We all know that humor is subjective, but have you really thought about what that means?
It means that everyone, without exception, will laugh at your joke if you’re holding your audience at gunpoint. Other than that, all bets are off.
I appreciate laughter as much as the next person, but when my doctor is looking at the results of my lab tests…
When we tell a humorous story or joke and don’t get a laugh, we have a tendency to forget subjectivity and blame the listener. They just don’t get it, or they don’t know what’s funny.
This is not only unfair, it’s truly ridiculous.
Surprisingly, this is also apparent among comedy professionals, who certainly should know better. I’ve heard standup comics who had a bad night claim that the audience members were all idiots.
What is the likelihood that this is true?
I once heard a standup say that Jack Benny was not funny. For those of you too young to remember him, Jack Benny had a very successful fifty+ year career in theater, radio, television and film as a comedian. So, with fifty years of comedy experience is Jack Benny somehow to blame because he didn’t appeal to this one person?
Humor’s Subjectivity in the Real World
Why get all sweaty kicking him to the curb? If he’s standing in the street, just hit him with your car.
Relationship humor is a great example of humor’s subjectivity. Men and women naturally approach relationships from different angles. Since this is not a psychology or sociology paper, we’ll avoid a discussion of the joyous or heart wrenching details. However, viewing any audience listening to a comedy routine on relationships, you will notice:
- Some laughs are shared quite equally.
- Men laugh harder at some lines; women at others.
- Men (as a group) are less likely to take offense at being the butt of a joke.
- Women have a more discriminating sense of humor.
- There’s always one guy who will laugh at anything.
Granted, these are generalizations, but they’re very often true.
Shouldn’t everyone laugh at a good joke? Is the audience or the individual to blame when they don’t laugh? Are the jokes to blame?
The truth is that there is no blame to be attributed. Period.
Subjectivity Covers All
Humor covers the full range of human experience, and so does humor’s subjectivity. This is normal whether we choose to recognize it or not.
Think about any humor that you actually find offensive. For example, I genuinely dislike gross out gags. I don’t find them at all funny, and many, I do find quite offensive. And yet, people laugh at them! Since I don’t get it, am I then an idiot?
Let’s leave that one unanswered, shall we?
Expectation Is Not Reality
It’s a really good joke. It says so right here on the gum wrapper.
As a writer, you never write to disappoint your readers. When you craft a joke or a bit of humorous dialogue, it’s natural for you to have the expectation that your joke will evoke a positive response, hopefully laughter. However, when you expect a laugh and don’t get one, don’t waste your time looking for rhyme or reason. Don’t waste your time blaming the person or audience that didn’t laugh. Instead, look forward to your next success.
Laughter is a spontaneous reaction. If your material doesn’t get the desired reaction from your target audience, move on. Craft a joke with wider appeal, a different topic, or a new punchline. Very simply, try something different.
You’ll be more productive and more successful.
Parting Funny: Some mornings, it’s just not worth chewing through the leather straps. – Emo Philips
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