What makes humor humorous?

Humor can be difficult.  There is such a wide range of humor and what people find to be funny, it is difficult to pin down a concrete set of rules to go by.  While that is true, it is also true that there are things that more people will find funny than others.  I believe the root of successful humor is reality.  Something we find funny is usually an exaggeration of reality.

I recently wanted an episode of “The Last Man on Earth” a show which I felt has gone downhill since last year.  However, the last episode my wife and I saw came across as no where near the realm of funny but down right absurd.  Now I’m not going to give away spoilers or details, but it came across to us as 4th-6th grade humor.  I’m sure the comedy displayed on the show appealed to someone out there.  After all it is still airing new episodes.  For me it was so wildly sophomoric that I thought it was dumb and the furthest thing from funny.

This had me thinking about humor.  As authors we need to convey a range of literary elements, and humor is one of them.  When it comes to comedy, sometimes creativity doesn’t reign supreme.  Instead, how funny something is has to do with reliability.   We see the world through the lens of experience.  Of course, not all experiences are relatable, and thus where the differences in tastes lies.  That is okay, but when “comedy” crosses the line into implausibility and absurdity, that is when it becomes immature.

This is why over-reliance on fart jokes for a movie geared towards adults is typically frowned upon.  Farting can be funny, but adults don’t relate to the idea that every fart is funny like a child would.  For us writers, we must keep this in mind when we include comedic scenes.  Not all my find our attempts at humor funny, but we should at least aim for the situation to be as relatable as possible.

How Dare Book Adaptions be Different!

Ever notice how book adaptions, either movies or television, differ greatly from their source?  This happens so often that if a television series or film does stick close to the book they are based on it is incredibly rare.  Most people know this, however there is almost always universal outrage when a film dares to take liberties with the story.  Why is that?  Why are people surprised by this?

When we read a book, we set up certain expectations for the story.  Things look and feel slightly different in the story for each reader.  This individual experience creates an emotional bond with the characters and world created within the book.  That’s perfectly fine and to be expected if the author did his or her job correctly.  When the story is adapted into another medium there are changes and inevitably some people become disappointed.  Disappointment isn’t bad, and some adaptions of stories are indeed subpar.  I feel the constant backlash and surprise when an adaption differs is silly.  Film is a different medium than books.  A movie or television series due to the very means in which they tell a story must differ from a book or comic.

A book’s job is to show, not tell, to be descriptive while allowing room for the imagination to fill in the blank as much as possible.  A film still needs to show, but relies much less on imagination than a book.  Subtle details are impossible to avoid in a movie and on top of that it must hold the viewers’ attentions and leave them with wanting more.  Sometimes, the source material doesn’t go very deep due to its target audience and film makers want to flesh out one-dimensional characters.  The movies may not succeed at their goal, but I can acknowledge their intent.

The Hobbit films are often criticized as terrible adaptions.  It is a trilogy of movies based off a short novel written for children.  There are quite a few deviations from the book, the same can be said of the Lord of the Rings movies as well though, which are not criticized nearly as much.  This isn’t about defending The Hobbit films, I respect why people don’t like them.  They are a perfect illustration for my point.  They are films that are very different from the book they were based on.  The book was written before The Lord of the Rings and had a very different feel to it.  The elves were silly, the goblins were less-than threatening, and you have talking animals.  The entire tone changed so much with its sequel that it leaves quite a bit of continuity errors.  I adore Tolkien, but the explanation that Bilbo wrote the first book and Frodo wrote the sequels is something I’m familiar with.  I feel that is a weak explanation.  The Hobbit films tried to rectify that in some areas, some of which I feel they did a good job, while others not so much.  Whether someone agrees or disagrees with me is fine, but anyone would have to admit there are more factors going into the disappointment The Hobbit films wrought than merely not being true to their source.  These films made a bold decision to draw out the story longer than it was, and show other sides to characters, and because it didn’t meet many people’s standards they are maligned.

Perhaps we need to stop being so surprised when film makers take liberties?  Movies and Television are different means of telling stories, and we should expect as much.  The option is always to stick with books because they are generally better than any adaption anyway due to their ability to go deeper and not be constrained to a certain time frame.