SF Lit hosted a batch of writers notable for writing comedy, early enough on Monday morning that I hadn’t finished my coffee. Kathleen O’Shea David, John G. Hartness, Erin Michelle Sky, and Dave Schroeder debated how and when to get readers laughing. Toni Weisskopf moderated.
David and Hartness exchanged comments on live performances, their physicality, and the need to inject humor with pauses for possible chuckles. Schroeder liked the broad comedy of Gilbert and Sullivan in Pirates of Penzance, while Sky kept mum, admitting that she had no theatrical experience (but had some insights due to her series with Steven Brown, The Wendy, deriving from what was originally a stage play by J.M. Barrie).
The group discussed comedic horror, situational comedy, and regional differences about what was funny. References to Pinter, Mamet, and the Bard abounded.
This was serious stuff, especially for one inadequately caffeinated. No low-hanging fruit for this crowd. I began to wonder if I was in the right panel? Could I keep up?
And then Hartness ended a Shakespearean anecdote in a fair imitation of a posh English accent.
“Michael, that’s a [redacted] joke.”
Whew… saved by the ever-ready Hartness ribald remark!
He went on to explain that although you can layer in humor at many levels, your audience must know the basis of the joke for it to work. Those comments about different regional humor suddenly made sense. What was funny in New York City wouldn’t be funny in Alabama (my home state) because we wouldn’t understand the context. What passes as humor in Alabama would not be funny in the Big Apple. Hartness went on to explain that’s why his Bubba books didn’t sell well in the Northeast.
Nice teaching moment, John! Bless your heart.
Sky said if you take your reader on a tragedy, you had best include the full gamut of emotions, including humor, or the vicarious experience does not feel real. Changes hold the reader’s attention, especially if the switch points occur at random.
Weisskopf added, “Life is horrible, but…”
Hartness said you have to have a joke to break tension, but jokes can also enhance horrific moments by making them all the more unexpected.
Let the Wookiee win.