When I opened Growing Up Laughing: My Story and the Story of Funny by Marlo Thomas, I expected to read a celebrity memoir recommended by a friend of mine. What I didn’t expect was to laugh all the way through the book with the jokes, the interviews with comedians, and the author’s own special brand of humor.
Thomas, whose father was the legendary comedian, Danny Thomas, writes of being a child hanging around her father and his famous funny friends. He starred in the show “Make Room for Daddy” and later his daughter had her own television show in the 60s called “That Girl.”
As a child, I grew up watching “That Girl”, and even wrote to Thomas requesting her autograph. (Which I received on a mass-produced photo still in my childhood album.) It was a break-through show, because Thomas did the first t.v. sitcom where a SINGLE WOMAN lived on her own without needing or wanting to be married. BRAVO! She had to fight the network male executives to do it, but she did. And many of us young girls watching, appreciated and loved her for it.
But what I didn’t know then was that Marlo Thomas learned a heck of a lot of her comedy timing and techniques from her famous father.
“Dad adored making an audience laugh, but he also loved bringing them to a hush. He used to tell me that a good storyteller knows how important the silences are, and is never afraid of them. Dad controlled his audience like an orchestra conductor. He was Mr. Cool.”
What does this have to do with writing your short story, poem, or personal narrative for our Young Writers Contest? What does it have to do with writing your chapter book for children?
Why? Writing humor is the hardest thing in the world to write. It’s all based on timing, and this timing is based on silences and pacing. In fact, all writing is pacing. So every time you sit down to write, make sure you read your work aloud when you are through. Pretend YOU are a stand-up comic. Even if you aren’t writing funny, pretend you are telling a story to a friend.
Where should the pauses be? Where should the excitement in your story “rev” up? Where should it quiet down and relax? Where should there be dialogue for character growth or tension?
Many writers take acting classes. To become actors? No. For the timing! What was I in my other life? I taught creative drama and improvisation. I directed children’s plays. It all ties together.
So if teachers or editors comment on how you need better pacing, read your work aloud. Consider an improv or acting class. Share your work with trusted writers to help you know when the pacing is right. That’s what Marlo’s father did with his friends.
Remember this about humor:
It’s based on the unexpected. Misinterpretations of what someone says can be funny. Humor is best when it’s based on character. Humor is based on truth. Exaggerate the everyday average to make it funny. And finally, above all, have fun!