Realism

Realism is a big reason for the success of the Bill Cosby Show. "My one rule is to be true rather than funny," says Cosby. The more realistic we make the humor piece seem, the more our audience identifies with it.

My way of joking is to tell the truth. It is the funniest joke in the world. —George Bernard Shaw

Truth (realism) involves the audience. People want to know the latest news. When we meet each other we ask, "What's new?" The most influential words in advertising are free, sale, and new. We care more about current events when they affect us directly. The key word is us, the audience, not you, the writer. Remember how bored you get when people dwell at length on their recent business or domestic problems. The classic line is:

He's the kind of bore who, when you meet him on the street and say, "Hello! How are you?" he stops and tells you.

Fifty percent of the time we don't care about your problems, and the other fifty percent of the time we're glad you're getting what you deserve.

A customer in a bar is talking to the man seated next to him. "Strange, isn't it? Normally, I'm a very caring person, but in your case, for some reason, I don't give a damn."

"I gave up pastries, too many calories. I gave up red meat, too much cholesterol. I gave up Cokes, too much caffeine." "Hey, that's great. How do you feel?" "Hungry!"

The vice president called up the president, "How are you feeling today, Mr. President?"

The president paused and then said, "You really care, don't you?"

A Catholic friend had eight children. We asked him what he thinks about when it comes to college education. His answer: "Thirty-two years!"

The importance of realism might seem to run counter to our feelings that humor should be fictional. After all, we surmise, if everyone knows from the beginning of a joke that "any resemblance to anyone living or dead is purely coincidental," isn't there less resistance to laugh at the fool's misfortune? No harm. No enemies. Unfortunately, no laughs either. Here's an example:

I know a man who teethed on a set of alphabet blocks when he was a baby. He finally tired of them when he was fifteen.

This story is simple enough. We have some realism: babies do teethe on building blocks. We have exaggeration with the age fifteen. We smile at the insult, but there's no big laugh, because nobody cares about "a man."

Yet, if we could find someone whose public reputation indicates limited intellectual abilities, and that person is an authority figure or some celebrity who irritates us, then realism helps make it much stronger:

Sylvester Stallone's mother reported he learned to read by teething on a set of alphabet blocks, and he's been swallowing his letters ever since.

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