Friday, January 23, 2015

The Key to Comedy: Random Specificity

Someone once told me (I think it was my husband) there are two words that sum up the key to humor: random specificity.

Yet when I was asked to create a blog about humor during my blog tour for Cherdo's blog, I couldn't find any examples. I searched and searched and searched and finally gave up. But after just a few hours of watching Friends on Netflix, I found more examples than I could ever find, mostly thanks to this guy.




Random specificity. What is almost universally funny (at least in America) is humor that pulls some random example out of the universe, yet the example is so specific, it makes the joke hilarious. Here's an example:

Chandler (hanging up the phone): I got her machine.
Joey: Her answering machine?
Chandler: No, interestingly enough, her leaf blower picked up.

Could you be any more randomly specific than a leaf blower?



Here's another one:

Chandler (pointing at Rachel): Could you want her more?
Ross: Who?
Chandler (rolls his eyes): Dee, the sarcastic sister from 'What's Happening?'

Yes, I'd say that's even more randomly specific.




Sarcasm or not, the point is if you're trying to be funny, instead of referring to a general idea, pick something very specific. Something so random that it will make people wonder where on Earth you came up with that.

By the way, 30 Days of No Gossip is in this month's Scholastic flyer, which is in classrooms all across the country! I love this sight...



76 comments:

  1. Nothing like a snarky, dry wit.
    Congratulations! That is awesome. And great exposure.

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    1. Chandler was awesome! I did notice he had many more funny lines in the first season than the second. I was waiting for some good one-liners in the second season and there weren't very many.

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  2. I'm so happy that your book is in the school book flyers... I hope it brings you many sales.

    I LOVE the show Friends... and Chandler's zingers, they were spot on and hilarious. I'm glad he never lost that for the duration of the show... I watch this in reruns all the time ♡

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    1. I was watching the second season and couldn't find as many...I didn't make it to the third season yet. I'm trying not to re-watch all the Friends at once now that they're on Netflix!

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  3. I actually got excited when my kids brought home those flyers in elementary school. I just love books!

    I have never heard of the term 'random specificity' but your explanation makes total sense. This morning, I saw this on twitter and it made me laugh: "On a scale of 1 to Nature Valley Granola Bar, how much is your life falling apart?"

    How is that for another example?

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    1. That's cute! I write about social media marketing a lot and there are some good examples of brands using humor--if they can get you to retweet it, they get HUGE exposure. One of the most famous examples was Oreo's "You can still dunk in the dark" tweet during the Super Bowl blackout! That was just pure good comedic timing...what was amazing was that they had someone on hand to do an image for it!

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  4. Bingaling, or Chandler was always my fave in FRIENDS!

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    1. Mine, too! He just isn't the same on anything else. Maybe his new show will do well, though.

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  5. Just goes to show how random and personal humour is. Personally I never thought Friends funny. Now give me The Big Bang Theory and I'm laughing out loud.

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    1. I love The Big Bang Theory. Sheldon is the funniest! The funny thing about these sitcoms, as someone pointed out, is that when you look at the writers, they've worked on many other shows you've hated. So it comes down to the combination between the writing, the production, and the actors...I think a lot of it is whether or not you connect with the actors. My parents love Two and a Half Men but can't stand The Big Bang Theory, for instance--and I never could get into Two and a Half Men. Chuck Lorre is over the writing teams for both shows, I think? And some of the writers work on both--so it's just whether you connect with Jon Cryer (I don't) or James Parsons (I do!).

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  6. Yes, it is always interesting to have a conversation with a leaf blower (I had one yesterday and it probably wasn't fitting for a YA book)! Good idea. Another way for humor to work is to exaggerate--something Mark Twain and Bill Bryson do well.

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    1. I haven't had a conversation with my leaf blower but when I'm home alone with my dog, I find myself saying things to her that I know aren't normal to say to a dog. She just gives me a look like, "Are you talking to me?" See what happens when you work from home?! No cubicle neighbors to bother--just your dog. It could be worse--with no dog around, I'd probably be talking to myself.

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  7. That leaf blower dialogue cracked me up! That's my kind of humor. I'll still watch Friends if I come across it. Love The Big Bang Theory, The Middle, and old episodes of The King of Queens. :)

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    1. All the Friends are on Netflix...for some reason, I'm having a hard time getting back into it. I think the problem is that it's on TV all the time, so I've seen many of the episodes over and over through the years. Rewatching Beverly Hills 90210, though, is fun because I haven't seen any of the episodes at all since the 90s.

