META: The Problem of Humour

EDMLite robrogers72 at
Mon Feb 25 10:49:42 PST 2008

On Feb 24, 9:20 pm, Martin Phipps <martinphip... at> wrote:

> Humour in the context of a story doesn't follow the set up - punchline
> format at all: instead, you are given a situation, either a ridiculous
> situation that is funny in itself or a serious situation in which a
> joke is completely unexpected (and hence potentially much funnier).
> Humour in a serious story is refered to as "comic relief".

Most humorous RACC stories follow one of two formulas: either a
ridiculous character in a serious situation, or a serious
character in a ridiculous situation.  Stories featuring Kid Kirby
or Ultimate Ninja are inherently amusing because the characters
are trying to maintain a sense of gravitas while surrounded by

It's very difficult to write a ridiculous character in an LNH
story, because the LNH universe is by default a ridiculous
situation.  The few that work -- Writers Block Woman, for
example -- work because we see Writers Block Woman through the
eyes of Mouse, who is a more grounded and stable character.

RACC is an interesting place to write humor, because humor
often acts in an "us/them" format, where the comedian exists
in one social context and the butt of the joke in another.
Skinny people make jokes about fat people.  Democrats make
jokes about Republicans.  Young, hip, clever, witty people
make fun of me behind my back.  And so on.

In writing for RACC, however, you're writing for an audience
that is international, of mixed age and gender, and timeless,
since stories may be read years after they are written.
It's difficult to assume anything about the reader other than
some familiarity with comic books and technology. Given
all of that, it's amazing that so many of the stories here are
as funny as they are, and that we don't all offend each other
on a regular basis.

> One good question is this: when does a drama with comic relief become
> a comedy?  If a drama makes you laugh out loud then is it still a
> drama?  I think we touched on this question before when we discussed
> genre: if genre is a function of how it makes the audience feel then
> what is a comedy to you is not a comedy to me and vice-versa.  The
> Scream movies could be either seen as serious horror movies or laugh
> out loud comedies, depending on whether or not you think the effect of
> the comedic elements outweighed the effect of the dramic elements.

That's a good question.  I hadn't really seen a slasher
movie before going to see "Scream," so I didn't understand
the references to the "rules" of horror movies, and just
thought it was a pointless waste of time.  On the other
hand, I really like "Superfreaks," despite the fact that
I've never seen an episode of "CSI," and don't generally
enjoy police procedurals.

> Finally, in-jokes run counter to the notion that humour should be a
> surprise: people laugh at an in-joke because it is familiar and often
> even predictable.  Catchphrases like "Eat my shorts!" or "Doh!" or
> "Cowabunga!", all from the Simpsons, all qualify as in-jokes.  It's
> worth noting that little kids respond the most to this kind of humour:
> I've noticed that kids will laugh at the same joke 100 times, which is
> 98 times after most adults would want to hear it.

In-jokes can easily be done to death.  On the other hand, I'm
really looking forward to seeing Cardinal Paprika ascend to the
Holy See.  Now that's a man's Pope.

--Rob Rogers

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