Requested by eric

Elements That Make Something Funny

Thanks for the LR, @andersun
  1. So I was a smart ass and said that I know a lot about humor in this list: Things I Am Comfortable Saying I Know A Lot About and Eric called me out on it. Ha.
    While I do it sometimes - too often? - I hate when people wrote "LOL" or "Ha," (see bullet point ⬆️) because you shouldn't have to tell someone that something is funny, or else it's not really funny. That said, sometimes it's hard to read text and determine what someone meant. On the other hand, maybe I should just write funnier stuff?
  2. I read a great book called The Humor Code by Peter McGraw and Joel Warner. It was enlightening and while I learned a lot, it also confirmed a lot of what I'd figured out, though hadn't put until words.
  3. One of the main points of the book was that what makes something funny is what they call "benign injury."
  4. Benign injury means that the humor involved an injury (something bad happening to someone), but no real damage is done, making it benign. The benignness makes it okay to laugh at the injury.
  5. An example is the classic Three Stooges bit of throwing a pie in someone's face. They're getting hit in the face - the injury - but it's just whipped cream, so it's benign. They don't really get hurt. If they'd gotten hit with a pie on a plate made of cast iron and knocked unconscious, that wouldn't be funny.
    Instead of getting hurt, Curly wipes his eyes clear and eats the whipped cream off his face. Hilarious!
  6. Likewise, if someone had just handed Curly a bowl of whipped cream and a spoon...while benign, there's no injury. It'd be delicious for Curly, but not funny for us.
    Side note: Shemp sucked. He wasn't as bad as Curly Joe, but damn close. Seriously, if Shemp is your favorite Stooge, kindly go N'yuck yourself.
  7. That's the premise of The Humor Code boiled down, but if you're interested in humor, the book is fascinating and totally worth your time.
  8. As a kid I listened to comedy LPs constantly. In 4th grade we had a trading day, where you could bring in toys or books (nerds only!) and trade your crap for someone else's crap. I traded a Magic 8 ball for a Bill Cosby record (we didn't know he was a rapist back in 1974) and felt like I'd stolen candy from a baby.
  9. I'm proud to say that my first concert was Lily Tomlin.
  10. But my main source of comedy inspiration came from the man, the master, the one and only Steve Martin, and I wore his albums out.
  11. At some point I became aware of Cheech And Chong and my life changed.
  12. And then there was Robin Williams.
  13. So anyway, I had all these comedy albums and would listen over and over, memorizing them. When I was on my paper route at 6:00 am, I'd do entire albums, mostly in my head because I had to be quiet, but more likely whispered. I'd do Steve Martin, Cheech And Chong, entire episodes of Sanford & Son, and the funny parts of Happy Days.
  14. In 10th grade I joined Speech Team where people were serious about comedy. There were a couple of debaters, but most of our team did comedy stuff. Monty Python became big, and we took turns reenacting The Argument.
  15. We got into deep conversations about what kind of inflection should be put on certain words to make the bit funnier. "No, you moron, it's not "YES, I have," it's "Yes, I HAVE" with emphasis on Have, not Yes. Idiot." Someone else would chime in with "No, no, no. It's "Yes?, I have," where you kind of lilt up on "Yes"." We were all nerds.
  16. I specifically remember this one kid, Adam, repeatedly doing Robin Williams' "New York Echo" bit and he absolutely ruined it. He couldn't pause and wait for the echo.
  17. The bit goes "And now, a native New York impression, a New York echo. 'Hellooooo (pause) Shut the fuck up'."
  18. Adam was so excited to say "Fuck" that he screwed the timing. That was the moment when I realized that not everybody can be funny. Adam thought he was hilarious, but he wasn't. No timing.
  19. I brought this book, Cruel Shoes by Steve Martin on Speech tournaments often, and would read it aloud to my group of friends. The title story is the best, but there's a lot of great material in here. I'd channel Martin and feel that I hit his timing pretty damn well. I'd been memorizing him for years!
    Side note. Do you see the second copy on my library shelf? It's that good of a book!
  20. So what makes something funny? A big part is the benign injury to be sure. Timeliness can be important, but that's not as important as not being untimely. By that I mean that comedy doesn't have to pertain to current events, but even if your joke is perfectly crafted, if it's about a news event from two years ago, it's not likely to get a laugh.
  21. Also, when I say "joke" I don't mean the "why did the chicken cross the road" kind of jokes. Jokes are a cheap laugh. Any comedian who "tells jokes" is shit in my opinion. I'm talking about Gilbert Godfried and Jackie The Joke Man Martlin. Their stand up routines are almost 100% reciting jokes, like they just memorized joke books.
    It might be okay if they wrote original jokes, but they're all old jokes. Not funny at all.
  22. But my opinion is that the most important element that makes something funny, is Timing.
  23. When Cheech knocked on the door and said it was Dave, and you had to wait and wait and wait for Chong to say "Dave's not here, man," that was great. The pause.
  24. When Michael Scott says "World's Best Boss," and then pauses before telling us that HE bought it at Spencer's Gifts, that pause is what sold the joke. If he had held up the mug and just said "I bought this for myself at Spencer's Gifts" he would have just been an idiot. But with the pause you felt sorry for him.
  25. Humor is so subjective. Two different people can see or hear the exact same thing, and one will find it funny while the other does not. So really, all you can do is put out good, well crafted material, and hope someone finds it funny.
  26. Here's an example of something one person found hilarious and another didn't laugh at all:
    At least they haven't laughed, yet. Someday.
  27. A few years ago I worked in an office right across a narrow hallway from a woman who had her own office. Next to the door of her office was a narrow window, and she put her little trash can on the window sill and it fit inside the window frame just perfectly.
  28. One day she tossed an empty glue stick in the trash, but it missed and went between the trash can and the window. I don't even know how, because the trash can touched the window, so it shouldn't have been able to get there, but somehow it did.
  29. After about a week I commented that the glue stick was there and she cocked her head to the side and wondered how it got there, then grabbed it and properly threw it away. You could see the glue stick from outside her office, but she couldn't see it from the inside.
  30. About a week later I finished a glue stick and almost threw it away. Instead I saved it until she left her office for a minute and stuck it where the other had been.
  31. After a few days she noticed it and was totally perplexed.
  32. For the rest of that year, whenever I'd finish a glue stick, I'd repeat that little game.
  33. Now I don't go through glue sticks like crazy, so it was probably just 4 or 5 more that school year, but still, it happened now and then.
  34. She never did figure out that it was me.
  35. To this day, whenever I finish a glue stick, I chuckle and think "Man, I wish I still worked across the hall from Dawn."
  36. Benign injury. She was injured because she kept having to retrieve the glue sticks and throw them away, wasting her time and likely making her frustrated or curious or something. Benign because she really wasn't hurt.
  37. And killer timing, if you ask me. This pause is super long. I'm sure I'll run into her at Costco sometime and tell her about it. But until then, it still cracks me up.
  38. I don't think this list fulfilled Eric's List Request very well. It's possible that I don't know shit.