Humour – The Rubber Chicken Factor of Funny
This is an old article I rediscovered from 2005 I had submitted for a laugh to Keenspace Monthly, the monthly newsletter for Keenspace that lasted about six editions. I thought maybe it was worth reposting here all these years later.
If you’re writing a humourous comic, then humour plays a big part in the widespread success and appeal of your piece of work. Without humour, your humourous comic is simply an -ous comic, and no one reads those, eh? But what is humour, and how can it be measured within your comic? And will everybody appreciate it when you put it in?
This article doesn’t claim to answer this question comprehensively. It only claims to suggest a few ways to tackle the problem. You want comprehensive, check out the wiki.
The dictionary defines humour, depending more or less on the specific dictionary you’ve managed to lay your hands on, as ‘a message whose ingenuity or verbal skill or incongruity has the power to evoke laughter‘. A lot of big words in there for something that basically says ‘it makes you laugh‘. Next time I look for a decent definition I’ll stick to the good old Macquarie Junior Dictionary. If it’s not in there then kids aren’t likely to need to know it, so I don’t need to worry about teaching it.
Also, the definitions are easier to understand and don’t use big words.
Let’s just stick with the layman’s definition that humour is what ‘makes us laugh‘ and work from there. If something makes us laugh, smile, chuckle or feel at the very least mildly amused then we can safely say it is humourous. The problem here is…is there a universally accepted form of humour?
Let’s cut a long story short and say ‘no’. There’s no joke in the world that is going to appeal to everybody. There’s no joke in the country (whichever you may be residing in at the moment) that everyone is going to find funny. When you come right down to it, there aren’t all that many jokes in the world that will appeal to all of the people in your street. I guess it’s sort of like ordering pizza for an under-tens basketball team. Some kids want Hawaiian, some kids want Supreme, the coach is adamant he wants Meatlover’s because his wife isn’t home tonight to complain about the smell, and no bugger wants the little salty fish.
So what are you going to do about it? What sort of humour is involved in webcomics to make them attract a readership? How can you measure the amount of humour in your comic without having to cut it up like a badly cooked pizza so that everybody gets to take a bite?
Let’s cut the long story short again, eh? You can’t. Ask the most vocal people in the industry and they’ll give you the impression that if you try to appeal to everybody you end up boring and stuck in the funny pages in some syndicated newspaper making lots of money. Who wants that, eh?
Is there a way to actually measure that abstract state known as ‘funny‘? In the absence of any better device, I give to you the rubber chicken. A rubber chicken doesn’t need anything to make it funny, it just is. I give the rubber chicken a funny factor of 1. Therefore, the funny of anything else can be measured in rubber chickens. Look at a rubber chicken and you’ll feel inside you the funny value of 1. Read a comic to yourself and you’ll also feel inside you a certain funny value. Compare this amount of funny to the rubber chicken, and you have that comic’s funny value in rubber chickens. Easy, eh?
Now, back to the problem. Humour…what is it and how does it relate to your comic on the web?
I’m going to go back to the dictionary on this one to perhaps find an answer to what sort of humour seems to work best for webcomics. Here’s another definition of the word ‘humour‘, although this one’s a little old. Medieval old, in fact. In medieval times humour was defined as ‘one of the four fluids in the body whose balance was believed to determine your emotional and physical state; “the humors are blood and phlegm and yellow and black bile”‘. Well, for me, that explains a lot of the humour in webcomics today.
Blood. Apparently one way to make people laugh is violence. Apparently, the more random and violent the better. Right. We’ve all seen comics that take that path.
Phlegm. Ah…the old yucky assortments of bodily fluids. Right. I’ll leave this one alone, we’ve all seen strips resort to these sorts of jokes.
Yellow and black bile. Okay. Crude, offensive and generally unhealthy yucky stuff that tends to shock you when you see it brought up in front of you. Yep. We’ve all seen plenty of this example too, eh?
Hmm…maybe those old farts in robes were onto something back then…
Back to the problem. How to make your comic humourous and appealing to a large number of people. Here are the generally accepted things to do to fit in with the great big crowd…
Include any amount of these things for quirky fun; zombies, ninjas, demons, ridiculously stupid characters, jokes in really bad taste, violence (the more random the better), drunkenness, making famous people or corporations, etc, appear stupid (Down Here we have a name for it, the Tall Poppy Sydrome, where you try to cut down those who’ve become successful) and some bloke called Cthulhu. Notice something? Yep. They’re all pretty well considered cliches too.
But somehow they seem to still work. Buggered if I know how, eh?
All of the above seem to have their own scale of funny, or their own number of rubber chickens. At least, to a good range of people, zombies, ninjas, demons and that big feller called Cthulhu seem to all have ample rubber chickens to go around. Why is this so?
It seems that, in the current demographic climate of the industry (a term used loosely because industry implies everybody’s making some sort of money out of it), the vast demand are in the form of young adolescents and very young adults. The above themes seem to appeal to this demographic, so their rubber chicken rating is considered quite high when used properly. Humour evolving from nostalgic events, old fashioned approaches and more thought provoking instances and jokes don’t seem to have the same rubber chicken rating. Perhaps that is to do with the overwhelming age of the demographic? Maybe in the future the rubber chicken ratings of the above will fall as the demographic grows older?
Who’s to know for sure what will be considered funny a few years from now?
One thing’s for certain though.
A rubber chicken will always be a rubber chicken!