Being Funny Ain’t Easy

March 13, 2009 at 6:43 pm Leave a comment

*Sorry for the size of some of the text. WordPress doens’t like me today*

Being funny is an integral part of who I am. It doesn’t matter if it is a serious situation.  I want the laughs.  I realize some people can’t do what I do naturally. Someone once asked me how. I can tell them to find the hurtful place and find the things that would lighten it. What would you say if your best friend died and everything in that moment is just so bleak AND you just wanted to lighten the moment. That’s where I find my funny most times. Where in the story is the moment the bleakest for the character. If they were trying to save their sanity what would they say? How would they say it? Most importantly, why would they say it then.

Of course, funny, to me, is broken down into timing. It’s that space in between one comment–that’s usually opened itself for something snarky to say–and the next word. It’s also about tone and knowing when to use the funny. It’s also about saying the unexpected. I don’t write funny situations.*Example of a funny situation: Bridget Jones in a Thai Prison teaching her cellmates the right way to sing  Material Girl.*

So, lets see if i can teach the basics of set up. First a real life example.

While at school my friends and I would stand outside before class. This one particular day this guy walks by. His head is clean shaved. I can’t remember if he wears muscle shirts or if all his shirts just look like muscle shirts on him. Needless to say he’s buff. Not the natural buff-cut, but like that’s all he could do with his time.

The man walks by us. Both me and my friend Kristy look at him ’cause he’s got that “I’ve been locked-up” walk and look.  He just draws attention to himself.

I say to Kristy,  “Speaking of prison.”

Life, fortunately, gave me the set up. There was a moment of silence and then I broke it with something unexpected. It was on the fly, but I can tell you it was funny as hell.

Now in writing I have to create my own set ups. One character says something and I can think of something funny to say.

“Are you going to tell me who you are or are you just going to act like an interested customer?”

“I could be a customer.”

“And I could be Gandhi reincarnated.”

What could have put for the last line:  “You could be, but I doubt it. Now tell me the truth.” This would keep with the tone of the conversation. It tells me this character doesn’t care for wool being pulled over her eyes. But, that’s not what Lynne would say.

Another thing to point out with the example the set-up is short. Two lines. The third is as they say the zinger. Another good example comes from How Much You Want to Bet? The key here is not to laugh at your own jokes. Act like you didn’t even make one. The most obvious reason,  the reader probably didn’t laugh and they would wonder why your character is laughing. Nothing ruins your joke faster than when you laugh at it yourself. Also, use your characters dialogue. It’s the easiest way to get them in. Lastly, you can keep ’em coming without breaking the flow of the story. You can break it up with emotion, and that’s the true key of comedy in your stories. You are making the hard situation easier to take in for your reader.

He looked right sitting there and, because he did, Neil said, “Why are you being the bane of my existence?”

“But I brought coffee.” Gib grinned at her before pouring her a cup. She didn’t want to be at ease around him. Ease led to other things, and those things led to worse things, like companionship and someone to lean on. Neil stayed by the door.

“It’s not poison. Are you cold?”

“It could be Spanish fly. And no, I’m not cold.”

Gib sighed. “You know there’s this saying, if a woman protests too much…”

Neil narrowed her eyes. She could handle this situation two ways, and unfortunately neither option involved cement shoes. She accepted the lesser of the two evils and sat down on the couch across from him, accepting the cup he offered.

“What’s your angle, playboy?”

“Getting chummy with the worksite manager.”

“It has nothing to do with the fact that I’m a woman who doesn’t fall at your feet?” She missed his answer, because she was melting into the couch after her first sip. It was black and strong. The rich taste blossomed on her tongue and it took everything in her not to groan in pleasure. “Did you come straight from Columbia with this stuff?”

“I have it delivered and I grind it myself.” The 


grin was back, and Neil tried to ignore it. The coffee was bad enough.

“I could have sworn we had this conversation before.”

“I believe wholeheartedly in beating the dead horse just so everyone has an understanding.”

She took another sip. “Hush for a moment. You’re ruining the coffee.”

“If I’d known…”

She glared at him.

He chuckled and leaned back in the chair. His hands ran down the side of the material until he placed them on the edge of the armrests. As she watched his hands, it felt like he was touching her, caressing her skin. She glanced down at the cup. It had to be Spanish fly in this stuff.

She cleared her throat. “I think we need terms.” Otherwise, he’d lace her coffee every morning until she gave.


She noted he hadn’t poured himself a cup. “Yes, for this work relationship.”

“Relationship.” He paused.” I like the sound of it.”

“You missed the word ‘work’ then.”

Gib shrugged. “Semantics.”


“You like me.”


The break down is the set-up for this entire snippet of a scene starts at the first line, and it’s based in the emotions she doesn’t want to feel for Gib. Hopefully the first snicker came at “It could be Spanish fly.”


The second one is the dead horse line. The specific set up for that one actually starts at “Getting Chummy…” line.

The last line of “zingers” starts when she points out they need terms for their relationship. And, the roots of the by-play comes from Neil failing horribly at fighting off Gib’s charm. I use that emotion throughout the book to get the funny lines out there. They play off each other, and that comes down to character. A man with a purpose in life could not have handled Neil. That type of man would have taken no, and gone on to a more pliable woman. Neil’s attitude toward that type of man wouldn’t have boded well.

Jokes, zingers i.e. one liners needs to be rooted in something other than just trying to be funny. That’s the one thing I had to learn. It’s not about how funny I can be, but how funny my characters are when they are hurting. Because honestly if you can understand your characters the story is easier to write.

Hopefully you walked away with something today.

And, of course share your tips in the comments.



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