So what makes a character funny?

And this seems to be the trick question.

There are funny characters and then there are funny stories and because you have one doesn’t mean you have the other. And funny situations/premises are easier to write than creating a character that pops on the page and makes the reader laugh.

Here are some of the pitfalls a writer could fall into when writing a funny character:

  • It’s only knee deep (as in cracking jokes) and the funny seems forced.
  • Too much funny and not enough heart and the funny falls flat.
  • Adding quirks (as in dress or mannerisms) just makes a character quacky.
  • As with everything, if the funny is not intrinsic to the story then it’s just fluff.

I have noticed one thing about some comedians. Behind all the jokes, laughter, and funny is a world of hurt. (Okay, maybe not always, but often.) Cracking jokes and making people laugh usually covers the broken soul inside. Funny is a great self-defense mechanism and a way to avoid talking about the real issues, the real hurt. And that might be a great way to add heart to your funny character.

Thanks for some great comments on my post last Friday, Bring on the Funny Girls. My commenters came to some great conclusions. Does it really matter which sex writes a funny character? Well, no. I just found it extremely interesting that not many males write funny girl protags, just female side kicks and secondary characters.

So, today, instead of listing characters you found funny; go deeper, and tell me why they were funny.


16 Responses to So what makes a character funny?

  1. Jennifer Shirk August 23, 2010 at 12:01 pm #

    I think it was Dennis Leary who said ‘tragedy + time = hilarity’ or something like that…

    So, yes, I think we can find dark things funny sometime because it’s a way to cope.

    For the comedies I wrote, I usally put the characters into a situation they wanted to get out of–fast. So I think it was making them uncomfortable and then having them flounder their way out of it that I found amusing. 🙂

  2. Catherine A. Winn August 23, 2010 at 12:39 pm #

    I cannot write funny characters, sometimes I can write one event that may make a reader chuckle. I think that successful humorous books and characters come from writers who are naturally funny people. I’m not positive but that’s a conclusion I’ve drawn from trying to “be” funny in my writing.

    • Laura August 23, 2010 at 12:58 pm #

      Jennifer – I love dark humor. And seeing our characters flounder about is always fun!

      Catherine – I think there are a lot more funny premises out there, like Whales on Stilts, then there are truly funny characters.

  3. Patti Nielson August 23, 2010 at 4:09 pm #

    I love characters who are funny and lots of times its because they’re self-deprecating.

  4. T. Anne August 23, 2010 at 4:48 pm #

    I think it’s so much more holistic than just one liners, but I thin empathy is a biggy.

    • Laura August 23, 2010 at 6:42 pm #

      Patti – Self-deprecating def. works – I think of Lisa and Laura’s Roecker’s blog. Good example.

      T.Anne – One liners does not a funny character make. I agree – it’s much more than that.

  5. patti August 23, 2010 at 10:54 pm #

    I am not big on humor…never have been…but LOVE people who laugh at themselves!!


  6. Jen August 23, 2010 at 11:25 pm #

    I think funny is all meant on the person, however I’m a very sarcastic humor type of gal. Ricky Gervais always has me laughing at the dry humor he conveys.

    As far as my characters I think I portray the same funny sarcasm, to relate more with teenagers I find that from the pieces they’ve read of my novel they’ve loved!

  7. Lydia Kang August 24, 2010 at 12:57 am #

    Even though I love humor and joke constantly, I can’t seem to write funny. I’m afraid of it! So I totally admire people who can write humor and funny characters, and the advice that goes with it.

  8. Kelly Polark August 24, 2010 at 2:33 am #

    I think you are right about many comedians being funny to escape from hard lives.
    I like sarcasm and dry humor mostly. And puns. Puns are so bad they are funny.
    I also enjoy witty commentary on every day things and pop culture.

  9. Julie Musil August 24, 2010 at 3:04 am #

    First, thanks so much for your comment on my blog. I love the way you summarized how you handle your middles! My brain is working furiously on some good middle stuff, so I appreciate any tips!

    As for funny, I can’t write funny at all!! As a matter of fact, I’ve noticed that I don’t really read funny books. Hmmmm. I love a great laugh, and have a wicked sense of humor, but I don’t think it transfers to my writing. I wonder what that means??? Crazy? Bi-polar?

  10. Creepy Query Girl August 24, 2010 at 7:02 am #

    I like it when the internal dialogue is funny during the ‘normal’ situations. It gives light and humor to an otherwise boring part of the book.

  11. kris August 24, 2010 at 7:02 pm #

    I love funny–but it’s hard to put my finger on why. I know I can’t write funny, or at least I don’t think I can. I guess I shouldn’t say “can’t” — I always tell my daughter, you should try.

    There’s nothing better than a laugh out loud comedy or funny scene, but I can’t tell you the last one I had. The old days of SNL or Monty Python for sure.

    I hate mean funny or funny that’s designed to make people uncomfortable. I love real-life funny. 🙂

  12. Paul August 24, 2010 at 9:03 pm #

    What is funny to one reader may not be funny to another. I love books that combine humor with depth.

  13. angela August 24, 2010 at 11:20 pm #

    I would love to write funny better. Perhaps I struggle because my sense of humor is a bit twisted and I worry it might be a turn off to readers to let a funny version of me loose…lol.

    Anyway, hope to see more posts on the subject–this is great reading. 🙂

    Angela @ The Bookshelf Muse

  14. Comic Mummy August 29, 2010 at 12:01 pm #

    Thanks for saying hi on my blog!

    Love this one – ooh, yummy! (The other part of me is going “Not another awesome blog?! How will I ever keep up?!”) 🙂

    You’re spot on about comedy being rooted in pain – most comics I know are struggling or have struggled with depression and/or sadness in their history. I think it goes beyond just deflecting talking about the real stuff though; I think it’s also trying to really look at the painful stuff head-on but in a funny way.

    To find the humour in darkness, I think that’s really powerful.

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