June 28, 2022
by Samantha Hoffman
Funny is subjective. Some people like sarcastic humor (me), some like slapstick (definitely not me), some like subtle humor, some like it spelled out. You might find something hilarious and I might not even crack a smile, or vice versa.
Some people are naturally funny. You probably have friends who make you laugh all the time. Does anyone come to your mind? There are many, of course, but now that I'm trying to come up with a few my mind is all but blank. But, okay, here are a few comedians: John Mulaney, Jim Gaffigan, Johnny Carson for his subtlety, Ray Romano for his relatability. Sometimes it's someone's manner as much as what they say: Bowen Yang, for example.
I'd love to be really funny. Maybe in my next life. I have moments - at times I can be funny, but it's never the kind of funny that engenders uproarious laughter, more the kind that gets an appreciative chuckle. And I'm funnier on paper than in person - in person I often think of the funny response 23 seconds after the fact. (That has a name, by the way: L'esprit de l'escalier, or escalator wit.)
When I'm writing I have those 23 seconds, and more.
I love to laugh. And what's better than making other people laugh? I have a dear friend who has a teeny, tiny sense of humor, he barely even smiles, and once in a great while I can make him laugh out loud, and it's so satisfying.
Some of my favorite writers are the ones who incorporate humor in their work. Not joke-telling kind of funny, but funny because maybe you recognize the experience and didn't see the humor in it before. Some things aren't so amusing when we're going through them but humor helps us get through those difficult times; it's not sacreligious to laugh at serious subjects; it's healing.
Can you learn to be funny? I don't think so. You can learn timing, or the right word choice (k words are intrinsically funny, for example) or how to use the element of surprise, but I think no, humor is not a learned response. It's possible I'm wrong, though. If you google "how to write funny" you'll get 1,060,000,000 responses (I google that often - you'd think I'd be funnier), so maybe one of them can teach you.
Check out a few:
An interview with David Sadaris, one of the funniest essayists of our age.
See if you learn anything. And then teach me.
Writer, editor, artist, personal assistant, private chef, runner (8-time marathoner), film and theatre buff, traveler… Author of What More Could You Wish For (St. Martin’s Press).
V.P. of the Chicago Writers Association, Executive Director of Let’s Just Write! An Uncommon Writers Conference.
Visit me at www.samanthahoffman.com
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