by Ellen Buikema
Humor is an interesting concept. The goal is to be funny, but responses may differ. What makes some people laugh out loud may make others cringe.
In part two of the series on how to write comedy, we’ll take on verbal comedy—the art of comedic dialogue. Check here for Part 1, Physical Comedy.
One of the most common forms of verbal humor, a pun, is a play on words, multiple meanings, or a word of like sound but different meaning, used to make the joke.
An innuendo is an indirect hint, drawing attention to an alternative meaning.
The speaker seems innocent, although not always, and it’s up to the listener to make sense of the words. The second meaning, often achieved through a pun, is intentional.
The multitalented Mae West was known for her sexual innuendos.
Damon Knight’s short story, To Serve Man, provides another example of double meaning. The tale begins with a group of aliens coming to Earth with a book called “To Serve Man.” Everyone is thrilled that the aliens want to serve them, believing this means they wish to perform services for them. But the book turns out to be a cookbook—the aliens’ plan is to serve man for dinner. Gruesome!
Mixed metaphors are the delightfully funny result of combining well-known clichés.
This metaphor blends two clichés: “talk until the cows come home” and “talk until we are blue in the face.” Both mean to talk for a long time without agreeing.
Here are some politically inspired mixed metaphors.
Here are examples of Mixed Metaphor Examples, How to Write, Tips
A paraprosdokian is a figure of speech where the last word, phrase, or sentence causes the reader or listener to reinterpret the earlier part.
The unexpected ending of a paraprosdokian creates comic effects, a linguistic U-turn. One example is the one-liner, a statement ending with a surprise. The two-part one-liner is a simple setup with a payoff joke:
“Trin Tragula – for that was his name – was a dreamer, a thinker, a speculative philosopher or, as his wife would have it, an idiot…” The Restaurant at the End of the Universe - Douglas Adams
“Contemporary man, of course, has no such peace of mind. He finds himself in the midst of a crisis of faith. He is what we fashionably call ‘alienated.’ He has seen the ravages of war, he has known natural catastrophes, he has been to singles bars.” My Speech to the Graduates - Woody Allen
Regarding standup comedy, timing may not be everything, but it is an essential part of verbal comedy. Standup comedians develop routines, practice in front of audiences, and adjust as needed. A bit like a recipe.
They don’t want to rush into a punchline because people need a moment to be ready for the full impact of your surprise ending. If they are too slow, people may lose interest or get distracted. Knowing where to put the starts, stops, and pauses makes good performances. Think of the series The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel—fantastic timing.
My editor once asked, well actually asked several times, for me to slow down some scenes. I wasn’t giving the reader enough time to be satisfied and fully appreciate the events.
The following can help with timing:
A little humor goes a long way.
Find funny-sounding synonyms.
A popular humor writing technique based on the setup and punchline formula begins with two “straight” items, with a surprise twist third. This technique can consist of a list of three words, phrases, or sentences.
The more extreme the exaggeration, the better.
We probably won’t become comedy writers overnight. But we can use these techniques to create comedic dialogue.
Do you use verbal comedy in your writing? Who is your favorite comedian? What, in your opinion, makes good comedy?
* * * * * *
Author, speaker, and former teacher, Ellen L. Buikema has written non-fiction for parents, and The Adventures of Charlie Chameleon chapter book series with stories encouraging the development of empathy—sprinkling humor wherever possible. Her Works in Progress are The Hobo Code, YA historical fiction and The Crystal Key, MG Magical Realism/ Sci-Fi, a glaze of time travel.
Copyright © 2023 Writers In The Storm - All Rights Reserved