Humor connects us. It makes us care. I don’t mean one-liners. Humor is not about jokes, it is about human behavior. It’s a vital aspect of any story, adding depth, richness and humanity. Drama without humor is unbearable, and comedy without drama falls flat. Shakespeare understood that in order for the audience to experience the impact of loss and betrayal, they needed breathing room. Without it his tragedies would be unbearable to watch. Humor provides contrast, allowing our reader to contextualize the events.
Humor is not about writing funny, but it is about writing “specifically.” It’s about finding the humanity in the situation. In the midst of two characters attempting to get what they want, there is humor. There is humor in the absurdity of our misplaced priorities. There is humor in our desire to be good, to do it right, in our fear of being left out, our embarrassing need for connection, our awkward wish to be acknowledged, our petty desires for retribution. There is humor in our rage at not getting the parking space, and our permitting great sins to be done to us for fear of appearing uncivilized. There is humor in our fragility.
Humor keeps drama in check. When a writer is accused of melodrama, it is not that the characters are overreacting, the writer is. When drama becomes an excuse for therapy, it loses its universal quality, its ability to shine a light on the truth. Humor is the balm on our drama. It is through levity that we break our readers’ hearts. Even in the grimmest situations, with ruthless objectivity a writer can wring humanity from the moment. As seriously as we take our work, finding humor in it can only offer a fuller glimpse of the world.