If you’re writing something with “serious” themes, you might be wary of putting anything even slightly comedic in your work. A badly-timed sarcastic comment could easily undermine what you’re trying to get across – right? But in truth, all fiction no matter how dark can benefit from a smidge of laughter – or at least a wry grin.
Are some things just not funny?
There are some topics that on the face of it, seem impossible to use in a comedic way and may be considered offensive if you tried. But some would argue that people find humour in all aspects of life, and so it follows that art must too. “Catch-22” lampoons war, “A Clockwork Orange” has brutally dark themes and even darker humour, and “Matilda” is very funny yet includes a fair amount of what constitutes child abuse – and it’s a children’s book! So whilst I wouldn’t say everything is up for comedic grabs, where there’s life, there’s humour.
It ain’t what you do it’s the way that you do it
“Matilda” gets away with what it does because of how absurd it is. Miss Trunchbull and Matilda’s parents are outlandish, verging on caricature, so it’s clear to the reader that they’re not to be taken seriously. Nevertheless, Dahl recognises that, no matter how ridiculous they behave, they’ll be believed and trusted simply because they’re adults. A good lesson for young and old readers alike.
How you include humour in your story will be the big factor in whether it works or not. If the situation itself is not to be ridiculed, consider the characters involved. Humans are good at finding the funny even in the most dire of situations – just ask a doctor. We have to be to actually keep feeling human. So let your characters react in the same way.
Humour and Sadness – a killer combination
Without getting too morbid, the suffering of the comedy relief has created some of the most poignant moments in fiction. Consider Mercutio in “Romeo and Juliet”. The witty, joyus friend of Romeo, cruelly cut down in a conflict he wasn’t even part of. It’s become a classic, possibly even cliched, way to make your audience cry – and motivate the main character. But you don’t need to off your comedy characters to bring forth emotion (as I said it’s getting cliched at this point). Giving them a more serious side can be a solid way to bring weight to an event or theme – even more so than your brooding hero or heroine getting all well, broody.
What do you think? How do you include humour in what you write? Please share in the comments.