Tuesday, August 21, 2007

What a Novelty Band Can Teach Us About Humor

If you watch The Flight of the Conchords, you know there's a whole lot we can learn about humor from the show. I'll concentrate on just two points here.

First, for anyone who hasn't seen the silliest, goofiest, craziest and most entertaining show ever to make its way through that huge labyrinth of cables in the ground, Flight of the Conchords is a half-hour comedy on HBO about two New Zealanders trying to hit the big time as a novelty rock band in New York. The show has engaging characters, excellent writing and very funny storylines. Best of all, the two main characters break out in song for no apparent reason at random intervals. Nothing I can write here will do the show justice, so suffice to say, it's hilarious. If you have HBO on Demand, I encourage you to check it out ASAP. If you do not have HBO, don't despair ... I am guessing the full first season will come out on DVD at some point. (BTW, I found out today the show has been picked up for a second season ... yay!)

Now, introductions complete, let's get on with the Humor Lessons. (Did I mention the show is funny?) Here is how we can introduce humor into our writing:

1. Turn common conceptions and stereotypes on their heads. The show does this a fair amount. My favorite example: the episode where Bret meets a girl whose only interest in him is, er, physical. The show takes all of our guys-who-use-girls-for-sex- and-girls-who-go-along-in-the-hopes-of- fostering -a-lasting-relationship stereotypes and turn them around. You want funny? Take two guys and have them sing a song whose main chorus is, "A kiss is not a contract. But it's very nice. Yes, it's very, very nice." Great stuff.

2. Create one or two comical supporting characters. Sure, our main character(s) can and should have a sense of humor. But our supporting characters can be comical. We can have fun with this, giving these characters a "schtick" readers can easily grasp onto. The best FOTC examples are Murray, a tourism director from New Zealand who moonlights as the band's manager, and Mel, their only fan. Murray is well meaning but clueless. At one point, he advises Bret and Jemain on the dangers of the streets of New York. I don't remember the exact quote, but he says something along the lines of, "I tell all of our tourists that New York is a dangerous place. They should wear reflective vests, and avoid large crowds by taking back alleys. And yet, nearly every day, a New Zealander is mugged in New York." And Mel? Mel also is well meaning but is, well, kind of a creepy psycho stalker.

Of course, unless a story is intended to be over-the-top funny, as is Flight of the Conchords, we may need to dial back a bit on these techniques. But used in proper doses, I think they can take humor to new levels in our writing.


Anonymous said...

Thanks for your nice note on the blue boards!!


LindaBudz said...

Sure, Heidi! Thanks for stopping by, and congrats again on landing a publisher! Can't wait to read it!

Leslie said...

I love this show. It's especially fun to walk around afterwards speaking in a "New Zealand" accent--which is too easy to pick up after one viewing!

LindaBudz said...

I know exactly what you mean, mate. You mean, like, "Throw another shrimp on the barbie."

Oh, wait, that's Australia. My bad!


Danette Haworth said...

Good advice, especially number one. When writing romance, I think your number one point is essential in coming up with something fresh. Too many romances depend on the traditional elements.

One on-screen romance that turned things upside down is an old Katherine Hepburn movie. Oh my gosh, what was that old movie? (I love B&W movies and had time to watch them when I was in college. Best rainy days of my life.) Spencer Tracey was in this movie, of course, and KH played a golfer, a woman of all sports, and ST was her manager.

Come to think of it, many of KT's movies turned the notion of the traditional woman (of that time) upside down. No wonder so many women liked her!

LindaBudz said...

Katherine was terrific, wasn't she? I'll bet she'd have been a big FOTC fan!