Book Review: “How to Write Selling Humor” by Peter Mehlman, and Mel Helitzer

This is a 4-CD seminar audio recording. I must have picked this up from OverDrive. I thought the title was humorous. It never crossed my mind that humor was a business in itself – a profitable for the talented. Somehow, I perceived this is something you sort of being born with. But there are tricks and methods to this art.

The first couple of CD’s were live audio recording of Seinfeld co-producer, Peter Mehlman, on the inside story of the script making for Seinfeld episodes. My key take-aways:

Seinfeld Motto: no hugging and no learning – this is what entertaining is all about.
The main themes in the Seinfeld plot: Lies, schemes, Tragedies – disguised as comedy, philosophical discussion, and other miscellaneous one-liners.

Peter’s talk is very interesting. This has motivated me to watch all the Seinfeld episodes. Writing for George was easy, but hardest for Kramer and Elaine. Seinfeld has lots of scenes, compared to others; the pace was much faster than people would feel. There are roughly 3~4 plots in a 22-minute episode and it’s very difficult to tie them together. Most of ideas came from individual experiences from real people.

The other 2 CD’s were the lectures of Professor Mel Helitzer. He actually taught humor writing in universities. My key take-aways:
3 R’s of why humor?
1. Respect & attention – call attention to you ( not talented in sports, pretty, middle child, physical defficiency, mother to reach, sit in back in class)
2. Remember – people remember.
3. ? (not mentioned)

Why do we laugh? (I never thought I would laugh for the below reasons but it’s true.)
1. Surprise (shock-value joke, never saw it coming)
2. Superiority & incongruent (makes the listeners feel superior than the people got picked on, e.g. Candid Camera victims).

3 elements of humor writing: MAP
Audience: will people understand and feel “superior.”
Performer: written for (can’t use Rodney Dangerfield’s material for Mel Brooks, e.g.)

Recipes of Humor Writing: THREES
Target: People you pick on. This one is less obvious to me.
Hostility: aggression.
Realism: some truth to what you say.
Exaggeration: makes it funny.
Emotion: the performer’s act.
Surprise: like “reverse.”

These 4 CD’s really put people behind the scenes of humor writing and comedy in general. The examples given were little dated as the audio was taped/published in 2004 and the Humor class was probably tapes in the 80’s, as many of Gary Hart jokes were cited. Otherwise, this has been a great lesson in humor for me. Enjoyed every minute of it.