I can find humor anywhere. It’s a gift…or a curse. I waver on that regularly.
About 35 years ago I was in a small grocery store across from our apartment to pick up a few things we needed. We didn’t have much storage space so we went to the store multiple times each week for few things each time, usually diapers and baby formula.
To this day, I can still see the well-dressed middle age woman in front of me in the express lane with one item.
One roll of toilet paper.
Honestly, if she was behind me in line, I would have let her cut in front of me. Imagining the urgency of a situation where you would drive to a store to buy one roll of toilet paper, makes me want to help that person get out of there as quickly as possible.
This episode triggered a lifetime of “express lane humor.” See a person with two items…a bottle of Tylenol and a chocolate pie? Somebody is having a bad day. Express lanes are fertile ground for humor.
But the world is bigger than express lanes.
You are driving down a road less-traveled where vehicles come by once every 30-60 minutes. There in the road is a poor squirrel who has been hit by one of those infrequent vehicles.
Do you figure he looked both ways, maybe waited for ten minutes to see if any cars will come? A victim of sheer rotten luck? Maybe he figured it was OK to go across without looking?
Monte the Raccoon: “Hey Wilbur, why did the chicken cross the road?”
Wilbur the Squirrel: “I don’t know Monte, why?”
Monte the Raccoon: “Because he was fit to be fried.”
Wilbur the Squirrel: “That’s terrible Monte. Do you think the coast is clear and we can cross? Hasn’t been a car by here in hours.”
Monte the Raccoon: “Sure, go ahead. Nobody ever comes down this road.”
You can make up the rest of the story. Not exactly for kids, I guess. The moral of the story is: Never trust raccoons named Monte.
Eyes open, antennae up. The awful humor will come easily.
Whether you are writing blogs or looking for examples to build characters in your novel, you need to constantly be on the lookout for material, humorous or poignant.
Anyone who speaks or writes for publication on a regular basis is always on duty looking for illustrations to punctuate their work. How many times have you heard a speaker mention something relevant to their main point that happened to them within the last few hours or days?
Their eyes were open and antennae up and the real-life applications came easy.
Even if you don’t have something specific you are writing or preparing, a meaningful moment is worth remembering and writing down. You never know when you might want to use it. Write it down immediately, use your voice-memo function on your smartphone, send yourself a text or email. Whatever you do, capture the moment.
Word images are powerful. Stories that illustrate are memorable. Sometimes we remember the illustration more than the narrative. The illustration becomes the message.
This is why Jesus taught in parables. He told a story to a few or to many and you can rest assured those people remembered the point he was trying to make, because they remembered the story and could repeat it.
And those stories have more meaning than mine. (I have a few that don’t include talking animals.)
One of my cited characters lived through the wake of a divorce, a murder and a pokey little apartment where she and her mom ate out of cans and used toilet paper stolen from public toilets. One day a friend reached out and took them shopping but all she wanted, above all else, was their own pack of toilet paper. Dan, we survive on humor as a family and laugh much, so I think I am growing to like you. Yesterday my wife complained about some eggs saying, “these chickens are not laying great eggs anymore”, to which I replied, “they should lay them off”.
I feel like an idiot for rushing through the express lane all these years. I’ve missed out on 39 years of good humor! I’ll be making up that lost time for sure. Thanks for the blog, Dan!
Illness has made it impossible for me to get to the express lane now, but never fear…the Lord provides…
How did Jesus keep track of His Apostles and Disciples?
He used an evangel-list
I ginned up an alternate version of “Go Tell It On The Mountain”…”Goats Dwelling On The Mountain”. Here’s the chorus, and one verse…
Goats dwelling on the mountain, over the hill and everywhere!
Goats dwelling on the mountain where Jesus Christ was born….
When Jesus knelt there praying,
His Apostles slept in the grass.
When He saw how they were laying
they got a sandal up the…
GOATS dwelling on the mountain….
And, finally, I don’t hear so well anymore, and here’s an example –
Barbara: “What’s your favourite Beatitude, dear?”
Me: “Oh, George, definitely.”
Let the groaning quietly commence, but lest it reach my ears, a warning:
I have more.
I find that I am looking more and more forward to tuning in to The Dan Balow show on the Steve Laube Agency channel every tuesday.
Some of the best humor I have experienced is of the momentary delay type. You know, humor that is so unbelievably outrageous that it takes the recipient several moments to process the words they just heard in their mind. . It takes those few moments to convert those words into images Then the images hits them full force and they just convulse in uncontrolled explosive laughter.
