Thursday, July 23, 2009

Why People Laugh

When I write humor stories, it is interesting to me to see which people laugh at what stories. What fascinates me is that one person can think a situation is hilarious and can hardly breathe because they are laughing so hard, while the next person will just chuckle, or not laugh at all. Why is that? I think it is because each of us come from so many unique circumstances and backgrounds that it depends upon your experience and personality whether something is funny or not. And what is funny to you, may be dumb to someone else.

That is why it is so hard to write humor. Many humorists will admit that they don't know how they do it. They just write on instinct. Dave Barry once said that even though he is basically an expert at humor, if his wife doesn't laugh at what he's written, that means he's failed...even though he knows more about what makes people laugh than she does. But there are some tricks that all humorists know that help them to write in the "laughter zone".

Psychologists have identified certain emotions that spark laughter: surprise and feelings of superiority. People laugh when you surprise them with something that is ridiculous but true. Also people love to laugh at heroes and heroines who are clumsy or naive. The reader thinks it's funny because he knows better than the hero. That is why so many humorists joke about themselves. Because they know that people will laugh when they feel superior.

There are other reasons that have also been identified for laughter which I have taken from the book Comedy Writing Secrets by Mel Helitzer, which is my favorite humor writing bible.

1. We laugh out of instinct
2. We laugh at incongruity
3. We laugh out of ambivalence
4. We laugh for release
5. We laugh when we solve a puzzle
6. We laugh to regress

The next time you are reading something that makes you laugh, examine your reasons for laughing. Is it out of surprise or because you feel superior...or one of the other reasons on the list? Write your observations in a journal. As you continue to analyze what's funny and what's not and why, it will help you develop your own style of humor and you will begin to unlock the secret to making people laugh.

Kersten Campbell,
Author of "Confessions of a Completely Insane Mother"
humor blog: