W ~ or What Makes People Laugh?

“…what on earth makes people laugh?” ~  Maeve Binchy

I took this image myself at a book signing in ...

Maeve Binchy (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

The question of “….what on earth makes people laugh” is a good one, posed by a famously adept and prolific author, Maeve Binchy. We lost her this summer but her words live on in about a thousand books (only a slight exaggeration).  Her question is one that does not have a single answer.

Binchy said in her book, “The Maeve Binchy Writers’ Club”,  that “All writing takes courage. Maybe comic writing just takes more courage than the other sort.” In trying to come up with an answer to her own question, she came to three conclusions, which I have nut-shelled here for you:

1. Sometimes, she thinks, people will laugh when writers make themselves look foolish, vulnerable, or silly. If that is the case, then I have this whole comedy thing wrapped up. I am sure that sometimes I come across as both foolish and silly (without really putting a lot of effort forth – one could say it comes naturally).

2. Binchy believes that “people laugh if you can create a truly funny character, like a clown figure, somebody that you are meant to laugh at.” I don’t know about you, but I do not find clowns all that funny. There are a few, like Milky the Clown, Le Clown and Bozo, who do not fit into this category, but I find clowns on the whole, sad, which proves that laughter and comedy are highly subjective.

3. When she worked as a journalist, Binchy interviewed the guy who wrote the Marx Brothers scripts, as well as George Burns, and Bob Hope. “Every single one of them” she said, “had no idea whether something was funny until they tried it out.” I do not find the Marx Brothers all that funny except for Harpo who did not talk and used a horn to squeak out his answers (and even he became annoying after a while).

I think both George Burns and Bob Hope are funny. Burns because he was an advocate of observational humour and Bob Hope because he knew some of his stuff was old and hackneyed but delivered it with such self-deprecation that it was funny.

Comedy is very individual. What makes you fall off your chair, or lol does not necessarily strike my funny bone. What I find funny you might question. Binchy wrote an article that she said made her both popular and “thought to be humorous”. What she did was take an everyday situation and make herself vulnerable to it. She said that she had not stayed in a hotel until she was twenty-two and did not know the protocol “about whether you make the bed” or not when you stayed in a hotel. She opted for a compromise and “sort of straightened the bed and folded back the covers” which she felt would not destroy her as a “hotel visitor.”  After writing the article she was amazed that “half the country seemed to have the same dilemma” and was delighted with her wonderful sense of humour.

I understand why this garnered her the accolades she received, as it is something most of us have had to contend with. We don’t want to be thought of as slobs, but we also don’t want to make the bed up so perfectly that it looks not slept in, hence the staff would not change the sheets. Although I am not sure why we expect the sheets to be changed every day at a hotel when we certainly (or I certainly) don’t do it at home.

On a similar note, I have always wondered what it would be like to have someone clean my house. I am not a self-professed domestic goddess, but I am also not so sure I want my chaos to come to light (as if this is not confession enough; sure write about it and try to keep it secret: smart move).

Humour really is in the funny bone of the beholder. Or as Peter Ustinov said, “Comedy is simply a funny way of being serious.”

Cropped screenshot of Bob Hope and Bing Crosby...

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39 CommentsLeave a comment

  1. I had a cleaning lady once. I was horrifed by how clean my house was because it showed me what an undomestic goddess I am. Horrors.

  2. I’m with you on the clown thing – they always remind me of the pictures that John Wayne Gacy painted.

    As for the clean house thing, well, we tell visitors not to take their shoes off so their feet don’t get dirty.

  3. I love old Bob Hope movies – and for the first couple of years of life, my youngest kid thought her nickname was Gracie because we were always telling her to Say Goodnight, Gracie..

    • ha ha – my brother nicknamed me Grace–but it was because of my lack of grace – I like Gracie better

  4. I watched Carol Burnett on a morning show this morning differentiate between a comic and a comedian. It was something like this: A comic says funny things or makes funny observations, whereas a comedian is a funny person.

