I asked Rich Leder, author of the McCall & Company humorous mystery series, if he could share with us thoughts about writing humor.
The summer I turned ten, my parents moved us from one small, northeastern New Jersey town to another small, northeastern New Jersey town—River Vale to Woodcliff Lake. It was maybe a twenty-minute drive from one town to the next, but for me we might as well have moved to Missouri.
I knew no one. I had no friends whatsoever. The first day of fifth grade was the first time I had seen any of my ten-year-old classmates and also the first time they had seen me.
The teacher was a smiling redheaded woman who couldn’t have been more than twenty-six years old. Miss McCloy was her name.
There were thirty-five kids in the class, all of us neat as a pin for the first day of school. Miss McCloy sat behind her desk at the front of the room and read aloud the names of the children in her charge. One after the other raised their hands and said, “Here.” McCloy then said something kind as a way of welcoming that particular child to her classroom and read the next name.
As she approached the Ls, I slid off my chair, belly-crawled the length of the aisle, and crouched flush up against and in front of her desk.
Some of my classmates were stunned to silence, but many were already laughing.
“Rich Leder,” McCloy said, and I shot up like a rocket straight into the air three feet in front of her face and shouted, “At your service.”
The class laughed and laughed. Some kids applauded.
McCloy, to her great credit, played along, welcomed me to her classroom, and sent me striding back down the aisle to my desk.
Everyone smiled at me. One kid shook my hand. The only thing they knew about me was that I was funny. I made friends that day I still have today.
I remembered this story because, as part of the virtual tour I’m on right now, this cool new blog, Lilac Reviews, asked me to guest post about writing funny books: how I start, where the humor comes from, when to add the funny stuff, how I know it’s funny, and so on.
And when I sat down at my desk to pen this post, McCloy’s class popped into my head, and so I let it rattle around in there and realized the opening bell of fifth grade was the first time I was fully conscious about trying to be funny, about thinking I was funny and should be funny, about wanting to make those kids—total strangers—laugh at me and with me and out loud.
I also realized that forty-eight years later nothing’s changed: I’m still consciously trying to be funny because I think I’m funny and should be funny, and I want to make you laugh at me and with me and out loud.
I’m guessing that’s sort of the first step when it comes to writing funny books.
Funny knows no boundaries, has no borders. There are funny memoirs, funny children’s books, funny short stories, funny romance novels, funny fiction, funny mysteries, funny horror books, funny westerns, funny thrillers…there are funny cookbooks, for Pete’s sake.
I write a funny mystery series—McCall & Company—and also funny fiction. I’ve finished the first two McCall books—Workman’s Complication and Swollen Identity—and a standalone titled Juggler, Porn Star Monkey Wrench. I’m almost done with a second standalone titled Let There Be Linda. And then I’ll write the next McCall & Company book. And then another standalone. Wash, rinse, repeat.
I’m on this virtual tour because I’ve just released my three finished funny books under the banner of the social media marketing and self-publishing company I started—Laugh Riot Press. We promote funny books and that’s it. We only have one writer so far…me. I think that’s hilarious.
The McCall & Company series began with me thinking I had a funny idea for a story (ten stories, actually) and a cast of eccentric characters to hold onto my rollercoaster plot for dear life.
I don’t know for sure where the story idea came from. I used to live in New York City (the setting). I wrote multiple mystery movies as a Hollywood screenwriter (the genre). I’ve met plenty of quirky, crazy, Wild West outlaw-like lunatics in my preposterous life (the cast). So all of the above? Magic? Mount Olympus? Who knows?
The point is that to write a funny book you have to believe—in your own head and heart—that your story idea is funny. Which means you have to believe you have a terrific sense of humor. I believe that about myself. I have a great sense of humor. If we spoke or emailed each other (and we definitely should), I’m sure we’d make each other laugh. Wouldn’t that be fun?
The point is it’s in my nature—genetics, upbringing, and experience (a lifetime of people laughing at the things I say and do and write)—to believe that if I think something’s funny, then other people will too.
So funny books start with you thinking you’re funny and your funny self has a funny idea, which then gets built into a funny story the same way all ideas are built into sentences and paragraphs and chapters and books—except you’re consciously looking for the funniest way to transfer the story information to the reader.
I know these plot points have to happen for the story to causally move forward, I’ll say to myself, but what’s the funniest way I could write this that would remain true to the composition of my characters and to the world I’ve created?
Some funny writers tell stories about normal people in funny situations, other writers tell stories about funny people in normal situations, and still other writers tell stories about funny people in funny situations.
I’m a fan of outrageous, dysfunctionally functional folks who are up to their necks in bat shit ridiculous stuff that’s way above their pay grades. I don’t know why that’s funny to me, but it is.
Is comic timing important. Sure, though I have no idea how to measure it. Does the mystery come first and then you add the humor in? Or does the humor come first and then you add the mystery in? Yes. No. I don’t know. I think it all kind of happens together. Or maybe I don’t really think about it in the first place. Maybe I’m just thinking about whether or not it’s the funniest way to tell the story. If I think so, then I go with it because, well, I’m funny.
Okay, I hear you.
You’re not the only funny man around here, you’re saying. I’m funny too, and I’ve got a funny idea for a funny story that I could build into a funny book. I’ve got funny characters in a funny setting, and they’re doing funny stuff and saying funny things because I say so. Except for this: How do I know it’s funny?
Here’s the trick as I see it: You have to crack yourself up.
If you’re laughing out loud at your own funny stuff, then other people will too. So go ahead and make yourself laugh and write your funny book. You can self-pub it at Laugh Riot Press if you want to. Email me any time. I’ll email you back. Or visit me at Laugh Riot Press and check out my books. I’d like that a lot.
The more funny books in the world, the better.
Pinterest: pinterest.com/laughriotpress Goodreads: https://www.goodreads.com/author/show/8304523.Rich_Leder
About Rich Leder, Novelist & Screenwriter
Rich Leder has been a working writer for more than two decades. His screen credits include 18 produced television films for CBS, Lifetime, and Hallmark and feature films for Paramount Pictures, Tri-Star Pictures, and Left Bank Films.
He has written four funny novels to be released in 2014: McCall & Company: Workman’s Complication; McCall & Company: Swollen Identity; Juggler, Porn Star, Monkey Wrench; and Let There Be Linda.
He has been the lead singer in a Detroit rock band, a restaurateur, a Little League coach, an indie film director, a literacy tutor, a magazine editor, a screenwriting coach, a commercial real estate agent, and a visiting artist for the University of North Carolina Wilmington Film Studies Department, among other things, all of which, it turns out, was grist for the mill. He resides on the North Carolina coast with his awesome wife, Lulu, and is sustained by the visits home of their three college kids.