There’s no denying humor is subjective. One person finds fart jokes hilarious (that would be Ellen) while someone else (well, everyone else) finds them puerile. So, how do we who purport to be “mystery writers with a killer sense of humor” determine what’s funny and what’s not – for ourselves and for our readers?
Uh-oh. I’m the first Chick listed here and I don’t think I have an actual answer to this, even if there are no “wrong” answers. (Please keep reading, my coop-mates have plenty of great responses!) Personally, I’m a big fan of flat-out, ridiculous humor (the movie Stepbrothers? Never get sick of it), but I find that my writing humor leans toward the pointed. When I see multiple exclamation points (often preceded by “ouch”) in my agent’s margin notes, I know I have to tone down some poor character’s bad attitude. Actually, it is my poor attitude, but…I’m working on it!
I have to trust that if I find something funny, at least a couple of other people will too. Where I have to be careful is with inappropriate humor. I spent a career working in sitcom writers’ rooms where there was no such thing as “too soon.” No matter what disaster or tragedy befell, jokes would fly within a day, if not sooner. And the scatological jokes! I’d share expressions I learned in the room with my husband that made his jaw drop. He once said, “I played ice hockey in high school and college. I spent a lot of time in locker rooms. and I’ve never heard the language you bring home.”
This year, Left Coast Crime was my first live con in two years, and I was out of practice with self-editing. I let a couple of whoppers slip into my panel convos and I could see eyebrows raised from the distance between our podium and the audience. Luckily, when it comes to my books, I have layers of editors policing me. But if I disagree and think a joke is worth the risk of a reader’s raised eyebrow, I’ll fight for it. I’ll also fight for jokes I know in my heart are funny, even if some readers may think otherwise.
I have to say that I generally depend on myself in this regard: If, when reading over what I’ve written, I myself laugh–or even crack a smile–then I deem it funny enough to stay in the book. Because ultimately, I’m writing for myself. If I’m not happy with it, then I figure no one else will be.
But at the same time, I do my best not to offend folks. And in that regard, if in doubt, I may ask my wife, Robin–who is not easily offended–to take a look at what I’ve written. If SHE finds it to be too much, then I know I have a problem. But here’s hoping you all appreciate a bit of snark, because that’s what I do best: snarky cozies! (With a lot of food.)
The funny thing about being funny: it’s seriously hard to be all things to all people. And that’s 1000% okay.
Although I joke about someone having the “wrong” sense of humor if they don’t think Monty Python is hilarious or fail to see that Mindy Kaling is a national treasure, this subjectivity is a beautiful thing. We’re all different, right down to what makes us chortle—or cringe. When I write, I focus on the things that seem universally-ish funny: awkward situations, good natured quips, the occasional prat fall or not-so-occasional gaffe. I believe that humor is human and connects us, even when it’s a different flavor than our typical taste. After all, there’s not much better than sharing a smile—unless it’s a laugh.
Personally, I don’t worry too much about it. My books don’t really lend themselves to biting political or religious satire, so that kind of stuff has never been an issue. However, if it fit the situation, I’d always serve the story using a character with a sarcastic or pointed comment. Typically, if I find something funny or absurd, my readers will too. And if they don’t, well, I don’t know what because nobody has ever mentioned it! Usually I hear from readers that they think my books are as funny as I do. Ha! I’ve never taken myself too seriously and I tend to find humor everywhere, so in my personal life I’m less restrained. I’ve had the occasional dour, self-righteous person get their undies in a bunch over something I’ve said, but people who get me really GET me and it’s never a big deal. Not to me, anyway, since it seems plenty of people really GET me. I grew up in a funny, loud, opinionated family, so if my jokes bug anyone, I suspect that’s their problem rather than mine. That said, like Ellen, I love a good fart joke and my potty-mouth only gets worse the older I get.
Honestly, I’m selfish. I try to make myself laugh or snort or whatever. At least I know I’ll be amused when I revisit my work. I mean, I also go to my critique group and editor(s) for second opinions. Humor is so subjective, though, that I’m happy whenever people tell me they laughed out loud while reading one of my books.
P.S. Witty wordplay, puns, and goofiness tickle my funny bone.
Readers, what makes you laugh? Is there a type of humor you’re partial to?