Welcome back to my exploration of humor and what makes things funny! Ha!
My current head-scratching surrounds the what, why, and how of making a scene that causes the audience or reader to laugh.
My last post explored humorous elements found in The Wise Man’s Fear. You can read Part 1 of this series here.
This time, I’m investigating some humorous parts of the Disney-Pixar Film, The Incredibles.
So without further ado…
1. Fro-Zone Needs His Suit and His Wife Needs Him at Dinner
The super hero character Fro-Zone wants his Super Suit for a quick trip out to save the world. His wife never appears in the scene, but her voice from off-stage is self-assured and indignant that her husband is trying to slip away. A large portion of the married population can relate to her feelings. When Fro-Zone shouts that he needs to suit for the Greater Good (a claim that seems a bit hard to trump) his wife counters with “I am the greatest good you are ever gonna get!” The wife wins the scene, at least for the moment. We feel the tension in Fro-Zone’s need to be a hero, which makes his wife’s resistance even funnier.
Watch the Fro-Zone Super Suit Clip
Why this is funny: The wife redefines the Greater Good by using that title on herself. The high stakes of Fro-Zone’s need for his suit make her a somewhat unwitting obstacle to his saving the world, all in the interest of saving the romance of her marriage, which is also funny, because it resonates with memories of many marital disputes.
2. Eccentric and Hilarious Side Character
Edna Mode, the film’s fashion designer for superheroes, is a barrel of laughs. Her affected speech and accent is not the only thing that creates this. She is also strongly opinionated and pushy in her decision-making. She takes the wild personality of a fashion designer stereotype and connects it to the career of outfitting superheroes.
Watch the Edna Mode “No Capes” Clip
Why this is funny: Edna is larger-than-life. Her speech about why she will not allow her clients to wear capes is laugh-out-loud funny because she scientifically describes something that we, as a modern audience, never thought of–the practical dangers of getting capes caught in a rocket or in a hurricane, etc, and we are shocked and surprised by it. Edna’s snappy disgust with the fashion disaster ties a perfect bow on the package. Having Robert (Mr. Incredible) present in the scene gives us the reaction of a “normal” person to Edna’s strangeness, giving the context for very enjoyable comedy.
I read in the 22 Rules of Storytelling According to Pixar (rule #10) that we have to take apart the things we like in order understand how they work. This is my attempt to follow that rule with regards to things that I have found funny.
From these examples (including those of Part 1), I’m deducing a few, but by no means exhaustive, rules to humor.
A. Cleverness and wit are amusing to us. When a smart person deduces much from tiny details that we might have otherwise missed and uses them to cast light on another person’s mood or motive, we see the subject of scrutiny made to feel naked and uncomfortable and it’s humorous to us.
B. Strong reactions to abnormal behavior are amusing to us. If a beautiful naked woman walks down the street, we might imagine hearing some hilarious comments. “Someone give that girl a bathrobe!” “Just looking at her makes me feel cold!” “I’d say somebody lost a bet!” It’s these knee-jerk reactions that make the situation hilarious. “Breaking the law never looked so darn good!” See what I mean?
Oh also, I noticed that references to human nudity feature in several of my examples. That might cast some light on how my own mind works, as well as an additional rule that C. Nakedness is amusing to us, too.
Hope you enjoyed journeying with me!
I’m still eager for thoughts and ideas on humor, so send ’em to me if you’ve got ’em!