    It’s like any creative thing I suppose, objective and what’s funny to some may not be funny to others.

    Oh, and I’d welcome someone to clean my house. Domestic goddess is something I’m not. I hate dusting. And vacuuming. And washing dishes. ;).

    • Carol Burnett is one of my favourites! I still laugh, thinking of her Scarlett OHara skit and wearing the curtain rod as she walked down the stairs.

      • haha I just saw it in the window and I couldn’t resist! I always wanted to BE Carol Burnett!

    • I like the distinction between the two — but I think I like both comics and comedians
      There is something domestic I like doing…just can’t think of it right now…

  5. Awww Carol Burnett, now that brings back memories :) I love a good laugh much better than a good clean house ;) I remember when my daughter was about 4 years old she made a silly joke up, which of course I was too much a slacker to have written it down anywhere, but hey…
    I recall thinking at the time that she’d ‘make out ok’ because she had a sense of humor…. If you don’t get to give your kids a silver spoon or a trust fund, I think sense of humor is a great second choice :)

    • a sense of humour is a good first choice – cause you can make fun of the silver spooners and trust funders

      • :)

  6. I did a public reading of one of my essays once. When I returned to my chair amidst laughter and applause, my hubbie leaned over and whispered in my ear, “I never realized you were so funny.”

  7. I think instead of cleaning my house today, I’ll find a good comedy on the classic film channel. Maybe something with Cary Grant, I loved his humor.

    • you deserve a break and a comedy break is the best – I love Cary Grant too
      you know you are my favourite sister don’t you–does not matter that I have no other sisters

  8. I had no idea Ms. Binchy had passed. Interesting and thought provoking post. I wish I had a little more comic relief and a cleaning lady…

    • I just wish I had a cleaning lady that I do not have to clean up for
      Ms. Binchy passed at the end of July–so sad

  9. Well rounded post you put together here. Like beauty, comedy is very much in the eye of the beholder. I know some of my friends who wouldn’t flinch at reading my stuff, others think it’s downright knee slapping. All we can do is try. Or not try.

  10. Haha I love that ‘comedy is a funny way of being serious’ – sarcasm all the way ;)

    Cheers
    Choc Chip Uru

  11. As a fan of the 3 Stooges, I guess silly makes me laugh or a good wise-guy :-)
    I liked Ms. Maeve, sad to lose her…

  12. A laugh a day keeps the stress away!

  13. I hadn’t realized Maeve Binchy had passed away, I enjoy her books when I want something slower to curl up with and they always made me wonder about my “little bit” of Irish background.

    I’m not a fan of the Stooges either, but I enjoy a good Dean Martin/Jerry Lewis comedy.

    • I am a little Irish too and a little of a lot of other things- a true mongrel
      I liked Dean Martin too

  14. I think funny tends to get less funny if you think too hard about how to write it. Nevertheless, humor is definitely subjective and as someone already said, all we can do is try. For the record, you’re definitely funny (and smart-funny at that!) in my book. :)

    • you are so nice – my new best friend! you are right- if you think about funny too much it is not funny anymore

  15. This post has really got me thinking!

    • thinking is good–most of the time

      • just as laughter is good – most of the time – ha!

      • I know what you mean–I have laughed at inappropriate times (when I am nervous or worried) and that is so not a good thing

  16. So true. Making people laugh not only is about making funny stories or expressions or hilarious actions but more importantly, to be able to laugh at our very own self including our mistakes. Being funny comes from a heart that finds inspiration in humor. Great post.

    • love your line – :”being funny comes from a heart that finds inspiration in humour” – wish I had used that – thanks for your thoughtful comment

  17. I so enjoyed seeing the picture of you! That was the best part of “W”.

    • if that were a pic of me I would have lots of money, but I would also be in another realm–that is a pic of author Maeve Binchy who left us in July–but do you already know this and are poking fun at me? some day I will figure out how to put a pic of me on my about page and I will let you know. I understand from the blurb below the pic it could be confusing.


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