Monday, January 30, 2012

Dying is Easy, Comedy is Hard

The old saying goes, Dying is easy, comedy is hard. That is one hundred percent true, which you may not realize until you actually try and be funny.. While I think that the supernatural and humor are a natural pair, it can be trickier to balance than you might imagine going in.

For one thing, almost nothing is more personal than humor. What you find funny and what I find funny varies wildly, and you need to look no further than the television to confirm this. Many people enjoy the top rated comedies, or whatever sitcom you can find on your TV at this moment, and odds are if you turn it on right this second you'll be greeted by a sitcom in syndication (or an infomercial, which is its own kind of comedy). A lot of people find Modern Family or Family Guy hysterical, and yet there are almost as many who would rather poke hot needles in their eyes than suffer through an episode. It's not only content it's style and taste (or lack thereof), timing, a dozen different things. Where you might dislike certain kinds of horror, there's less variation within that dislike. It usually just comes down to genre with horror you might dislike gorn (also known as torture porn) but like slasher films, or vice versa, or maybe you like it all, but hate CGI. As personal as scares are, there's something about humor that makes it much more unique and revealing.

If that's where the problems ended, you could color me a happy writer. But of course it's not as simple as that. Beyond the problem of humor being highly subjective, there's the problem of balance. There has to be a happy medium between the humor and the horror. For instance, if the horror is too violent or, well, horrible, you throw the reader right out of the scene, and there's just no way to laugh. One way to handle that is through being vague about the violence, or approaching it as slapstick, but that's easier to do on film. I'll point you to the fabulous hand fight scene of Evil Dead II. Almost impossible to capture on the page, but hilarious on screen. At the same time, if you make everything a joke, there's no stakes, and therefore no horror. You've made a children's story with bad words.

Since I'm writing a comedy horror series, I find myself thinking about these things a lot. Horror and certainly the paranormal offshoot of it is a natural for comedy. And yet juggling all these things the amount of violence, the type of humor, how you frame a scene can feel a little overwhelming. Am I hitting the target, or am I missing it entirely? Is it funny, or is it just kind of weird? Is my editor going to kill me? Okay, to be honest, no matter what genre I'm writing in, I assume my editor's going to kill me. I give them so much work to do, I should praise them all here and now for being wonderful, patient people. (I do appreciate you, I hope you know that, and I'm not going out of my way to give you work. It just seems that way.)

I wanted to end this little bit of meandering by giving you tips, but truth be told, I would like to hear from you. What do you, as a reader, feel about horror comedy? Do you like it? Hate it? Is it too tricky to pull off? If you're a writer, have you dabbled in the genre? Even if you haven't written in horror/comedy, I'd just love to hear from the comedy writers.

Just to end this little rant with something beyond questions, I'm going to name three of my favorite horror comedies, in no particular order: Evil Dead II, Shaun of the Dead, and Dead/Alive (also known as Braindead). (All, you may note, with a paranormal bent.) If you've seen any of these films, what do you think works? Is there something in particular that didn't work for you? Or do you think horror and comedy should stay in their respective corners? I have to admit, I'm dying of curiosity.

-Andrea Speed


  1. Okay, I'll admit, I'm not a big fan of horror/comedy. I tend to like action comedies more like the Lethal Weapon movies and Bad Boys. But my husband is a huge horror/comedy fan and he's seen all three of movies you've mentioned so I asked his opinion.

    With Shaun of the Dead and Evil Dead II he likes the balance of the slapstick mixed with the horror.

    In all three movies you have the comedy elements and what makes them work is that real horror stuff is going on, unlike a spoof where even the monsters are in on the joke. It's how the characters interact with the horror. The actions of the characters are more realistic, there's an element of truth to it. Sure sometimes they may act stupid, but who doesn't know somebody who would act like that in a real bad situation. So we laugh because it helps us deal with the horror.

    Make any sense?

  2. Yes, that makes sense. And that is something you have to keep in mind. Spoof is its own thing, and yes, you're supposed to laugh at everything. (Look at Airplane!, perhaps the best example of this genre.) But I'm not sure that works too well as horror. You could argue Young Frankenstein is a spoof, but I think it's more of a satire. After all, you do feel for Frankie. He's a sympathetic character.