The Role of Humor in Books

Fred and George. Mrs. Bennett. Pippin and Merry. The Thenardiers. Jar Jar Binks. The Dowager Countess. Everyone loves them. Who are they? They’re the comic relief characters, of course. Oftentimes they come in pairs – this is known as the comic relief duo.

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Photo and artwork copyright 2017 by Talia Prewette.

Humor plays an important part in all stories, whether the story itself is a comedy or a tragedy, a drama or a thriller, a mystery or a romance, fantasy or science fiction… you get the picture. If you haven’t noticed, today is April Fool’s Day, a day which is traditionally remembered for playing pranks on people. It is the day of humor, and, coincidentally, it is also the Weasley twins’ birthday, which is pretty cool if you ask me.

Comedy and humor serve their own purpose, and that is making people laugh. Laughing relieves stress and anxiety, which is why comic relief moments often come at none-too-happy times. I would definitely like to point you to Les Miserables as an example of this. Spoiler alert: everybody dies. I always cry through the whole thing. The Thenardiers (you know, the people who “adopted” Cosette and own an inn but always pickpocket their customers) are the comic relief. Now, in the book, I would definitely not call them that. I don’t know why, but for some reason they’re more like villains. (You can find my post on villains here.)

I’ve used this technique (humor to lighten a serious moment) in some of my own writings. Sorry, I won’t be giving away any spoilers, but in the book which I am currently editing, there is a particularly… tragic… moment, and one character says the wrong thing at the wrong time. He’s know by the other characters for constantly being offensively sarcastic. So he says something at an inappropriate time and gets punched in the face for it. It’s awesome. I greatly enjoyed writing it.

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I just really like the Weasley twins, okay?

Of course, comic relief is not the only way humor is used. There is an entire genre dedicated to humor: the comedy genre (one of my dad’s favorites!). Comedies are exactly what they sound like – the entire story is funny. It’s not just sprinkled here and there with a few good laughs, but the entire thing serves as one big joke.

One of my favorite comedy movies is Bill and Ted’s Excellent Adventure. I don’t know if it is technically classified as a comedy, but it definitely could be. If you’ve never watched it, it’s about two dumb highschoolers from the 1980’s who go time traveling. They bring a bunch of famous historical figures back with them, so you can imagine the comedic disaster that follows.

Even in the Bible, there are comic relief moments of sorts. My favorite such passage is Luke 20: 1-8:

One day, as Jesus was teaching the people in the temple and preaching the gospel, the chief priests and the scribes with the elders came up and said to him, “Tell us by what authority you do these things, or who it is that gave you this authority.” He answered them, “I also will ask you a question. Now tell me, was the baptism of John from heaven or from man?” And they discussed it with one another, saying, “If we say, ‘From heaven,’ he will say, ‘Why did you not believe him?’ But if we say, ‘From man,’ all the people will stone us to death, for they are convinced that John was a prophet.” So they answered that they did not know where it came from. And Jesus said to them, “Neither will I tell you by what authority I do these things.”

Jesus does stuff like this all the time, and it’s awesome! The Pharisees just don’t like him at all, and they are constantly trying to trap him in his words and teachings. And then, much to their great disappointment, he always turns around and traps them.

So what is the main purpose of humor? Mostly, it’s just there to make people laugh. Psychologically speaking, if someone laughs about something, they will associate whatever they were doing with that emotion. Even if it’s something as tragic as Les Miserables, they will still remember those few comic relief moments. In addition, I have found that laughter really does relieve anxiety – sometimes almost instantly. Sometimes, you just really need a good laugh.

What is your favorite comedy book or movie? Do you have a favorite comic relief character?

 

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