Have you ever told a joke and no one laughed? Or have you ever laughed uproariously at something, and everyone else was sitting about in stony silence? Yup, humor's tricky. One man's yee-haw is another man's yawner.
Which makes "writing funny" really hard. However, for our middle grade audience, it's imperative. Kids love to laugh--and they do so far more than most grown-ups. So bring on what my friend Barbara Watson calls "the goof."
Barbara is doing this cool Middle Grade from A-Z on her blog, and last week she reached "G is for Goofy." She wrote, "middle grade magic happens when writers weave humor and silliness with very serious issues." That rang a huge bell for me. Incidentally, at the same time, I was also reading Funny Business, Conversations with Writers of Comedy compiled and edited by Leonard S. Marcus. In his introduction, Marcus writes "humor can also be a way of talking about things too hard to talk about any other way."
I have to admit that, although I loved this book as an insight into the childhoods and work habits of some of my favorite children's writers and humorists, (Louis Sachar, Jon Scieszka, Carl Hiaasen), I have to agree with Harold Underdown's comment on his review of Funny Business.
In all of this, I didn't find the answer to the rhetorical question asked by Marcus in a brief introduction: "What makes funny funny?" And perhaps that's the point; writing humor doesn't follow a certain formula or set number of steps. As we learn in the interviews, writing humor springs from who we are and from our own experiences.
So, the mystery of how to put the fun in funny continues. We know it's important, and we know what we like--but how to get there? Early middle graders love potty humor (Captain Underpants, anyone?). I have a penchant for grandiosity and skulduggery (Josh Lieb's I Am a Genius of Unspeakable Evil and I Want to be Your Class President nearly caused me to blow my chocolate milk through my ears, which would have been a funny sight in its own right.)
The cause of the chocolate milk near-disaster