Those of you who have had the misfortune to be in a bar with me (and really, who hasn't?) know that I laugh easily. I laugh because:

A. I'm usually drunk.

B. I'm deranged.

C. You are a funny person.

Often, it is all of the above.

But what makes a person funny? What is it that makes one person twist a thought just so, and say the line so right, that it surprises us and makes our diaphragm convulse. What is it about people who write funny, so that the alignment of words, the rhythm of the language, makes us laugh?

Dick Cavett has a column over at The Times that runs that question around. You might need a subscription to read it, and if so, I apologize. But here's part of it:

"It took Bob Hope’s longtime head writer, Mort Lachman, to put into words a thing I had only sensed. “Comedy writing can be a fairly easy life,” he said, “and you’ll make absurd amounts of money if you have two things: a sense of humor and the ability to turn on the comic you’re writing for in your head.”

The reason I bring this up is that so many of you are funny writers. You know who you are. You can compose a line or conjure up a word or scene that's absurdly right. You listen to that voice in your head and instead of finding medications that will make it stop, you encourage it. You give it to a character who speaks in a certain way and sees the world in a certain light.

I don't write funny. Not intentionally. It's just that the people in my head are funny people. They say funny things and I write them down. I'm often as surprised as you are.

I like that. It's one of the great things about this job. I only wish the comic inside my head made more money.

What about you? When you write a funny line, is it a struggle? Do you sweat over it? Or does it just pop out? And what about those writers who think they're funny, but sadly for us all, they're not? Can they learn funny or is it like music, you either have the ear or you don't?

And who are your favorite funny writers? Who do you go to when you need a good laugh?

Tell me something funny. Then go read Cavett's piece on comedy writing. I'll either be here when you get back...

...or I'll be at the bar. Look for me.

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I can't write funny to save my life. That's why I write noir. I tend to think I have a "reactive" rather than a "creative" sense of humor, make sense?

I love The Onion and the writing on shows like SCTV and Monty Python (oldies but goodies). Don't own many books written by comics. Don't know why. I tend to laugh at the droll humor in crime fiction, like Monaghan & Monroe in the 87th precinct novels. Oh, and I hate slapstick, but I love Leslie Nielsen. Go figure.

Just random thoughts....
"And what about those writers who think they're funny, but sadly for us all, they're not?"

Oh shit... I KNOW you're talking about me...

I LOVE funny writers - whether it's sly gentle humour such as Colin Cotterill or Stuart Pawson, dark, warped humour such as Ken Bruen, Al Guthrie, Neil Smith, Charles Willeford, Duane Swierczynski, or completely OTT in your face humour such as Bill Fitzhugh or Mark Haskell Smith. I love it. I love the fast and funny capers of Donald Westlake, the dark and surreal humour of Charlie Williams, the funny lines of Victor Gischler. My tastes run to either noir or humour, and if I can get both in one book then I'm chuffed to littole mint balls.
When it comes time to writing funny, I'm gonna sit next to Donna and cheat off her paper.

Someone I find funny to read is Robert Crais, his Elvis Cole PI. Here's some of his work off the top of my head:
Beautiful woman, "Has anyone ever told you that you look like John Cassavettes twenty years ago?"
Elvis, "Yeah, but who do I look like now?"
Later, he asks another woman friend, "Do I look like John Cassavettes twenty years ago?"
She says, "I don't know. I didn't know you twenty years ago."

And----Elvis is on a stake out, dining on some exotic Thai food dish while in his car. He watches a man walking his chihuahua down the block. The dog stops and hunches over, straining to crap, inching sideways as his wiry little legs shake. And Elvis thinks to himself, "Ya see a lotta nasty things in my line of work."

Since I'm copy editing one of my books, here's something from the opening pages of No One Lives Forever:

"I'm sure there's been some kind of mistake."

Nicholas glared at the menacing faces of the five men who had invaded his hotel room. The two who entered through the front door via passkey had wheeled in a large portable table. Aroma from the food wafted in the air, making his stomach grind.

"The hotel knows never to send me wine made in Brazil."

Insulting the local wine was his calculated attempt to determine whether these men spoke English. The leader's expression remained deadly focused on him. The man held the rifle tight to his shoulder, clenching the weapon in a taut grip. With no reaction to his first offense, he ventured a second for good measure.

