Friday, April 9, 2010

Truth is Funnier Than Fiction...

... Really?

Last weekend, I was visiting family, and a neighbor knew I write humorous romance, so she decided to "help me" with a real-life plot. A male high school basketball coach - married - is having an affair with the married cheerleading coach (female) AND the married field hockey coach (female). All three are going through divorces (shocker), and the women each think he's going to move in with them. The situation is rife with public fighting, back-stabbing, name-calling - apparently, there is no honor among cheaters. Go figure.

There are other circumstances and other events in this story, but as I stood there listening to her, I thought, "She thinks this is funny?" And she did. She thought this was a great set-up for a romantic comedy.

Okaaaaaaaay... ?

A writer friend of mine who also writes humorous romance said to me that her editor wanted her to "funny things up" at certain points in her story for revision. "It's really hard to be funny on demand," said my friend. "As I'm writing, sure, that's when the ideas come, but in the editing process, it's like all the good jokes are used up and now I have to come up with more."

As we're talking about humor on this month's blog posts, I tried to think about what I could contribute. Yes, my stories are tongue-in-cheek humor, but I honestly don't try to be funny. I guess I naturally am (and my siblings would add "looking" after that "funny," but then, that's what siblings do). And like anything that works, why deconstruct it to figure it out? It works, be happy with that.

But I needed a blog post for today and since I can't tell you how to be funny (though I could offer a few suggestions for "funny-looking"...), I tried to figure out why that woman found the coaching love triangle funny.

I'm still trying.

So I looked to those who are known for being funny. Stand-up comics. What type of spin they'd put on it to make it funny.

I came up empty. Oh, I'm sure many of them could make that funny, but I don't identify that situation as having anything humorous whatsoever. There are kids involved, the community, people's reputations and professionalism... I'm just not seeing the funny.

I did, however, have a good time looking at what a few stand-up comics have made funny.

And you know what I found? What's tickled me most in comedians is how they take the the mundane, our every-day lives, something we all do, and they bring it out of obscurity and poke fun at it. The idiocies they point out make us laugh. More often than not at ourselves for not seeing the funny side to some of the stupid things we do, or even just the stuff we never even think about that maybe isn't so funny until they put their own spin on it.

I think that's the secret. Other than flat-out slapstick, I'd have to say that some of the funniest things are what we normally do - with the twist a comedian/comedienne puts on it. And you know me; I'm all about twists.

One of the quintessential examples for me is Bill Cosby. Pretty much anything the man does in a monologue is hysterical, and he's pulling that from real life. I have his album from the 70s(?) where he's talking about "Jeffrey" on the airplane. "Jeffrey, Jeffrey, Jeffrey." Jeffrey's climbing on the seat, Jeffrey's not sitting still, Jeffrey's whining... Doesn't sound funny as I write it, but when you hear the man deliver it, omg, hysterical! And the "Dad is great, gave us chocolate cake," routine really hits home as the mom comes down and sees that Dad gave the children chocolate cake for breakfast. Most of us would probably shake our husbands by the ears and say, "What are you thinking? Where's the nutrition? Now they're always going to want chocolate cake for breakfast!!!" Bill goes on to show that there are eggs and flour and butter in chocolate cake, so it's nutritious. I'm with him on that one. I love chocolate cake, and, heck, for breakfast? That'd really start my day off with a kick!

Jerry Seinfeld got nine seasons of laughs for his "show about nothing." It wasn't about nothing; it was about every day life and he poked fun at the mundane. My favorite episode (well, besides Master of Your Domain, which shall forever remain one of the BEST half hours ever), was the episode where they were waiting to be seated in a Chinese restaurant. Twenty-four minutes of them waiting to be seated. Looking at that idea on paper, it just shouldn't be funny, yet, omg, I was rolling on the floor! Why?

Because I could identify with it. See, Elaine is hungry. Starving. She needs to eat. And she loves Chinese food. I relate to that; I love food and when I'm hungry, I'm hungry. I especially love Chinese food.

So, they're standing there and the maitre d' is refusing to seat them (thanks, George...) and Elaine is about to expire from hunger pains. So Jerry offers her $25 to go over to a table of senior citizens, take an egg roll off someone's plate and eat it, without telling the diners why she's doing that.

I lost it when Elaine considered it, because at that time, I might have done it. Hungry, a bet, money, and food. Yep, I would definitely have considered it. (And if I had actually gone through with it, I would have bought the diner another one with that $25, but winning the bet would have been important, too.)

I know other people haven't found it as hysterical as me, but that's because I could relate to it. Something normal, ordinary--so ordinary who would even think to do this?--yet absolutely hysterical.

Then there's Everyone Loves Raymond. That show is nothing BUT every day life, but oh how we can all find something to relate to in that show.

To be more modern, what about Modern Family? Just extended family living their lives with real life situations. My whole family enjoys that show.

So, I go back to the Coaches' Love Triangle (there's a title): could there be a spin or twist to that set-up that would make it funny? Oh, definitely in the real-life way. I'm sure a comedian could have you rolling on the floor describing the situation, but as a plot for a romance, I'm going to have to go with a No. I can't identify with that situation in any way that makes it funny for me. There's no twist I could put on it to give someone a happily ever after.

But I'm sure George Carlin, were he still with us, could come up with something. After all, he's the guy who did the "7 Words You Can Never Say on Television" monologue--and I'm sure he'd use each and every one of those words.

