Writing Humor – Originalityon February 9, 2012 at 9:12 am
So I’ve posted 200 of these strips and written over 500. Not all of them are funny but the point is I’m constantly exercising that writing muscle. I find even writing terrible jokes helps me when I finally write a good one.
Writing humor is a funny thing, in more than just the actual being funny part. Everybody does it. Even people that seem to have no sense of humor still make a joke every now and then. There’s humor in everything, and in everyone. That’s one thing I love about us as a species.
That being said, It’s Incredibly hard to be original in humor. A lot of jokes have been made before and there’ll be a lot more jokes made tomorrow. 7 Billion people out there all making a crap ton of jokes in their lives. Being original is a hard thing to do. How many bad Blonde jokes has your father made? How many times have you made a joke about not being able to function without your coffee? How many arrows must a knee take?
It’s hard. Humor is hard.
I wanted take some time to go through what I was thinking when I wrote Thursday’s joke.
I go to the supermarket hundreds of times and when I get up to a cashier, I get asked the same questions hundreds of times. Over the course of your life when that event happens there’s always an opportunity to break up that monotony with a joke. It’s funny to travel the norm and then suddenly deviate. Catching a cashier off guard is a funny thing. I often sarcastically proclaim “Oh That’s far too much!” when a cashier gives me the total and then I pretend to leave a carousel full of groceries sitting there. I’m sure they probably get that joke all the time. I’m sorry for that. I’m a dick.
They probably get thursday’s joke a lot too…
Last week when I was getting groceries and checking out, when the girl asked me if I needed a bag I said “No, I’m going to juggle them all”. Although, with a smile and in a joking manner, not yelling at her like a dick, like I was doing in the second panel there. That moment was funny to me. Then I thought wouldn’t it be funny if I said that “I was going to juggle them all while I flew home” and then in the last panel actually juggled them and flew home. It’s taking you down one road, yanking you down another and then going down something completely different. That’s me. That’s how I think. If I can literally portray the ridiculous I will. If i can go a little further I will.
There are so many things that can change in that joke. The setting. It could be an auto parts store or a Sex shop or any number of places. The cashier could be a bag boy or a greeter at Walmart. Many things can be changed. But I intentionally picked the very basic setup of “Checking out at the Cashier of a Grocery store”, because it was broadly relatable and it juxtaposed really well with the ridiculousness of the last panel. Relation and Juxtaposition are key tools for the humorist.
Now, it’s been brought to my attention that Mitch Hedberg thought the events depicted in the first 2 panels were a great joke as well and put it in his act years ago. Mitch Hedberg was a terrific comedian and an expert on leading you one way and then yanking you another way. That made him funny. I have only ever listened to one of his specials and maybe something stuck with me or something. I can’t even tell you if that joke was in that special. It was years ago.
So I had unitentionally told the same joke.
Sure that third panel, that step further is mine. But there’s already a funny joke in those first two panels. It works. It can get a laugh and it did. From somebody else. It sucks when you’ve written and drawn a strip that’s made you laugh, posted it to the web in an effort to get a laugh from people and then find out the next morning that someone has essentially told that joke before.
Is it a great minds think alike moment? Something in my subconscious bringing up that joke that may or may not have been in the Special I listened to years ago? A natural place to arrive at for a joke given that situation? I don’t know.
This sort of thing is everywhere. Heck there’s a “Simpsons did it first” Retort for practically every joke out there which is funny because obviously a lot jokes existed before the Simpsons. Being original in humor is an uphill battle. I think that non sequitor humor will always be a great way to stay original. And I think that’s a trend humor is taking now with shows like Tim and Eric, Spongebob and Adventure time. It’s still not easy and a lot of the time your jokes can fall completely flat and sometimes divide your audience. I love Tim and Eric but I know funny people that can’t stand it. It’s a hard tight roper to walk.
Humor is Hard. Simply…
I want to be as original as I can with I am ARG. Posting 5 comics a week for almost a year now, I can’t be naive to think that at least one of these comics isn’t going to be similar to something somebody else has done. So all I can do is acknowledge when something is and move on and trust my readership to understand that it wasn’t intentional.
