There is a Time for Humor

Welcome to Wild-Card Wednesday, where you never know what you’re going to get.  I have a thumper of a headache today, so you won’t be getting my usual long winded, overly researched junk.  Instead, we’re going to have a short talk about how humor has a time and a place in almost any kind of story.

This thought occurred to me as I read my latest Kindle purchase, Shotgun Gravy by Chuck Wendig.  Shotgun Gravy is an intense story about standing up to bullies and other abusers.  The story is told from the point of view of Atlanta Burns, a teenage girl who has experienced a mysterious tragedy and is traumatized by it.

This is a dark story, full of serious themes.  It is, however, also full of clever lines–some of which are very funny.  Reading Shotgun Gravy had reminded me of other stories that were made better by the delivery of a joke or a wisecrack.

I’ll share a few.

Quentin Tarantino’s joke in Desperado:

As evidenced by the ending of the video, these two men are in a very serious situation. They are being evaluated, and failing the evaluation results in termination. The joke, however, makes the moment both humorous and memorable.

Mickey’s joke in Natural Born Killers:

Click here to watch clip.

A joke prefaces the most intense scenes in Natural Born Killers.

It’s a funny joke, but it’s not a funny situation.  Mickey Knox (Woody Harrelson) tells a Little Johnny joke to distract the correctional officers guarding him.  He then steals one of their guns, takes control of the room, and escapes.  The most intense scenes of the movie follow.

[It is interesting that both of the above picks are associated with Quentin Tarantino.  He’s a master at this sort of thing.]

Aerodynamic Shaved Armpits:

(From Pineapple Express)

Pineapple Express is a silly movie about serious subject matter.  I mean, who wants to be on the run from drug dealers?  Even though the movie is a comedy, this line was so weird and unexpected…and believable…that it made the movie for me.

Morrie’s wig comes off:

(from Goodfellas)

Click here to watch the scene. 

Morrie is about to lose his wig.

Goodfellas is one of those funny and not funny movies.  This scene starts with a commercial showing how Morrie’s wigs are superior because they don’t come off.  It cuts to Henry Hill (Ray Liotta) telling Morrie he’s got to pay Jimmy (Robert DeNiro).  Morrie has borrowed money from Jimmy to have this commercial made.  Jimmy (DeNiro) loses patience with Henry (Liotta) and runs over and grabs Morrie…which causes Morrie’s wig to come off.

The scene is chaotic.  There are a couple of phone calls that take place during the scene.  The TV is running in the background.  The juxtaposition of violence and comedy are what make this scene work.  It took me several viewings to see everything the filmmaker was trying to show me.

Morrie sans wig.

The point of all this–and some of what I’ve gotten from reading Shotgun Gravy–is that a little humor goes a long way.  It can add levity to a dark story.  It can make a funny scene even funnier–especially when it’s off the wall.  Humor can reveal character, and it can pull an audience into the story without being obvious.


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