “Henna color at all?”
10) Sexual Innuendo
Simple innuendo is fine, but really, what other types are there that are funny? Well, the back-handed compliment is one. Teenage girls are good at this, as in “Oh, I really like your new dress. Such a creative way to recycle.” I found the comedians of yesteryear were very adept at sexual innuendo; they had to be to get past the censors. Nowadays, it’s all hanging out for everyone to see, F bombs everywhere, comedians emulating sexual activities, no subtlety whatsoever. That’s the key to successfully using sexual innuendo in my opinion. People are pretty intelligent and will usually catch subtlety. It’s also my favorite form of humor because it generally asks a person to connect A to B, if you know what I mean. You see, I did it again.
“So, is that a gun in your pocket, or you just happy to see me?” Although a good example of sexual innuendo, it’s a little heavy-handed and it’s probably a little rich for your coconut macaroons recipe. Maybe save it for your Pigs in a Blanket. It is possible to make jokes about the topic without going overboard.
Better would be the British forms of innuendo, such as Rowan Atkinson (Mr. Bean) as a priest in Four Weddings and a Funeral. A sexy woman asks him a question about human sexuality and his awkward response, although saying nothing explicit says volumes about his lack of experience on the topic. Good example of sub-text too, for all you scriptwriters.
There’s much more. In the list are Visual Gags, which I use a lot, The Absurd, oh yeah baby, and Euphemisms. The more I think about it, the more there seem to be. So the solution to bringing this to an end is to stop thinking about it. That’s all the categorization that I’m going to attempt for now. The truth is, although I was trying to enumerate all forms of humor, it’s like any art form; there are as many different definitions of what is funny as there are people. Each person expresses it in their own way. There are cultural norms as well that can get in the way of a good laugh, as we have seen in the court case parody above.
"Last night a crazy woman was frantically banging on my door until three a.m."
"So what did you do?"
"I got out of bed and let her out."
Most Humorous Movie Poll
Which One of These Comedies Did You Enjoy Most?
Sometimes, a person can be so outrageous a character that the only response is to laugh at them. Here's an example: An ageing Marlene Dietrich was visited by her daughter in hospital after she had fallen from the stage and broken her hip. She informs her daughter Maria, "The food in here isn't fit for human consumption. I saved it for you and your family."
A man at the Airline check-in counter is in a rage, yelling at the lady serving him, "Do you know who I am? Do you know who you're dealing with? Do you?" She picks up the PA microphone and announces over the broadcast system "Ladies and Gentlemen. Can anyone help identify this man in front of my counter? He has lost his mind and doesn't seem to know who he is. Thank you."
Laughing in these situations is a polite way of saying "You pompous ass! Get over yourself!"
In Conclusion, Dear Readers of His Most Wonderfulness
And some things get laughs which aren’t meant to. Totally bored out of my skull, I began watching a show on Alien Visitors or some such on Discovery. A former military individual, who claims to have seen aliens in Area51, gave detailed accounts of what they look like, how he met them, what they said to him, and so on. His narration is interspersed with artist renderings of alien beings with big heads, pointy eyes, and skinny, disproportionate bodies. After thirty minutes of watching him he informed us that the government kept whole families of extra-terrestrial beings housed in Area51, women and children included. He went on to state in a matter-of-fact tone that their men folk would get very bored at the facility and slip out of the compound on weekends for excursions to Las Vegas. When I heard that, I was screaming in laughter. Imagine, aliens traveled light years from advanced planets so they could spend weekends at a Las Vegas roulette wheel. I thought I would need emergency vehicles to resuscitate me, I was laughing so hard. My dog got scared and hid behind the couch, it just wouldn’t stop. I had no idea I was watching a delusional lunatic for half an hour until this point.
And there is something quite tangible to the words ‘You had to be there’. I’ve told this following humorous story several times and it hasn’t gotten a laugh, so be warned.
In a BBC documentary, a US veteran of the Pacific is recounting his experience on Iwo Jima. The Americans invade the small island festooned with cannon and 25,000 heavily armed, suicidal Japanese warriors. He tells us that it’s a real meat grinder, worse than anything he’s ever seen in the whole campaign. He’s hiding behind a rock while his own side bombards a Japanese machine gun bunker with artillery. Suddenly, after an explosion in the bunker, the naked rear-end of a human body plops onto his face from the sky. He takes the body part off his face and says to his buddies, “God, if that’s mine, I must be hurt pretty bad!” He said he and his buddies were useless for the rest of the day. So there you have it, humans can laugh at anything under any circumstances. They desire humor. They thirst for it. It gets them through the tough times.
At the end of Moonstruck, with her family assembled in the kitchen, Cher is protesting and berating her ex fiancée for dumping her, while in reality she wishes to marry Nicolas Cage. She throws her ring at her ex, and then the Nick Cage character proposes to her and she accepts, kissing him heartily in front of the entire family. Her grandfather starts crying, wiping tears streaming down his face. The son-in-law asks, “Why are YOU crying?” The old man says, “Because I’m confused!”
And so I leave you. It is your mission, Agent 86, to add humor to your writing to enhance the reading experience. It gets them through the day.
If a cannibal eats a clown, does it taste funny?