I’m still learning about all this making comics nonsense. I’m not even a year old yet. I’m still refining how I approach a comic or a joke or a panel. Every word and line and panel is a learning experience. I’m sure 10 years from now the way I construct a joke will change.
Thanks for understanding, Laughing and reading. I’ll strive for originality and openly admit when I discover that something I’ve created is similar to something already done. That’s my pledge to you, reader.
I welcome Comments and discussion on this. I’d love to hear anything you guys have to say.
Thanks for listening.
You know, I’ve been thinking about how difficult humor is, especially after watching Tim Schafer’s Kickstarter plea for funding a new Point-and-Click adventure game.
For a geek like me, humor seems like a talent that will make me a more likeable person, and improve my social comfortability. Is that a word? No? Okay, anyway, like the guitarist with the nimble fretwork, or the singer with the mindblowing voice, or the artist or photographer with the preternatural vision of a omniscient being, a talent gets you noticed, gets you in the conversation. Okay, I’ll say it. It gets you the girls (or boys or what-have-you). No, seriously, whether you’re good looking or not, there’s something disarming about someone who can take and also tell a joke. When I’m out with friends for drinks, I’m always envious of those people that can be so free and easy with witty comments. I can’t help but feel it’s something you’re born with. At least with a comic strip, a video game or something that’s not as immediate you have the time to let the magic happen… so to speak.
But I’m reminded of the old adage “Dying is easy; comedy is difficult”… back to Schafer for a moment. We can all probably agree, he’s a really funny dude. You know, like genuinely and stuff. He’s certainly not an actor, but of all the people in that Kickstarter video, he seems the most comfortable on camera. That being said, although the video is amusing, it’s probably not his best medium. The dialog and ideas are superb, though, and comparing them to my (admittedly hazy) memories of Grim Fandango, they’re in the same ballpark. I mean, I can’t think of a single reference to drop, save that one of the funniest moments in Grim Fandango was when prompting Manny to do or pick up something, he simply said, “No.”
I’d say this is an instance of Convergent Comedy Evolution. Whether you were influenced subconsciously by a memory or not, Andrew, it was something that happened that we can all certainly relate to. And that’s the key, isn’t it connecting with your audience?
I mentioned this on the Twitter but I’ll say it here too- I thought the joke was original and funny, and it didn’t even remind me of Mitch’s joke about the apples until Arg pointed it out. I dig the way your comedy and art have been developing, and can’t wait to see more. Kudos!
That’s some great commentary on the subject there. I’ve lamented the “humour is hard” thing many times before, especially when it comes to being “original”. Part of the idea I think is, even if a joke’s been made before, making it in a new way. And that’s hard too, considering on the internet any number of people could go in the same new way as you.
Jokes are ancient though. I feel like any jokes we make are just built from the templates of what already existed, just with modern context. The trick is, yet again, making that joke in a new way and never intentionally stealing a joke from someone else that’s made it. It’s a fine line to walk.
Oh man. Don’t even get me started on “Simpsons/Family Guy did it”. They’ve been running 33 combined seasons, and every comedy writer is somehow supposed to memorise every joke they’ve ever made (plus the ones from all the spin-off shows!) so that they don’t make any similar ones. Ridiculous.
Anyways, I know that you’re probably writing this article for the benefit of other people as much as anything else, but don’t be too hard on yourself. Your jokes may have had a similar setup, but the punchline of yours was still pretty different from the Mitch Hedberg joke- and both were funny.
Also, wtf how have you written 300 non-published strips, I have a damn hard time keeping a 3 without tossing out the ideas I don’t like and starting again from scratch. D:<
actually it’s 500 non published comics, but they aren’t fully fleshed out things. some of them are just punchlines or setups or just ideas. some just funny situations to put characters in.
I never throw an idea away. To me just because it’s not funny now doesn’t mean it can’t be funny later. Every week I go back through all of them and see if I can make something new from them. Some of my funniest stuff has come from going back through my notes. The cheating on my girlfriend comic came from a conversation I recorded that lynn and I had about how I’d never cheat on Lynn, but how my definition of cheating may change. I just record everything. which is why my phone is filled with notes. 737 right now as I write this.
Never toss your ideas out.
