Humor, being funny, is an immensely subjective phenomenon. I tell a pun, you groan. You tell a joke, and I do not get it. Alternatively, someone tells a joke which offends someone else. Therefore, when it comes to writing something that is meant to be funny, it is anything but a funny situation. I would not presume to tell anyone how to be funny. I can only describe my process—during those times when I sit down and try to be funny.
To begin, I need to be in a certain mood. I think, speaking for myself, it is that sometimes I see the world not as funny per se, but ironic, begging for a satirical response. An old book of mine, Punch with Judy, is the story of a 19th century traveling medicine show. Falling on hard times, they decide to change their show to one full of comedy. Alas, when they try to be funny, they are not. However, when they become sad and morose, they are funny. Does it work? You will have to read it and tell me.
The book which I think is the funniest I have written is Who Was That Masked Man Anyway? The situation is two boys, Frankie and Mario, who are so enamored of the 1940 radio shows for kids, (The Lone Ranger, The Shadow, Sky King, etc.) that they try to live their lives as if they were in radio shows. Thus, the book is entirely written in dialogue (not one “he said” or “she said”) and the boys are constantly shifting in and out of character, as they try to help Frankie’s older brother—a depressed World War II veteran—come back to a full and romantic life. Why is it funny? Because the situation is absurd.
Or, there is the situation in the last of the Poppy books, Poppy and Ereth, in which the forever grumpy Ereth tries to teach himself how to smile.
Therefore, in my present circumstance, in which I am being called upon to write something funny, I don’t try to think of a character that is comical—that’s not my way—but rather a state of affairs that is ironical, or absurd.
Will I succeed in writing the hilarious story I have been asked to do? If I do not, I will not get the contract and the joke will be on me. Get it?