Thursday, June 28, 2012

Writing Humor -- Chuck Dixon and Erik Burnham Sound Off

Writing humor.  Personally, I don't get it. I can't do it. But, as the writers behind comic books like The Simpsons and Ghostbusters, Chuck Dixon and Erik Burnham (respectively) have penned some of the funniest comics around. So when I wanted to learn more about writing humor, they were the first people I thought to ask.

What is the "silver bullet" that helps you be funny when you write?

CD: Rewriting.

EB: I don’t have one. I just sit down and write what occurs to me.

This will be the most boring Q&A ever unless I start lying. I recommend getting a prescription for something crazy. Then load up and trying to write some profound. I can’t say this is how Mark Twain did it, but I bet that’s how Dostoyevsky rolled. You should see the original draft of the Brothers Karamazov. It could’ve been the basis for the American Pie films if he hadn’t sobered up and revised.

Like I said, whatever occurs to me. And yes, sometimes rewriting, which can bring you perspective and more funny bits, but it can also make you second-guess yourself and weaken the joke. (I shoulda gone with Chekhov!)

What's the most important element for writing humor into your work? Timing? Relevence? Jokes? What?

CD: If it makes me laugh. I'm not much for The Rules Of Comedy. That's the road to the kind of "insert joke here" kind of humor on display in bad sit-coms and Dreamworks movies.

EB: Timing is everything . Getting it right can make an okay joke better, getting it wrong can deflate a sure thing.

I've heard that when a writer "tries" to be funny, he is on a quick trip to failure. Can you try, or does it have to be something that "just comes naturally"?

CD: I think that's when an ACTOR tries to be funny. If you're writing comedy you better damned sure TRY HARD to be funny.

EB: Like Chuck said, when you’re writing it, you’re trying, but not overplaying is helpful in making humor work. LOOK AT ME BE FUNNY NOW can blow up in your face.

Like the Karamazov thing.

What advice would you give the writer who is wanting to inject more humor into her work?

CD: Think of those "we'll laugh about this later" moments in their own lives. Remember that comedy is other people's pain. But we should never see them bleed.

EB: Just write what you think is funny. The jokes will go over some folks’ heads. Some will find it the exact opposite of funny. Some will get it and chuckle. And then, there’s that magical fourth group who won’t get it right away, but it will dawn on them at some later point, at which time you’ll seem like a genius.

For more info about these two talented creators, visit them online at and