Inspiration – Humor

The post is inspired by an article in the current SCBWI Bulletin. The article is a book review of The Comic Toolbox by John Vorhuas. This got me wondering – what is funny?

Dav Pilkey: Using Humor to Get Kids Reading

An Audio interview with Dav Pilkey, creator of Captain Underpants and DogMan. Unsurprisingly, we learn that Pilkey created Captain Underpants when he was in 2nd grade. DogMan came later, when he was in 5th grade.

Jerry Seinfeld Interview: How to Write a Joke

New York Times intereview. Jerry Seinfeld describes the anatomy of his Pop-Tart joke, still a work in progress, and shows his longhand writing process.

Writing Funny Picture Books

Good overview of stages of kid’s humor by Darci Pattison. Remember: it’s only funny if your audience understands that it’s funny.

  • 0-6 months: Laughter without Humor
    Few, if any picture books for this group include humor
  • 6-15 months: Laughter at Attachment Figure
    You’d need personalized picture books to evoke humor here, because you need the specific person. This is when the adult reading the book can add humor, though, by playing with the story and reading it with expression and by changing the text, tone of voice, etc.
  • 2-4 years: Misnaming Objects or Actions
    Blue hat green hat Kids deliberately misname an object or action to see what the adult says. For a great example of this, look at Blue Hat, Green Hat by Sandra Boynton. In this delightful book, the turkey consistently is wrong in how he puts on the item of clothing.
  • 3-5 years: Playing with Word Sounds.
    Ever wonder why so many editors emphasize word play for kids? Here’s why. Kids think it’s funny. The Recess Queen by Alexis O’Neill is funny, partly because of the great language. “Kits and Kajammer ‘em.”
  • 5-7 years: Pre-riddle Stage
    Kids understand the form of a riddle, but don’t understand vocabulary enough to understand what is funny and what isn’t. This is the age of almost incoherent knock-knock jokes:
    Knock-knock. Who’s there? Nobody’s home!
  • 6-8 years: Riddles For this stage, all the joke books apply.
    Kids love to read, hear, and tell jokes of all kinds. They read Amelia Bedelia by Peggy Parish. True humor has started to emerge.

Language Foundry: What is comedy and what makes something funny?

An outline of what comedy is, types of comedy, and many techniques.

This same site also has a link to Snowbrokers, a site for selling snow to eskimos. “All snow selling to the Eskimos halted by police raids. Appeal for immediate Inuit snow sales assistance from anyone with experience in selling snow to Eskimos.

John Vorhaus

Video: Vorhaus presents an introduction to the material, The Comic Toolbox:. Ignore the first introduction in Norwegian; the lecture is in English. Aimed at adults, but can be applied to kids’ writing.

Quick summary: “Heart and soul of conflict: I want something and you want something else…Take a guy; figure out what he wants; figure out how to keep him from getting what he wants; throw forces of opposition in his path and roll with what happens.” Add an inappropriate response (clash of context) and exaggerate. Just a bit.

Book: The Comic Toolbox by John Vorhaus

The Comic Toolbox Quotes Sampling of the book as summarized by comedian, Ben Rosenfeld. A few of my favorite quotes:

  • “Every comic character begins and ends with his strong comic perspective… The comic perspective is a character’s unique way of looking at his world, which differs in a clear and substantial way from the “normal” world view.” (31)
  • “Comedy flows from a character’s unique, quirky, offbeat way of looking at the world.” (32)
  • “Take your comic character’s comic perspective to the end of the line.” (34)
  • “Most failed comic characters fail as a function of their limited exaggeration.” (34)

Steve Kaplan

“For many years, Steve Kaplan has been the industry’s most sought-after expert on comedy.” Note the it does not say what industry. Regardless, he has a long list of credits in entertainment and comedy writing. For $400, you can take his workshop in person – or just follow him on the internet for free. Aimed at adults, but can be applied to kids’ writing.
A few links to get us rolling:

Who needs L.A. anyway?


Dav Pilkey leaves 'em laughing.
Dav Pilkey leaves ’em laughing.