Introduction

There’s a scene in the wittily adorable film, Arthur Christmas, that cracks me up every time I watch it. I even think about the phrase, randomly, during the year and it puts a smile on my face. In tracking the rogue Santas as they fly across the world in an old sleigh, an excitable communications officer in a control center swivels in his chair and momentously announces his analysis of the “UFO”:

“Well, it’s some kind of woody substance, Ma’am. Like…wood.”

Just typing this makes me laugh, and as I type more words, and look back at those words, I laugh again.  

Arthur Christmas – Blowing Up Santa’s Sleigh | Fandango Family

What is funny, though?

In that clip, the sheer banality of the circular reasoning (woody must be wood) is hilarious. Also, the earnestness of the speaker as he swivels and pushes back from his control desk. Plus, the Germanic abruptness of the word “wood.”

Is it the funniest thing ever? Probably not, but it certainly is for me.

Mel Brooks once said, “Tragedy is me stubbing my toe. Comedy is you falling down a manhole and dying,” but, really, everything is hilarious. A toe is hilarious. The word “stub” is hilarious. Dying could be hilarious?

I appreciate what Kara Vernor has to say about comedy in her own work (and do check out as much writing of hers as you can!):

“I think humor does serve to quickly reveal character, especially when it exposes flaws, but I mainly use it to temper the heavy themes I usually write about. Without humor, many of my stories would just be sad. The humor makes them tolerable.” – Kara Vernor in SmokeLong Quarterly (interview and story)

Humor in fiction and poetry (and all hybrid forms in between) can work as a brilliant foil for those “heavy themes” and, in fact, can elevate and celebrate those gnarly elements of the human condition. We laugh because we are uncomfortable, nervous, relieved, depressed, scared. We laugh because we want release from those afflictions. We laugh because…ripping paper:

Back to Vernor.

In her story, “David Hasselhoff is from Baltimore,” Vernor uses humor to upend expectation. California is not the expected glorious retreat; Hasselhoff is not even from California. The opening two paragraphs are clinical in their comedy, dumping reality (para. 2) directly on top of fantasy (para. 1):

“You arrive finally on the California coast, and even though this is northern California, you’re expecting tan, leggy blondes and barrel-chested surfers. You’re expecting red swimsuits and lifeguard stations and blinding white sand. You’ve brought your own red swimsuit and you’re expecting California to deliver.

Here’s what you get instead: jagged cliffs covered in seagull shit. You get wet wind. You get big-armed bearded men who ride Harley’s, and tie-dyed, wrinkled women who smell like lavender. You get a runny nose and damp feet and an icy ocean that couldn’t care less about red swimsuits. It says fuck you red swimsuit, I am busy tearing at land. I will tear until I reach the Atlantic.”

I love “wet wind” in this section. The alliteration. The banality. And the use of the second person address is another useful technique. “It says fuck you red swimsuit.” It says fuck you red swimsuit.

But I’m not here to tell you what’s funny. You know what’s funny because you will laugh at it (maybe chortle). In the following pages, I hope that you will find some useful examples and prompts to get you writing in any way you see fit. If your piece doesn’t end up being funny, that’s fine. If your piece only incorporates some humor elements, that’s also fine. Jump and skip through these lessons, go forwards, go backwards, Frankenstein some prompts together, look out of the window. Laugh, maniacally.

One thing I will suggest: just write! If you’re a slowburner writer, ignite a flame under you and let the fire seep out on the page. This is a “generative workshop” not a “perfect piece of writing workshop.”

Don’t be shy!