Conveying Different Forms of Humor

on December 23, 2010 in Writing
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Comedy exists in a variety of forms - there's observational comedy, improv, one-liners, slapstick, satires, spoofs, what have you. These forms of comedy have been used in a ton of mediums as well, ranging from witty articles to humorous fiction, to sitcoms and movies. Comedy is a Swiss army knife of its own kind.

As a freelance writer, though, you're stuck with writing, and not all comedy fits snugly in there like a nice little puzzle. What forms of humor should you attempt when writing, and which ones can you safely pass over?

Observational comedy

Humor that makes fun of everyday life. It works best when you talk about topics a lot of people can relate to, or when it speaks to the target audience. It fits primarily in articles or columns discussing specific subjects, but characters can get away with making these comments in humor fiction on occasion.

Character comedy

This brand of humor stems from how a character reacts to something, usually in an exaggerated or unexpected fashion. Works great in either fiction or witty commentary, though if writing an article, I'd mix some normal jokes in there as well. Of course, you also see this in sitcoms and comedy movies, so it naturally fits in those kind of scripts.

Slapstick

This is humor that relies on physical movement - pratfalls, mock violence, things like that. You could definitely incorporate these into a script for a play, but otherwise, don't bother. It relies on the audience being able to see what's happening, and it's far less effective when described on paper.

Wordplay

Puns, twists of language, and general playing around with words makes up this style of comedy. Good wordplay, if you can manage it, fits practically anywhere. I'd advise using it all the time, though - it can get pretty annoying quickly if you're not skilled enough at it to keep it interesting and diverse.

Satire


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Basically, it's making fun of current events, wit with an undercurrent of social criticism. This often falls under the banner of topical comedy. If you've seen Conan O'Brien deliver a monologue, you have a basic idea of what to expect. This works best in regularly-updated columns due to how quickly topics change, though columns that target long-standing issues and mocks those work just as fine.

Parody

A good parody recreates an original work while making fun of its flaws at the same time. Airplane! is a parody of disaster movies, while The Onion parodies serious news bites. Parody is another of those catch-all forms of comedy that works well in different mediums - it's not too hard to mock a famous story or a celebrity. Like always, strive to make a clever and creative parody. If the parody isn't up to snuff, it usually falls flat.

For the most part, humor relying exclusively on words tend to work fine on paper. (What a surprise!) But every situation is different, and not all types of humor fit in all types of writing. Use your head - if it doesn't feel right, don't leave it in.

Do you have any questions about humor writing that you want me to answer? What would you like to see me cover in future columns? Leave me a comment telling me what you'd like to see!

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Matt Willard

Matt Willard's bio begins with witty phrasing that succinctly illustrates his stance as a humorist. It is then followed with a clever sentence that illustrates what he does in his spare time. The bio concludes with a shameless link to his Twitter profile, paired with an off-hand comment that alludes to his success with women. Laughter.

2 Comments

  1. Lou Belcher December 23, 2010 Reply

    Nice overview of the different forms of humor.

    Lou

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