Over 700!? I mean, I never really toss anything out- I’m too much of a collector to ever really delete anything. I sort my ideas by how much I like ’em, and I put the ones I don’t think are viable in a different folder. What happens though, is I wind up hating most of my jokes the more I read ’em. I still don’t think I’m over 10 or 20 even if I count those, though. Guess I should force myself to write more.
Yeah I already told you what I thought on Twitter.
Humour is hard, but being original is harder. Just be yourself. If you don’t know something exists, you aren’t copying or stealing anything.
While some of your current comic’s content has sorta sidetracked your original goal, never forget: This is the story of your life you’re telling. Plus dicks. You aren’t alone, and within the ever expanding world of webcomics there will always be others who have done the same thing before.
I am generally a nice person, if this were me and it was brought to my attention, I would simply say I had no idea, but wouldn’t change my whole comic because someone beat me to the punch, just change the perspective on how the joke is set up and say it wasn’t intentional. You kinda did that too. Just, well, it took a wall o’ text to get there.
So get back on your cock rocket and ride it to the end of the galaxy. You’re in the league of webcomics now, heck, you’re maybe even a pro, don’t let one little unintentional “copied” joke get you upset.
Best of luck!
Actually I’ve intentionally left the autobiographical themes the comic originally was. I know a lot of people liked that and that’s why occasionally I’ll jump into it. But for the most part I just wanna make funny comics that anyone can enjoy. Dropping a bit of autobiography for some redonkulous stuff seems like a win win to me. It’s still my brain making this stuff and it’s just a natural progression of this comic.
I’m not really upset about the joke anymore. I was when I found out as anyone would probably be. But there is enough of a difference about it and I did arrive there on my own. So I’m proud of that.
Thanks for reading and Commenting, Love your input dude.
ARG honey I love your comic and I think you’re generally awesome. That said? When I was a cashier every time I had a customer whine about the price of their purchase (nastily, jokingly, or seriously) I died a little inside. You know how most cashiers have a vacant soulless expression on their faces? That’s how you tell how long they’ve been slinging that scan-gun around (kinda like counting rings in a tree). My job even had a little yes no question when they used a credit card asking if the total was OK. Guess what everyone’s response to that one was? Don’t eat a cashiers soul ARG, it’s terrible for your cholesterol anyway :-p
There’s nothing new under the sun (including the triteness of that phrase). As long as people aren’t obviously plagiarizing, I don’t care if something is familiar. For a person that is well-read enough, nothing’s new (which is the same issue bands run into all the time – there just aren’t that many things left to do that someone, somewhere, hasn’t already done, at least a bit of).
Anyway, love your comic.
Love your outlook on this stuff
This is a great discussion and I enjoyed reading your own ideas about the creative process and about humor and it is true, it’s very hard indeed. Personally when it comes to those types of things, I just make the comics, characters or other types of art that I personally want to see/ read myself. But everything comes from somewhere and sometimes something looks like something that’s been done before, but it can still be funny. Oh Well, Who Knows? But I’m really liking your comic and how it’s evolved in such a short time due to your prolific skills. Cheers!
Woah man I didn’t mean to sound like I was giving you a hard time. I love this comic ARG, easily my favorite on the web. Comedy is hard, but like South Park has said (simpsons did it), everything has been done in some way or another you just have to make it yours. Which I think you have done really well haha. Please please don’t take what I said as criticism :c that would make me a sad panda.
I’ll admit there has been a few times when your jokes fell a bit flat, but I keep coming back because you do come up with some genuinely great stuff. I can imagine coming up with good writing on top of drawing compelling images can be a bit of a challenge at times, but as long as you keep doing it, you’ll get better.
Last year I picked up drawing again, trying to get good and whatnot. I have some days when I feel like I can’t draw it all. The important this is that you keep going and don’t let your missteps bring ya down. Learn from your mistakes and keep going!
Anyways, keep up the good work!
I like to say that all my jokes are stolen. I’ve read and watched and listened to too much humor over the years to think that I’m doing anything genuinely original. Of course I don’t intentionally copy or plagiarize other people’s work. Not intentionally. But if you notice similarities between my gags and someone else’s, that’s probably because I stole them. I mean, it’s an homage.