What Is Funny?

TommySeriously, Modern Philosophers, I’m looking for an answer to the question posed in the title of this post.

After writing monologue jokes all day yesterday, I’m about to get back to work at writing more.  Somewhere along the line, I think I lose track of what’s funny.

Which led me to the Deep Thought that we all have different senses of humor.

Since I don’t have much time to come up with a creative new post tonight, I thought it was time for a Philosophical Assignment for the group.

What’s funny to you?  What makes you laugh?  Do you find your sense of humor changes?  Do you write to your sense of humor or your audience’s?

Getting philosophical on this topic led me to think about the scene in Goodfellas where  Joe Pesci seems to lose his temper when Ray Liotta tells him he’s funny, and he launches into his famous “Funny like a clown?” monologue.

clowns-2Does anyone really think clowns are funny?  Be honest.

I’m always intrigued by what posts on this blog are more popular.  Since it’s a humor blog, logic dictates that the posts that get read more are the ones that readers find to be funnier.

Of course, this Modern Philosopher knows that isn’t the most sound logic, but for the sake of argument, let’s accept that it is correct.

My post about how to tell if your date plans to kill you was the most popular one on the blog last week.

Was that funny because I chose a topic that was absurd, but then presented it like was honest, well-thought out fact?  Did people find it funny because they had bad dating experiences and they could relate to the humor?  Was it funny because people think dating sucks, and I said things they only wish they had said about bad dates?  Was the absurdity of it all what made it funny?

I think the Sunday Rejects posts best illustrate my confusion as to what makes something funny.  In my mind, the jokes in those posts aren’t very good because Danny didn’t choose them for the show.  However, week after week, you guys tell me how funny the Rejects are, and how you can’t believe that they didn’t end up on TV.

Austin sketchWhich leads me to ponder further still on what makes something funny.  Why do readers like certain jokes more than others?  Why does one reader love a joke, while another just doesn’t get it?  Is it even possible to write a joke that would be liked by everyone?

This leads to more Deep Thoughts.  When I’m writing jokes for The Nite Show, should I write jokes that I think are funny, that Danny will like, or that will make the audience laugh?

There are times that I will write a certain joke because I know it is right up Danny’s alley.  He is the host, after all.  Then again, I know he hired me because he liked my sense of humor, and he is looking for me to display it in what I write for him.

Ultimately, I think my jokes for The Nite Show are written with all three target groups in mind.  If there’s a Bruce Poliquin joke, it’s because I know Danny loves to poke fun at that politician.  If there’s a time travel or Star Wars joke, I wrote it because it cracked me up.

Most of the time, I’m just looking to take a unique perspective on a topic and give it my sense of humor written in Danny’s voice.

keep wrtingI really want your input on this, Modern Philosophers.  I think this is the ultimate Philosophical Discussion for a blog that prides itself on inspiring both Deep Thoughts and laughter, while also looking damn good in a toga.

I’ve got to get back to work on monologue jokes, but I’m looking forward to reading your comments on this hastily thrown together post…

Keep laughing!

About Austin

Native New Yorker who's fled to the quiet life in Maine. I write movies, root for the Yankees, and shovel lots of snow.
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65 Responses to What Is Funny?

  1. D. Parker says:

    Clowns are not funny, generally speaking.
    Luckily you’re not a clown. 🙂

  2. I believe it was James Burke who described what funny was in a way that made sense to me. He said when your brain processes something that takes us by surprise, it is like a tickle in your brain and that is “funny.” That is how funny works for me. It is something I wasn’t expecting.

    • Austin says:

      That was what I meant by looking for a unique take on a topic. I like writing jokes that surprise. I like the image of tickling a brain. Thanks! 🙂

  3. What’s funny to you? I have a different sense of humor than most – people either really get me or it goes horribly wrong on so many levels – ha! What makes you laugh? Everything and anything, especially if it is stupid humor. Do you find your sense of humor changes? No, still weird. Do you write to your sense of humor or your audience’s? Both I hope to think. I LOVE the older comedies, Abbott and Costello, Laurel and Hardy, I Love Lucy. I name my dogs growing up Oli and Stan.

