“How Do You Know if Your Comedy is Quantifiable?”, “How do you know you’re being funny?” and “How do you measure comedy?” These were just some of the questions I was asked recently.
I responded: “yes, comedy is measureable. If somebody laughs, it’s comedy. If no-one laughs it isn’t. But if you get no laughs, that doesn’t automatically make it tragic. It’s just comedy that doesn’t work”.
Comedy is also subjective and a matter of taste. If you watch the films of Charlie Chaplin and you don’t laugh, does that mean to say that he wasn’t funny? Or that it wasn’t comedy? Of course not.
He was extremely funny otherwise he wouldn’t’ve had the success that he had. Then does success in comedy equal funny? Just because I’m not famous does that make me any less funny? But I think that this potentially opens a whole can of worms.
“So by that rationale if you laugh at a tragic news story, does that make it comic?”
No, because laughter in that situation is a release. If we find something so extreme that we cannot fully process it, we laugh partially due to it being uncomfortable for us and partially because we’re embarrassed. But that doesn’t necessarily make it comic.
“So how do you measure comedy?”
I think it’s important to clarify what you mean by comedy, after all it’s a pretty broad term. Romantic comedy, stand-up, sketch comedy, black comedy and so on and so forth. In Shakespeare’s time and right up until the 1940s comedy was often defined by the fact that it ended in marriage. Not so today.
I think delivering verbal humour is measureable because if you perform at a comedy club and no-one laughs, then you’ve not done your job. You’re a bad comedian because the prerequisite of being a stand-up is that you make an audience laugh.
It gets problematic, I think, for people like myself who are humorists. Traditionally speaking humorists don’t necessarily get big belly laughs. Instead there are often wry smiles and nods of recognition or appreciation. It becomes funny of the head as opposed to funny of the gut.
People are more than likely to laugh hard at comedy performances like those in Knocked Up, Clerks or by Billy Connolly. Whereas, I can’t imagine the same response occurring with watching Oscar Wilde plays, Woody Allen’s later comedies or reading Private Eye magazine.
There would probably be nods of appreciation at the intellectual humour on display. The former being defined as low humour because of the often base nature of the jokes, with the latter being as highbrow humour again because of the nature of its wit.
This is something that I personally struggle with because although I like the diversity that being a humorist allows, I still need to get those belly laughs going because that’s what I’m used to.
My background is sketch, stand-up and improv comedy so live audience laughter is my measure if things are working. This is why software such as The Comedy Evaluator Pro that comes with The Killer Stand-up System is invaluable to me as a verbal laughtermaker. Check out a review of that system here: KSS review . There’s also a streamlined version if you’re on a budget check it out here: the fast start guide
An interesting clarification comes from British author and teacher John Wright, founder of the theatre companies Trestle and Told by an Idiot. In his book Why Is That So Funny? John says:
“I prefer to talk about laughter rather than comedy because laughter is less conceptual and more specific. You do something in a certain way and either we laugh or we don’t, as the case may be. It is a simple contract and it is non-negotiable. We know exactly where we stand with laughter.”
So let me ask you this: How Do You Know if Your Comedy is Quantifiable? How do you measure comedy?
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