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  8. Yea that your book is in that flier! I loved looking through it when my kids would bring it home and we always were ordering books through it; hope its the same for your book!!!

    betty

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    1. The sad thing is, I don't remember it from when I was in school. I thought back and realized that in 3rd, 4th, and 5th grade I was in three separate schools--and I think those are the three grades where it's most popular. I know I would remember getting a flyer where I got to order books!

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  9. Congratulations on the flyer, that is huge exposure. My kids love ordering books from those (it's why they are always broke and begging me for after allowance money).

    I love that kind of sarcastic humor, it's why I don't get along with people face to face very well. Most of them don't keep up with it not being intended in a ill manner. ;)

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    1. I do know that since the Scholastic flyer came out, the sales on Amazon have been WAY up. Even higher than when it first came out. Not sure why that would matter--since they can order it through Scholastic at a discount...but the rankings are higher than they've ever been and I believe rankings are determined just by what's bought on Amazon. (If you can't tell, I'm having a hard time resisting the urge to constantly obsess over my numbers!)

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  10. Stephanie, you're on a roll and it all up hill, cause the wind of success is giving you a lift. Congratulations again. I'm so glad and excited for you.
    I'd love to see how you are influencing young girls who reading your books...

    When I think of random specificity humor, I think of Robin Williams...

    Wishing you a terrific weekend with lots of creativity.
    Hugs,
    JB

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    1. Speaking of Robin Williams--it still bugs me that they found that he might have had an illness that led to hallucinations and, therefore, his suicide--but you don't see anything about it on the news. He had Lewy Body Dementia. I think it should be known, but most people I talk to never heard that follow-up report:

      http://hollywoodlife.com/2014/11/11/robin-williams-suicide-hallucinations-parkinsons-lewy-body-dementia/

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    2. I've got to check this out. Thanks for the link.
      JB

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  11. aahh that's so exciting about the Scholastic flier! huge congrats. And great post--Friends is my favorite show ever and I think it's the perfect lesson in comedy. The "Dee, the sarcastic sister from What's Happening" is in my top 3 of fav lines EVER from that show...love Chandler! :)

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    1. I like: "This must be the episode of Three's Company where there's some sort of misunderstanding!" There were so many laugh-out-loud moments on that show.

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  12. Ah yes, Chandler, the king of sarcastic. He definitely made that show! Even now in movies or books, it is always the sarcastic characters that stand out the most to me and the ones I love the most. I love witty banter and great one liners.

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    1. Me, too! There are so few good comedies on these days.

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  13. Awesome indeed on the flier. haha yep, the more random you are the more it will work

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    1. I've also found "the rule of threes" to exist in comedy. If you're making a list, it seems three is always the magic number and, for humor, the third item should be the random one.

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  14. Wahooo!!! In the Scholastic flyer! Awesome! And Chandler was the king of random specificity. Love that type of humor. Thanks for naming it for me!

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    1. Thank you! I think my husband told me the term (he may have gotten it from a comedian)--and I can't find anything on it in Google. However, "specificity" is definitely noted as a comedic technique. Most humor how-tos don't pair "random" with it, though.

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  15. thanks for the education - and the laughs. :)

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    1. Glad I could put a smile on your face this morning!

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  16. I've never thought about it, but yeah, that's an excellent way to make comedy!

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  17. I am really horrible at humor, so this is helpful! And I love the examples, they made me laugh :)

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    1. Thank you, Meradeth! I watched a lot of Friends episodes, searching for good examples.

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  18. I love snarky. A lot. Makes me laugh out loud.

    Have a fabulous day. ☺

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    1. Me, too. It's all in the delivery. Matthew Perry carries it off well.

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  19. So cool to see your book in the Scholastic flier! I'll have to look for it when it comes home with the kiddos!

    Loved your humor examples—Chandler was always good at that sarcastic humor. I love how you say to be so specific that people will wonder where you came up with it. Such a great idea—I'm making a mental note! :)

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    1. I think it was in December's and January's. I haven't seen February's yet! I think there's a book fair it'll be in, too? Not sure how all that works!

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  20. Kudos on the Scholastic flyer!

    Humor is so difficult to write. Mine usually appears when I'm not trying to be funny. I like these examples. Hope I remember when I'm writing :)

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    1. Humor's tough because everyone finds different things funny.