There are other accompanying side effects that occur when someone is trapped in this type of an unescapable fit of laughter. I have seen people fan their face furiously with their hand while baby talk emanated from their lips, bend over and hold their aching sides while the stitching in the seat of their pants could hold on no longer and gave way,. have difficulty catching their breath, appear to be crying while displaying a grotesquely contorted face complete with tears streaming down their cheeks as well as the loud and quite unmistakable sound of the involuntarily passing of gas.
For some reason the women seem to be much more embarrassed about this then the men, I’m still trying to figure this out. It, many times, sets off a new round of uproarious laughter, especially when its a woman of such a grand stature and feigned superiority that everyone had been convinced that she had probably never done this in her exemplary and storied life. Red faces would abound. What an equalizer.
One man offered up to our crowd that in over twenty years of marriage he had never heard this from his wife. He thought, from her pedestal, she might be incapable of something as gauche as this.. Somehow we all felt honored to have been able to share this extraordinary event with him. It was bonding. Every guy agreed that with something as harrowing as this in common now he will be our friend forever.
A note of caution. In times like these the introduction of anything alcohol into the crowd can be quite perilous. The whole place can go up in a flash.
This post reminds me of the comments made by an editor reading one of my WWII manuscripts. The main female character amused herself on a train trip with humorous observations of the country. The editor came down hard, saying the character was selfish and heartless for thinking such things during a war. What? People never laughed during the war?
Dan, I’ve got the same kind of humor. It often gets me in trouble, depending on where I am, but I always see that side of things. Loved the post. 🙂
Sometimes I’ll find just the right sermon illustration just hours before delivering the sermon. By then it’s less “antennae up” and more “Please, please, PLEASE, Jesus, send something my way!” So prayer antennae, I guess.
I love watching that Express lane, too.
Great post. Thanks!
Sandy Faye Mauck
I was standing at the front of the store, impatiently waiting for my pokey husband mostly because I was not feeling well at the time. But I was blessed and amused as I watched a budding romance start to develop. There was a young man standing behind a sample table chatting with a lovely young woman. After a bit, she walked away. I watched him, expecting to see him look after her but he was shy and waited until he thought it was safe to take a peek. She went to the lunch counter and made her way back when no one else was around. They kept talking about their obvious agreement on health foods but I could see little sparks taking place. They looked like a good match. Being a romance writer, I found it sweet to watch. Being older and wiser it was fun to see the scene unfold.
My hubby and I are full of humor. Something happens in old age. We get silly. Love lacing my books with humor. Life is too hard not to!
I must say this though Dan, humor can be somewhat subjective and cultural. In writing I prefer more situational, in-line humor, than anything too contrived or imported into the story. I see humor in a lot of things and chuckle over stuff all around me, like a clinic on one of my walks that says “We offer sexually transmitted diseases” or a taxi with a number plate starting with “WMD”. I have always laughed at life, although at one stage I so needed to be the life and soul of the party and now could care less. Time changes us all, but I was also always a very intense soul and my faith was quintessential to me, so my books tend to be more subtle in the humor department – more chuckle, less ha ha, more to ensure continuity than to be funny per se. What say you?
Humor is very subjective and cultural. Most humor in American English books is removed entirely when translated. If one roll of toilet paper is a week’s wages in a country, that joke is pointless and borderline offensive. A “food fight” in the US is funny. In another culture, it is criminal.
Same works for idioms.
A translator in China reads, “That idea will never fly,” and confusion reigns.
Yup, I sense that too … its a fine balance we need as writers: not of trying to be funny yet full of humanity and its quirkiness. Its interesting that stand-up comics seem to always be on song, but they aren’t really, they just don’t dwell on flat notes. They keep going without drawing attention to their slips. I heard John Cleese being interviewed and he was asked, “what’s your secret” and he replied, “I have none. I don’t try to be funny, I just tell stories that bring their own smiles” There is something about that which belongs in writing – we dare not milk laughter, rather saunter in and out of humor as seamlessly as possible, keeping it light and subtle enough to work where it can and not matter where it doesn’t. In Toastmasters, I found humorous contests the hardest of all until I observed that the funniest people actually had few punchlines, were quite happy to just tell a story and didn’t prompt their audiences to laugh. I guess “less is more”. I will say this, though, that everyday observations of life rarely fail me for they relate to all cultures and all people.