Friday, July 20, 2001

Feaking Hilarious. Let me diagram it for you . . .

This one time, I felt sorry for Robison Wells and it's not even because a horn is trying to erupt from his forehead. That in itself is not a big deal. (I mean, if it's a unicorn horn it would be pretty cool. If it's a goat horn, well then . . . yeah. Okay, that's a problem.).

Anyway, I felt sorry for him because he was talking about how he had to put together a class on how to write humor for a writer's conference.

Now I also pity Sarah M. Eden for the exact same reason. She's stuck with this topic, too. I think they are both brave and good people (of questionable sanity) for taking this on . But I still feel sorry for them.

Here's the thing. I don't think you can teach people to be funny. You got it or you don't. It's that indefinable thing that makes someone become a massive pop star and someone else never make it at all when they have equal talent and looks. The "it" factor, maybe. (Oh, and minus any sleeping with the right people hijinks. (Cheating slutty McHohos. [I'm looking at you Susan McBoyle. {I'm totally not, cuz I'm writing about jokes, see? See how I did that?}])

But you're funny . . . or you're not.

Unless you're like me. In which case, you are HILARIOUS to the people that know you and often lock up around everyone else.

But, and for the sake of this argument and also because I think it might be true, my books are pretty funny and those jokes are cracked in front of thousands of people I'll never meet. And yet if you put me in a social situation where I know less than 20% of the players, most of the time I morph into this interested observer and nothing funny to say comes to mind at all.

Get me in a room full of friends, I kill.

Get me in a room full of friends who are also funny, I lock up again. I think I can only be funny if I'm the clear alpha funny dog or if I've known everyone in the group FOREVER.

It's a weird thing.

Anyway, the point is, I know funny. I am funny. This has been voted on and ratified by the marketplace, so say the sales of my book. That's the expertise I'm claiming. Oh, and you can ask the 25 classes worth of 8th graders I taught over five years. They'll tell you: I'm funny. And get me in front of a room full of teachers in a staff development meeting? I will destroy them.

The thing is, I can't turn it on or off. I just am or am not. There's no deciding I want to be funny and then the jokes come. They're there or they aren't.

I truly believe most funny people are this way.

It comes down to this: as soon as you explain a joke, it's not funny anymore. Or put another way by Sarah Eden, "In my experience, classes on humor are the unfunniest classes at all."

I bet if you surveyed the attendees in Sarah or Rob's classes on humor (and I've been to other classes they taught and can vouch they are each hilarious), this is what you would find. 15% of attendees are friends or acquaintances who are there for a good laugh and didn't even read the title of the class. The rest are people who have no inherent funniness and will leave with lots of earnestly taken notes and still no clue how to crack a joke, much less a good joke.

Case in point: This Wired magazine article from May 2011 looks at humor through the lens of science, trying to quantify what makes something funny. (Yes, I read my husband's magazines in the bathroom. If he can stay in there with it for an hour, so can I. Also, I'm suddenly a genius when it comes to buying his gifts because, hello? I could blindly point to any item on any page in that magazine and he'd want it.) And while it's an utterly un-hilarious article about humor, it's fascinating. This is kind of the nutshell, although seriously, go read the whole thing:

It makes perfect sense.

But if you have to explain it to someone . . .

I'm just saying. Rob, Sarah . . . you have my deepest sympathies.

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