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  21. Congrats on being on the Scholastic Flyer. I think that is wonderful. Love humour in almost all forms but Chandler was quite funny. I love the sarcasm-always fun

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    1. I love humor, too! Laughing is healthy, so it's a good fitness plan.

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  22. Huge congratulations on the Scholastic flier.
    I love me a bit of (a lot of) snark. And random specificity frequently fits the bill.

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  23. Thank you, Stephanie, yes, it is very hard to keep going, especially at my age, a real test, but worth it.

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    1. Definitely. We all will be in that position someday. They say your kids will take care of you when you get old but I've found they're wrong--it's the spouses who are always there for you.

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  24. For as dorky as he was on the show, I really liked Chandler. I miss that show.

    Congrats on your book getting in the flyer, brings back the days of the school book fair. And reading, never read much anymore.

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    1. Yes, Chandler is a dork--dorks are my people! I don't remember the school book fairs, which sucks because I LOVED reading as a kid. I know I would remember that.

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  25. I saw your book in the flyers I passed out awhile ago and I started jumping up and down going, "I KNOW HER, I KNOW HER! Well, sort of! I KIND OF KNOW this author!" My kids got excited, and probably increased book sales for you :)
    xoxo

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  26. Awesome to see 30 Days of No Gossip in the Scholastic flyer. Super cool! 25 Roses has a waiting list at my school library. :)

    I love random specificity. Chandler is hilarious!

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    1. That's amazing! I'm so excited to hear that.

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  27. YAY!!!! I love those Scholastic flyers!!! When my kids brought them home from school, I was more excited then them to order books. Congratulations!!!

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    1. I know--I want to be able to order books by just circling them in a flyer. Why can't grown-ups do that?!

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  28. I'm going to ask the girls down the street if they got the flyer. I bet they did!
    Chandler was my favorite too. Then of George Carlin.
    Congratulations, Stephanie!

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    1. Thank you, Dixie! I had relatives posting it on FB, which was how I knew about it. Apparently after seeing that, they realized, "Wow, she really DID have a book."

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  29. I loved the Scholastic flyer. New books were always such fun. Congrats.

    I also heard that for comedy you need to surprise your audience. I think random specificity does that in spades.

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    1. Chandler always caught me by surprise...yes, the key is for the audience not to figure out what the punchline is going to be, for sure!

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  30. Humor is the best. Nothing wrong with a good laugh.

    http://joycelansky.blogspot.com/

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    1. Life is too short not to laugh every day.

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  31. My kids loved buying from those flyers! I so wish they still brought them home so I could brag that I knew you.

    Love Chandler and Friends. I like specificity in writing too, not just comedy. It just makes things more personal, more concrete.

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    1. I was told my cousin was SO excited when she saw the flyer. She told everyone in her classroom I was her cousin and took bookmarks in for everyone. It was so cute!

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  32. Interesting topic. Friends was so fun, I used to love watching it.

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  33. Wow! That is so awesome that your book is in the Scholastic flyer! I'll have to look for it when my son brings his home.

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  34. Yes, Dee from What's Happening is very specific, AND funny. lol
    I loved that show.

    I also LOVE your new blog header!!

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  35. Great post, Stephanie! You hit the nail on the head.

    By the way, I think that your books presence in the Scholastic flyer has to be wonderful - I poured over many a Scholastic flyer in my day and I still do it when I get my hands on it. When you are stinkin' rich, I'm going to tell everyone I know you, ha ha.

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  36. I think that's why I used to enjoy watching friends. They were funny.

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  37. The best remarks and come backs are from our favorite tv series. :)

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  38. Friends was one of my favorite shows. Loved the interaction between the characters.
    Congratulations on your book being in the Scholastic Flyer. That's exciting. :)

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  39. Ooh, I'm working the Scholastic Book Fair this coming week! I'll get to push your book on all the young readers! I'll make sure it's front and center!

    Oh, and I LOVE Chandler. He cracks me up.

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  40. I would agree! I never thought of it that way before, but those two words seem to pretty much wrap everything up :P When I went to Asia it was interesting to see the differences between humor, I think random specify still applied but in a completely different manner!

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  41. This is a perfect explanation of "Random Specificity." Thanks! And congrats on being on the flyer! Have a great weekend! :)

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  42. Sounds as if you have success in your pocket. I agree so many examples of humor in FRIENDS. Sure did love that show

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  43. Who doesn't love Chandler and his sarcastic whit? Congrats on making it on the Scholastic flyer -- that is pretty cool! I will have to point it out to Amara when she brings home the one for the March Book Fair!

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