"I hope you realize…" Nicholas raised an eyebrow. "…there will be no gratuity."
The shower in an Airstream is slightly larger than a coffin. You have enough room to manipulate a razor and, if you’re skinny like me, wash your feet. Since I was out of shaving cream, I worked up some lather with a bar of Ivory and made do. I only cut myself about five hundred times. The white towel I stopped the hemorrhaging with looked like something out of a horror movie when I got through with it. I slapped on some aftershave and momentarily saw God.
--from book #1 in my PI series

I like wry, absurd humor with a touch of pathos. Whether I'm successful at it or not is, of course, for the reader to judge.
I am not a funny man. Except in looks. Or perhaps in bed.

Funny isn't easy. I think some people can learn funny, if they don't have it but it takes a lot, and not everyone can do it. I think they need to have the potential first. I think you have to be pretty twisted to find most things funny. Especially tragedy.

If I'm looking for funny, Terry Pratchett, and Christopher Moore.
You mean to say you're serious about introducing toddlers to Cthulu?
Aren't you?
That's an excellent point. I'm a fan of that school of thought, myself. I think someone has to be able to find that thread in a tragedy that's funny. And I think the only way to be able to find that is to be able to deeply feel that tragedy in the first place. I remember a quote, "You can't laugh if you don't know how to cry."
Stephen,

After spending an inordinate amount of time in your company in Phoenix, and reading your blog on an almost daily basis, I refute your assertion, sir, that you are not a funny man.

I don't know about the bed part (I wasn't that toasted), but the writing sure makes me laugh.
My funny bone is quite twisted. Part nature, part nurture. But twenty years working for tax payers in small communities and five for the military, doesn't get you to year twenty six if you can't hold your liquor or your tongue. At home, though, no kids so no filters. Sometimes we're a couple of junior high geeks in every way. Sometimes it bites me back. Sort of a Cry Wolf logic. If I always crack wise, even when I'm serious, people don't take me seriously.

When I want to laugh, I watch stand up comics. Not insult stuff cause that's too easy. Political is okay if it does more than just rant. John Stewart's writers get a standing ovation in my heart. Robin Williams just sends me over the edge. I cherish the times he and Johnathan Winters shared a stage.

When I want to read funny, I like Chris Buckley, Janet Evonovich, Lardo's Archy Mc Nally.

Here's a sample from my book, Ice Blue
[To add insult to agony, the hospital’s trauma center parking lot was full. Casey used every curse word she knew as she drove up and down the lanes of cars. She gave up trying to find an open space and pulled into a slot marked ‘Reserved for Our Visiting Chaplains.”
“Lady, you can’t park there. That space is reserved for ministers.” The warning came from a man in a battered blue parka and dark pants sitting on a bench next to the trauma center’s entrance. He took a drag from his cigarette and wagged his finger at her.
“Reverend Crazy Bitch, of the First Church of Kiss My Ass,” she yelled as she slipped through the automatic doors.]
I've been thinking about this a lot and I think there are a few different types of humor that appear in mystery fiction. The first is slapstick, physical humor. In my MFA thesis, I was wrote a scene I still think is hilarious, in which a group of Seminole Indians in full tribal regalia were participating in a test of a new escalator at a shopping mall under construction. Someone flipped the stop switch suddenly, and the Indians toppled down one after the other.

Then there's comedy which arises out of a situation. In the third Kimo book, the same killer shoots both a person and a chicken, and Kimo is forced to take the chicken to the station for ballistics analysis. Much hilarity ensues.

There's also witty word play, similar to the repartee between Bruce Willis and Cybill Shepherd in Moonlighting.

Finally, there are jokes.

Unfortunately, I usually end up cutting most of the really funny lines in my writing because they call too much attention to themselves and don't advance the plot.
And sometimes, writing funny is your destiny, like when you get married, for instance, and you go to a nice hotel for the honeymoon suite and your husband's best friends bribe a guard to help them lower a live 85 lb pig (named Honda) onto your balcony. And you have to help him as he finds a way to tie it and drag it down the hall, past the fancy concierge. Did you know the Hilton has a jail cell down in its lobby? Well, it does. You either find the funny or you kill someone, and if the potential headline, "Newlywed kills husband over pig in honeymoon suite" doesn't deter you from the killin', nothin' will.

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