Thursday, August 7, 2008

The Evolution of Humour

I remember when my dad sat in front of the television, watching Wile E. Coyote try to catch the Roadrunner. He leaned back in his black vinyl swivel chair and responded to every gaff with a "Hmm, hmm."

He grew up on The Three Stooges, with eye pokes from Moe and a "Nyah, nyah," from Curly. (To this day, I don't understand what the attraction is.)

With so many brands of humour in television, movies, books and comics, it's hard to divide them into categories. There is slapstick humour, wry humour, satire which is not supposed to be humour (but it is), and cerebral humour.

My kids' conception of humour has changed over the years. They cut their teeth on Animaniacs and Disney, and later they LOLed at The Simpsons and Southpark.

Lately, their tastes have become more sophisticated. They embrace new comedies such as 30 Rock and Pushing Daisies – comedies that don't require a laugh track to tell you what's funny. They enjoy Neil Gaiman and Roald Dahl along with obvious fare like J.K. Rowling.

I found a tattered paperback filled with short stories by
Stephen Leacock, a great Canadian humourist who influenced such comedians as the Marx brothers. Back then, humour smacked you right between the eyes, and writers like Leacock started a new trend toward a subtle funny.

They took characters and showed the reader all the little quirks in their mannerisms that one wouldn't normally detect. It was almost as if we got a free pass to a character's soul.

In romance writing, we went through a decade-long rash of Chick Lit. It burst into flame and took the world by storm. For a while. Now it seems readers are tired of the frilly pink books with jewelry and stilettos gracing the covers. At least that's what the industry is telling us. Sales indicate otherwise, from what I see on the Amazon bestseller list, anyway.

Even if you don't want to tout your new masterpiece as 'Chick Lit', don't be afraid to leave out the funny. A good author friend defines her work as "Romantic Comedy", a genre that in my opinion will never die. Look at Sleepless in Seattle, Enchanted and When Harry Met Sally. That stuff is gold!

Don't let changing trends scare you into not using humour in your writing, whether romance or thriller or fantasy. We all need a laugh or two, even if the world is in peril.

Funny is not dead, it's just evolved.

(I was going to post a picture of The Three Stooges, but their website and all its licensing lingo scared the heck out of me.)

--Sandra Cormier


KMTolan said...

I really would question the depth of a novel if it doesn't run through at least the more common human traits - and humor is one of them.

Often, if you listen long enough to a conversation, it will contain humorous elements. Humor is also found as stress relief in more darker moments - especially in the military.

My work in progress has what starts out as a nice love scene - until an over-protective pet gets involved.

The reader needs to laugh once in awhile, even if the characters aren't particularly amused. The more emotional connection you get, the better.

Kimber Chin said...

I review for a major site
and the difference between
a great and an outstanding
is the ability
to make me

Do one of those
and you have readers for life.