Where’s the funny part?

by Steve Brewer

When I was in high school, I was friends with the starting center on the basketball team, a perfectly nice guy who’d somehow been born without a sense of humor.

He wasn’t stupid or slow. He just didn’t get jokes. You’d tell him some joke you’d heard on TV, and deliver the punchline just right, and he’d stand there blinking, while the silence grew more awkward. Finally sensing the joke was over, he’d say, "Where’s the funny part?"

Every time.

We all deluged him with jokes, trying to find one that would crack him up, the one that would hit whatever funny bone everyone else had missed.

And he’d always say, "Where’s the funny part?"

I think of that guy sometimes when I’m writing. Not as an imaginary target audience; Lord no, I’m sure he still doesn’t know where the funny part is, and who needs that? But I look at what I’ve put on the page and I think, "Where’s the funny part?"

Usually, there’s something. Some little wordplay, a snip of dialogue or a twisted image that makes me smile. Once in a while, something that makes me laugh out loud. I’m always my first audience and, naturally, I think I’m funny as all hell. Probably no one but me gets all the intended jokes, but readers sometimes cite funny stuff in my books and invariably they’re things I’d meant completely seriously, so it all evens out in the end.

I try to write the type of books I like to read (and doesn’t that shift subtly from year to year), and the books I most enjoy tend to have funny parts. So I slip humor into my stories, especially my seven-book series with private eye Bubba Mabry, and my scores of loyal fans seem to appreciate it.

I’ve written a lot of standalones, some funnier than others. My most recent, "Whipsaw" and "Cutthroat," are corporate thrillers set in the San Francisco Bay area. Very little comedy leaked into those stories. I thought they were pretty good tales, fast-paced, me trying something new, spreading my wings, blah, blah.

Reviews and reader reactions were mixed. Nothing wrong with these stories, but (you guessed it): "Where’s the funny part?"

Who am I to argue? Not everybody can throw comedy into the mix and get away with it. Not everyone can vent in print and make people laugh. I should count my blessings.

There’s a lot of humor in my latest thriller ("Firepower," currently being shown around by my agent). And I’m working on a hillbilly noir that features a flying Corvette, a kidnapping gone wrong, in-laws, tattoos, sex, a lot of marijuana and a bar called The Busted Nut. The novel is set here in Redding, in what I like to call the Ozarks of California, and my wife assures me it will get us tarred, feathered and run out of town on a rail.

Some people have no sense of humor.

8 thoughts on “Where’s the funny part?

  1. Jody

    And then there’s the folks like my daughter. I still remember her dad telling a joke when she was in high school. She looked at him blankly. The next day, she started giggling. The joke had finally soaked in & she thought it was funny. Just took over 12 hours.

  2. toni

    I do love writing humor, but sometimes also need a change of pace. I think every time y’all see a super serious blog entry is when my funny is tired and wants to nap. 😉

    Welcome to here, Steve — enjoyed the post!

  3. Zoe Sharp

    Steve – great post and welcome!

    I agree that the best kind of humour in writing can often be the unintentional stuff. I really knew my characters had taken root, become real people, when they started to banter between themselves, as people do. Especially in nasty situations, when it’s a natural release valve.

    The sometimes bleak humour that seems to arise naturally out of the situation in which they find themselves is always more deeply satisfying to write for me than the obvious gags. Maybe it’s because I feel you can so often spot the set-up for a joke a mile away. Maybe it’s just the way I tell ’em…


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