So, to today's question: Favorite sitcoms and/or episodes?


  1. I loved the Mary Tyler Moore show. She was quirky and fun, and real. I remember thinking anytime we had a party, we hoped it wouldn't be a Mary Tyler Moore party. :)

  2. I loved MTM, too. I also liked the wacky comedy on Arrested Development, which I watched on DVDs.

    Great post. Those real-life stories that seem "perfect" for fiction -- I know what you mean about that. Some real-life scenarios would be nixed by an editor as too unrealistic!

  3. I really loved Scrubs (before most of the original cast left and they tried to add new characters)-- it had a great balanace of the absurd and the serious that worked.

    LOVE Modern Family; there is definitely something anyone and everyone can relate to on that show :)

  4. I like How I Met your Mother. I don't really have time to watch anything else.

    So funny how your friend wanted to help you with a plot. People do that to me all the time. But their plots are never historical romances.

  5. I like Prince of Belair. It cracked me up. Ordinary things and making fun of normal personality quirks. I still look for reruns when I want to laugh.

    I also like Everyone Love Raymond Jerry Seinfield.

    Oh I loved Bill Cosby. I still chuckle over his rendition of his wife having her baby and Breath, breath. His routines aren't as funny written down because the funny is all in the delivery.

    The coaches triangle...I can see where someone could play it funny, but it's not something I'd want to watch.

  6. Judi, I'm probably the only person who has never seen a Jerry Seinfeld episode. But I will still watch an episode of I love Lucy if I'm flipping through the channels and come across it. And I agree with you about the love triangle. I'd call that a horror story! :-)

  7. Good morning (she says, knee-deep in edits...)

    Terry and Libby - you know, MTM just didn't do it for me. I always found Mary's "Oh no Mr. Grant" too over-the-top for me. Do love Georgette, though - and I love her as Amy's mother on Everybody Loves Raymond with Fred Willard as the father. Perfect casting!

    Danielle - I missed Scrubs. There are only so many hours in the night time viewing window, and so many things to yank at my time.

    Shana - Again, I missed How I Met Your Mother, but as for people giving me plot ideas - I can't even conceive HOW to make that triangle a romance. Not one heroic person in the bunch, imo.

    Sia - OH!!! The "pull your bottom lip UP over your head," and "push 'em out, shove 'em out, waaaay out!" I can do that album verbatim, I think. Love it!!! Kids enjoyed the humor, too. "Drugs enhance your personality - yes, but what if you're an A**h***." Too funny! And really true!

    Amelia - oh, you HAVE to watch the Master of Your Domain episode of Seinfeld. I think it's a cultural requirement. It was just sooooo funny!

  8. I'm a big Seinfeld girl. I just love it. I think I caught every episode. One of my favorites was the Junior Mints in the operating room episode, OMG I just about peed my pants! Now I'm into NCIS and Top Gear (the only two shows I watch.) I love NCISs humor- it's so smart and Top Gear has me laughing so hard I cry during just about every episode.

  9. Great blog post!

    I can totally relate to feeling like a deer in the headlights when asked to be funny on command.

    Since my book deal was announced, I've had a number of people who read my blog ask if I'll come speak to their writers' groups. I think they have this idea that I'm really that funny in person, and I have to break it to them gently that I'm just not a stand-up comedienne.

    That Seinfeld episode is classic, BTW!


  10. I think I'd have to go with Barney Miller for funniest TV show, mainly because nursing humor and police humor are so similar. You have to find the humor in situations that would seem very un-funny to others.

  11. I really like Everybody Loves Raymond and Frazier. I haven't been able to get too much into the sitcoms on recently. I love Jeff Dunham, he totally cracks me up.

  12. I think you're right - funny is the everyday viewed slightly askew. I loved Arrested development.

  13. I'm a Seinfeld girl, too. Love his stand-up as well.
    I never liked Everybody Loves Raymond, though, because they fought too much. It stressed me out!
    I also loved Friends. It got to be too much of a soap opera after a while, but there was a sort of sweetness to the comedy that I liked in the first couple of seasons.

  14. I think Phineas and Ferb is hilarious (kids cartoon). Yeah, since I had kids I don't get to watch much "adult" TV anymore. No, I didn't mean "adult" like that!

  15. Sit-coms are rarely to my taste. This whole discussion of humor is making realize just how character driven I am.

    I rarely think any situation is funny in an of itself, I only think characters are. So yes, MTM would hit the top of the list. Right this minute I can't remember any episode (situation) but I never missed it, because the characters were priceless.

    As a North Carolinian, I must mention Mayberry RFD, which around here has NEVER gone off the air.
    Sitting here today I can still laugh at Barney spitting the p's and t's as he got more and more wound up, "You'll have to nip it in the bud. You must nip it, Andy! Nip it!"

    And I agree, there's nothing funny about the coach situation, but the title you gave it was. So there's a lesson there--though I don't know what it is.

  16. No surprise. The Addams Family and the Munsters are a couple faves of mine.

    All Morticia had to do was speak French to Gomez and he was putty in her hands.

    Then Lurch was priceless as was Grandpa in The Munsters and Spot, the dragon under the stairs.

  17. My favorite sitcom right now is Cougar Town. Surprises a laugh out of me every few minutes.
    And, yes, Cosby is a classic!
    Great post as usual, Judi!