Chick Chat: Funny or not funny? Hmm…

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?

Lisa Q. Mathews

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! 

 Ellen Byron

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.

Vickie Fee

When I’m writing a funny scene or some humorous dialogue, I can only go by what’s funny to me. Sometimes when I’m writing, especially in the middle of the night, I crack myself up. If it doesn’t seem quite as funny by the light of day, it has to go. But usually the real test is how it holds up — for me. If it still makes me laugh by the time I get to serious edits — after I’ve read the manuscript dozens of times, it gets to stay in the book. UNLESS, it’s interrupting the action or throwing a scene off pace. Those are the hardest bits for me to let go of — the ones that I still find really funny, but don’t feel they support the pace and impact of a scene overall. Usually I manage to bite the bullet and delete those chuckles, when I believe it is best for the book. When I say “delete,” I mean I take them out of the manuscript, but copy and save them to a folder of deleted scenes just in case I have a change of heart!

Leslie Karst

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.)

Kathleen Valenti

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.

Becky Clark

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.

Jennifer Chow

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?

30 thoughts on “Chick Chat: Funny or not funny? Hmm…

  1. I like watching funny animal videos, mostly cats. Every now and then I like to read a book that is laugh out loud funny, Diane Kelly and Janet Evanovich come to mind. Laughter is the best medicine.

    Liked by 5 people

    1. Queen, all the Chicks crack me up, natch! I’m a fan of Diane and Janet — and Libby, too! Among humorous cozy writers, I also very much enjoy Duffy Brown’s books.


  2. I’m a huge fan of Monty Python and Mel Brooks humor, and I like dry English wit. Now that my grandson is old enough to crack jokes, I’ve discovered I can laugh at potty humor, too. 🙂

    Liked by 5 people

  3. I totally agree! I’m always arguing for humor to be as respected as drama in our own mystery community and I’ll say, imagine a world WITHOUT laughter. I’m still fighting this battle. I’ll never know why people think drama is “better.”

    Liked by 5 people

  4. This is a good article. I totally agree with humor. That’s what gets me through scary times.
    Like making jokes when the dc sniper was at large. Wasn’t about to let him scare me from leaving the house, so I was out and about, making fun of every white van I saw. Inappropriate, but that’s how I deal.
    My favorite humor is reactions to scary, off the wall, or just plain old serious stuff. Currently reading a mystery where the old adage of someone having a stick up their butt. But it was said in proper, 1930s, British (not American) wording. Funny as s#^t to me.
    And Ellen, I have a magnet on the fridge that says “you are never to old to laugh at farts”. I think that applies to fart jokes as well.

    Liked by 4 people

  5. Like Mary, I’m a fan of dry, British humor. I love the humor in Ellen’s Cajun Country stories and the combination of subtle and over the top humor of Schitt’s Creek.

    Liked by 5 people

    1. J.C, thank you so much! I’m proud to say that my husband Jer and I were ahead of the curve in two humor sitchs. One was Schitt’s Creek. I saw the OG ads for it and said, Eugene Levy and Catherine O’Hara?! Yes, please! The second? I’ve watched SNL since the night it debuted and I’m trying to remember when I’ve laughed louder than the “More Cowbell” sketch. It took a while for the rest of the world to catch up with us on both scores!

      Liked by 3 people

      1. I have to be honest, Ellen. The first time I watched Schitt’s Creek, I stopped after 4 episodes. The second time around is when I fell in love.
        And really, is there any musical piece that can’t be improved with more cowbell? I think not! 😉

        Liked by 3 people

  6. I am an unabashed fan of slapstick — the Marx brothers, the Three Stooges and Laurel and Hardy were my heroes growing up, and still are. As far as what goes into my books, it’s all character-driven. Natalie McMasters has been known to piss people off, with her opinions as well as her humor. C’est la vie!

    Liked by 4 people

  7. I remember my dad telling me that his mom LOVED Lucille Ball. She’d tuck her feet up under her on the couch and laugh so hard she couldn’t breathe. He wasn’t much of a fan of Lucy, but he quite enjoyed watching Grandma’s show!

    I find humor in most things and I’m truly baffled when people take themselves so seriously. Life is short, and without humor it’s also unbearable.

    Liked by 5 people

  8. I love word play/pun humor/banter, that kind of thing. I also enjoy physical comedy, which is much harder to get into a book. I’m not much for gross out humor, and I often cringe when we are supposed to laugh at people making fools of themselves, however.

    Liked by 4 people

  9. I have been enjoying President Zelenskyy’s TV show “Servant of the People.” Because of his role entertaining people through comedy, some did not take him seriously as a leader. Who’s laughing now?

    Liked by 1 person

  10. Late to the show here, as I’m without wifi for most of the weekend (horrors!). I too love dry, British humor–Oscar Wilde, Noël Coward, Frasier, and the like. Not a big fan of slapstick (The Three Stooges? No thank you!), but it can be brilliant when well done (Noises Off–yes!).

    Liked by 1 person

  11. Love all the Chicks’ humorous books, every author mentioned above, and more! Basically just want to spend my life reading/watching humorous books/films/plays/shows. Schitt’s Creek is one of the best shows I’ve seen in forever–totally agree. Watched when it first came out and then when we were locked down, went back all the way through again. It has my heart, completely.

    Liked by 1 person

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