    Happy Week – Enjoy 🙂

  4. dray0308 says:

    Thought one: clowns are not funny unless you are a psychopath. Thought two: I prefer short funny. ie. Horse walks into a bar…bartender says “hey, why the long face?” Ba dump dump, here all week folks, try the veal.

  5. Love the conversation…and the Pesci scene. (also love Pepsi, but that’s irrelevant here)

    Short answer: Not a frickin’ clue.

    Longer answer (hand-waving is free): I think it is a combination of relatable and discomfort-inducing for the individual on the receiving end, which is likely why it is virtually impossible to write a joke that EVERYONE likes and finds funny.
    It has to be relatable enough that I can see myself within the context of what you are saying, but then it has to make me uncomfortable on some level to reach the gut and not just the brain. And the laughter comes in the relief of the topic being external to my life (if only “thank god, it’s not me that…”), lest it become screaming, crying or bellowing (which can also happen in comedy).

    But I think my first answer is closest to my own personal truth. And because I cannot control (or understand) what others find funny, I write what I find funny. And then I try to turn that into comedy.

    Recommend reading Steve Kaplan’s “The Hidden Tools of Comedy”.

  6. grannyK says:

    Clowns are creepy. I did like you post about dating because it was written as if it was a well researched and serious post. It is also something a lot of people can relate to. Poking fun at something that actually causes us stress can be great! The laughter makes the situation seem not so bad.

  7. jimkraft1526 says:

    Sense of humor is entirely personal and individual, and maybe even genetic. What I find funny you may not. You are a professional humor writer (as am I). So we have to write jokes that will please other people. Your boss has to like them or he won’t use them; if that happens too often, you will be out of a job. If the audience doesn’t like them, then your boss has to change the approach, or you may both be out of a job. Ultimately, the audience gets the final say, I suppose — even if they have no sense of humor. So I guess we have to know both our boss and our audience. But we have to start with what WE think is funny. If it doesn’t amuse me, I ain’t writing it down.

    I suspect you like blogging for the same reason I do. In the blog, we have final say over what is funny. Being edited and/or rejected is always disappointing. But that’s also part of being a pro.

    And what do I find funny? Frasier, The Office, early Woody Allen, The Andy Griffith Show, New Yorker cartoons, Onion headlines, Bill Murray, Stephen Colbert, Jon Stewart, John Oliver, The Palm Beach Story, Tootsie, Mel Brooks, A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum, Dilbert, Parks and Rec, cats, chimps in suits, penguins, and me.

    • Austin says:

      So well put. Thank you for that answer. I do think we have similar approaches to writing, as I do see my blog as a way to be my own boss and not have to worry about the good stuff getting cut. 🙂

  8. Clowns aren’t funny-they’re sad. Sad is never funny to me. Stupid isn’t funny to me either. I think ‘funny’ changes day to day depending on an individual’s mood. The best laughs are those with a buddy, and we both lose control.

  9. I think it’s simple. People find humor in jokes they can relate to in everyday life…especially things they’ve thought in their head, but were too embarrassed to say out loud. (I once posted on FB that I felt more comfortable singing in the car when I had my sunglasses on because people couldn’t recognize me. I can’t tell you how many people said they laughed at that because they do the same thing.) Oh, and clowns are creepy.

  10. ksbeth says:

    each person has their own things that they find funny, based on their experiences and their sense of humor. and clowns are not funny! )

  11. JED says:

    Funny is what you think is funny. It’s also what others think is funny. If no one thinks it’s funny it’s probably funny but maybe the wrong time. If it’s not funny it can probably be made funny if you change the spelling or say it in Klingon. Can you be funny? Sure. Funny like a clown? No, but who would want that anyway?

    Nope I really have no clue how to be funny, I just write things I enjoy and hope others will too.

    As far as the show I think you do it right. Write the jokes for you, the audience and Danny. You know all of them will not be used anyway but that doesn’t mean they aren’t funny, maybe they just need to be translated to Klingon. Then again maybe I had one too many drinks tonight.

