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BrainPick What is humor?

#1
I planned ask you all for ideas on where to submit my short fiction, which I think of as humorous or at least fun to read. But those words cover a vast territory. Gag writers work hard to produce monologues for late-night TV hosts that will elicit laughter from the audience. That's one end of the scale. At the other end is someone like Kurt Vonnegut. His stuff is funny, but is he a writer of humor? To label him as such not suffice. There’s a wide space between the gag and Cats Cradle. So when I ask: “I write (humor). Where do you think I should submit it?" What can I put in those parentheses that will allow someone to intelligently answer my question? Is there a list somewhere, a more are less standard list, of types of literary humor?
 
#2
Great question. I've just finished rereading The Hunchback of Notre Dame, which is a tragedy in so many ways, and ends badly for almost every character in the book. And yet, I found myself chuckling again and again at Hugo's wry, dark humour that weaves through the awful events in the book.

So, sorry, I don't have an answer. People say I'm funny in person, but I don't write or read humour, so I've got no sense of the market at all.
 
#3
I think humour as a label attaches itself to lots of other literary genres. There is a lot of humour/romance intersection and, I think, a fair deal of humour/crime. Humour/travel writing is also a big thing - just think of Bill Bryson or Nigel Barley.

Maybe you should identify by other genres in which you think your stories are a good fit, and then add the "with humour" where needed.
 
#4
I planned ask you all for ideas on where to submit my short fiction, which I think of as humorous or at least fun to read. But those words cover a vast territory. Gag writers work hard to produce monologues for late-night TV hosts that will elicit laughter from the audience. That's one end of the scale. At the other end is someone like Kurt Vonnegut. His stuff is funny, but is he a writer of humor? To label him as such not suffice. There’s a wide space between the gag and Cats Cradle. So when I ask: “I write (humor). Where do you think I should submit it?" What can I put in those parentheses that will allow someone to intelligently answer my question? Is there a list somewhere, a more are less standard list, of types of literary humor?
Satire. Parody. Farce. These are some of the words wordsmiths use to describe humorous writing. I’m sure there are more. I didn’t go to the trouble of visiting thesaurus.com for the purposes of this response.
 
#5
Humour is so complex a part of human communication, that analysing it feels a bit like dissecting a live frog to understand how it works—you separate the components, but kill the frog in the process.

Making someone smile or laugh is one of the most effective ways of communicating, for even with differences in language, visual comedy creates a bridge...and that needn't be a banana peel prat fall, for something as simple as a facial expression forms empathy. One theory of humour says that we laugh at what we fear, which is both a sign of nervousness and the resilience of the human spirit; it explains all of the jokes about cock size, sexual activity, foreigners and the ultimate killjoy—death!

Humour in a group is altered by it being a social interaction—because the people surrounding us are laughing, we laugh—even if we're not sure of why something is funny. We've joined hive mind, and our laughter is a mild form of hysteria. This is relevant when you consider what we do as writers, for reading is a solitary activity. Sure, you may read a review of a humorous book that encourages you to seek it out, but the author still needs to tickle your funny bone in a way that you relate to. Short of telling one joke after another, piling up witticisms, written humour is dependent on situational comedy—how the characters relate to one another—what misunderstandings they have.

What one person finds funny, another will be offended by. In this way, humour can separate people, rather than being a unifying force. Just think of some of the spiteful jokes told about tragedies, normally labelled 'black humour'. I've had to address this issue in my crime novels, where the detectives, doctors, nurses, pathologist and coroner deal with horrendously violent and tragic injuries and deaths—sometimes using tasteless jokes as a way of easing the tension.

As comedy film director Mel Brooks said: "Humor is just another defense against the universe."
 
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