I won’t lie. When I was a kid, I would spend mornings popping in DvDs of episodes from The Three Stooges and Tom & Jerry. A few minutes in, I would be holding my stomach and shaking my head with laughter. My mom would often pop her head into her living room, getting a kick out of the hysterics.
Like anyone else, I’m fond of a good laugh, and even today, I’m easily amused. That’s why I enjoy watching stand-up comedy, and it just so happens that comedians teach a hidden literary lesson while they’re cutting up on stage. It’s the potent 1-2 combination of humor and truth.
Everyone laughs at witty or snarky jokes, but what draws an audience in is when a comic captures a truth about human nature that we can all relate to. For instance, John Crist, a stand up comedian who was a pastor’s kid and one of eight children, has a bit about fellow churchgoers coming to him with ridiculous prayer requests (watch here).
The reason why bits like these are effective is that 1) comedians often speak from direct experience, 2) that direct experience means they have funny material to draw from, and 3) the material gives him/her an ability to combine an experience with humor, wit, and a dash of irreverence.
Comics have to be excellent storytellers, because during a set, they constantly have to shift their jokes and storylines to keep the audience laughing. There’s nothing more hilarious than a comic who tells a short stories and packs it with hilarious jokes at every step.
Essentially, stand up comedy is similar to the oral traditions of ancient peoples who would pass on stories to each generation.
Sound familiar? Writers can have a similar effect with their readers, because that’s part of the reason why we read in the first place: to hear a good story, to acquire some sort of deeper meaning (whether implicitly or explicitly), and to maybe laugh along the way.
Humor can work in writing as well, regardless of subject. As a writer, you may not be crafting joke after joke, but the style of narration and character dialogue are excellent spots to insert humor.
There have been times I’ve read a paragraph in a novel or nonfiction work, and cracked up, feeling like an idiot for laughing at a line in a book.
Humor brings depth to characters and humanizes them in our eyes. Comedy can break the tension in a plot, get characters into trouble, or introduce a new storyline. Whatever path you take, humor is a powerful tool to win over your audience and develop your storytelling ability.
Now I want to go watch an episode of The Three Stooges just like the old days…
Author’s Note: This post is part of an ongoing series of articles that will chart the progress I’m making on writing a short story. The story will be part of a larger Geneva College project in which students from Dr. Williams’s ENG 344 Publishing compile their short stories into a published collection for the campus. Check us out on Facebook under “Geneva Inklings.”
Kevin Cochrane is a writer and college student. Like what you read? Follow him on Twitter @RunFree_KC, find him on Facebook, or click the follow button at the bottom of the page to get Town Crier’s latest updates. Want to read more? Visit his blog at restandrefuge.wordpress.com which offers a Christian perspective on the surrounding culture. You can contact him with comments or questions at firstname.lastname@example.org.