  12. Josh Wrenn says:

    Just because the jokes weren’t as funny as those chosen for the show, doesn’t necessarily mean they weren’t funny at all. Also, there may be other reasons the jokes were rejected besides simply how funny (or weren’t) they may have been. What is funny? Anything that makes someone laugh, or even groan, in a humorous way.

  13. floridaborne says:

    What do I find funny?

    Steve Martin, when he was fighting for the other half of his brain in “All of me.” (one of my all-time favorite movies). A good pun. Watching a guy’s face when you turn a blonde joke in to a blonde guy joke. The Johnny Carson joke as the Great Carnac; the envelope to his head he’s asked, “Name a lemon and a pineapple” and he says, “Ford and Dole” (president and VP at the time).

    That’s all I have for you at the moment. I’m about 2 brain cells a way from comatose–again. 🙂

  14. There’s men and women humor also. Most women do not like slap stick gross humor while men do. Best to know your audience.

  15. Christie says:

    Clowns are not funny. Seeing someone freak out because they’re scared by clowns IS funny.

    Personally, I like intelligent humor and sarcasm. Unfortunately, I think I offend a lot of people who just don’t get my sense of humor. My kids make me laugh, some of the things that come out of their mouths! They all have quick wits, makes my heart swell with pride.

    Not funny,,,Adam Sandler, Bill Murray (I told you I can’t stand him!), I have never laughed at a Monty Python movie. Humor is subjective for sure, but you seem to have a pretty good grasp on it so just keep doin’ what you’re doin’!

  16. markbialczak says:

    Funny is when you can get everybody to either totally agree or disagree with your observations about a part of life. Funny is when you can point out a universal absurdity or put a new spin on an old story. Funny is when you can wonder what the heck with just the right amount of dirt and explain why with just the right amount of clean. Clowns do none of this. Your jokes that don’t make the cut have a good success rate within my definition, Austin. Have a good Tuesday.

  17. Anita Stout says:

    I like simple – it’s been there all along, how did I miss that humor like May Day – send help. I think Danny passed on that one because it’s smart humor and when you’re choosing for a show you have to be sure that someone of average intelligence is able to “get it” It also has to do with location. Jokes about Chicago that poke fun at Chicago would be lost on people from LA because they’re out of context for them. Sarcasm kills me. Not a fan of clowns and don’t think they’re funny. You’re funny. Does that help?

    • Austin says:

      So do you think Mainers would not have gotten the May Day joke? I do love sarcasm, but that is better used on the blog and in my screenplays than in monologue jokes.

      Thanks for thinking I’m funny. I’m glad somebody does. 🙂

  18. I’m a little tired so I’m giving a short answer to only one question. . . . clowns are NOT funny

  19. Jessie Martinovic says:

    I love pointless silly , especially when the person has no boundries of expression ie facials etc. also really specific details on random things ? I dunno but i hate cheap sexual humour youll even loose me as a friend

  20. The Chaos Realm says:

    Well, I don’t find a lot of mainstream comedies funny. I find my humour in horror flicks/b-horror movies. For the most part. My cats make me laugh. Some guest worker/boatbuilder from Halifax made me laugh, once. 🙂

  21. onlybadchi says:

    I struggle with this allllll the time, especially because what I think is funny tends to be crude, sarcastic, offensive humor. But I don’t think it’s possible to amuse/please everyone and I’ve come to the conclusion that writers should write for/from themselves first and foremost (unless they were hired to write a very specific thing that doesn’t align with their usual sensibilities). Not everyone’s going to like it, and that’s ok. And often, I’m surprised at what others find funny, not just generally, but in terms of my own writing–you just never know. I’m basically repeating everything you said, so this isn’t very insightful, but suffice it to say I think we agree.

  22. Pingback: Send In The (Angry/Sad) Clowns! | The Return of the Modern Philosopher

  23. List of X says:

    I find a lot of things funny, although very little will actually make me laugh: years of writing jokes have taken its toll.:)
    But the formula for funny is simple: unexpected, yet not illogical resolution of a set expectation. Unfortunately, It is much easier to see this formula in a given joke that to use it to create a joke.
    p.s. I may have found clowns funny when I was 8 or 9. Not anymore. Right now for me, they’re like a human version of a knock-knock joke.

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