Thursday, March 6, 2014

A Serious Look at Comedy, Part III

III. Cumulative Comedy

First, some news. For today and tomorrow, the Kindle version of Delroy Versus the Yshtari is free on Amazon. You can find it here: It is a sci-fi/comedy. If you don't have a Kindle or Kindle app, you can also read them on Windows and Mac computers. So, download away and enjoy.

This week, we'll explore what most comedy writing is: creating an 'atmosphere of funny'. Even though having lots of hilarious punchlines is great, it just doesn't work with novel writing like it does in stand-up comedy. We have to tell a longer story. Another name I've given this principle is 'cumulative comedy' and it works like this:

Think back to a time when you were young, say last week, when you were with a bunch of friends. You started laughing at something one of them said. Then someone adds to it, then you get your quip in, and before you know it, all of you are on the floor in danger of needing hernia surgery. Then someone walks in (another friend, mom, parole officer) and they look at all of you like you are space aliens. You, in your desire to let them in on the revelry, explain to them, step-by-step, how you ended up in your jovial circumstances. They shake their head, turn around, and leave, now knowing for sure that at least some of you are from the planet Theespeoplaridiots. What went wrong? Why didn't they join in? It could be the different sense of humor thing, but most likely not. The problem was, they were not there while the 'atmosphere of funny' was created.

You've probably seen a series of stupid cat pictures that by the end had you laughing whether you wanted to or not. Or how about that list of insurance claims:

“I was driving along the motorway when the police pulled me over onto the hard shoulder. Unfortunately I was in the middle lane and there was another car in the way.”
“I started to slow down but the traffic was more stationary than I thought.”
“I pulled into a lay-by with smoke coming from under the hood. I realised the car was on fire so took my dog and smothered it with a blanket.”
Q: Could either driver have done anything to avoid the accident? A: Traveled by bus?
“I collided with a stationary truck coming the other way.”
“I was on my way to the doctor with rear end trouble when my universal joint gave way causing me to have an accident.”
“The car in front hit the pedestrian but he got up so I hit him again.”
“The other car collided with mine without giving warning of its intention.”
“I had been driving for forty years when I fell asleep at the wheel and had an accident.”
“The gentleman behind struck me on the backside. He then went to rest in a bush with just his rear end showing.”
“The pedestrian ran for the pavement but I got him.”
When a claimant collided with a cow. Q: What warning was given by you? A: Horn. Q: What warning was given by the other party? A: Moo.

You probably didn't find any of these lines by themselves to be super hilarious. At the same time, by the time you reached the end, you were probably laughing. Or at least got a good chuckle. The reason for that is because each line contributed more to the cumulative comedic effect.

Here is an example from my Big World Network series, Delroy Versus the Ysthari (did I mention it was free today and tomorrow on Amazon Kindle?). Delroy is trying to escape from an Yshtari kitchen (lobster-like aliens who think humans are delicious) before they can eat him. For better or worse, he is aided by his butler bot, Minx:

     The door opened, and I saw that obnoxious LED smile beaming down at me. “You can get out now, sir.”
     I climbed out of the oven, glaring at Minx. “What in the world do you think you're doing?”
     “I had to convince the Yshtari that you were no longer a threat.” He pointed to a bathtub-sized pot sitting on the table where they'd had me chained. “Now, please climb into that pot.”
     “What? You expect me to just hop out of the oven and into a stew pot? I don't think so.”
     “Trust me, sir, I'm trying to help you escape before the Yshtari return.”
     I looked around the kitchen. “Where are they?”
     “I convinced them to temporarily leave. Please sir, you must hurry. They'll be back soon.”
     “What are you cooking up in that addled processor of yours?” I climbed up on to the table. The pot was filled with some kind of greenish broth. It looked like snot. “I'm not getting into that.”
     “Please sir, I must insist.”
     “It's the safest way I know of to smuggle you out of here.”
     “Yes, but in a broth? Can't you think of another way?”
     “Not really. After all, I am programmed for cooking, not exotic escape plans. Oh, and I'm sorry that the spirulina sauce isn't to the right consistency. I didn't have much time.”
     “Right. Whatever.” I looked back into the pot and stuck my foot in. “Brr. It's cold. I sure hope you know what you're doing.” Against my better judgment, I climbed into the cold, syrupy liquid.
     “Okay, sir, now lie down and put this apple in your mouth.” He held it out to me.
     “I don't like apples.” I shivered as I eased myself down into a sitting position in the pot.
     “It's not for you, it’s for the presentation.”
     “What present—” I couldn't finish because he jammed it into my open mouth.
     “Now relax and hold still. We only have about a minute before they return.”
     I looked at him feeling a mixture of anger and confusion. He opened up a container and picked up a brush-like utensil. “Now, hold still.” He painted a foul-smelling red sauce all over my face.
     When I couldn't take it any more, I spat the apple out and let it plunk into the liquid. It sat on top without sinking. “What are you doing?”
     For an answer, Minx picked the apple up and shoved it back in. It tasted like rotten algae. “Sir, you really need to calm down. Now hold still and look cooked.”

Another good example I've thought of is the opening scene from Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy by Douglas Adams when the main character, Arthur Dent, is trying to keep the bulldozers from destroying his house. Look it up; it's worth it.

Cumulative Comedy is powerful, though, even if the jokes aren't huge. Just keep plugging away with lots of little 'jokoids' and before you know it, your audience will be ROFLAWP (rolling on floor laughing and wetting pants). Remember, everyone has a different sense of humor; when you use several smaller jokes one of them is bound to hit someone just right.

Next week's installment will be a surprise.

1 comment:

Shirley Bahlmann said...

Berin, I've never been to your blog before. Love the title! This article is helpful and, well, funny! Great information presented with a cherry on top!