Lee Heinemann, "Natalie Swats Gabbie while Osa Watches." Grade 12, Age 17. 2011 Photography Portfolio Gold Medal.

Ask Ned reader Kyle was curious about the relationship between humor and life imperfections. Ned shed some light on the light on the issue and how it’s used in his own work.

Kyle  Asked:

I’m writing a research paper on your pieces, and I could use your help. I love the language you use in your pieces, it’s just amazing how emotionally disturbed some of the characters are, but I admire that because I find myself, at times, to be emotionally disturbed. But anyway, I had a question about your book “It’s Kind of a Funny Story,” I mean I felt that Craig was too consumed by these ideological perfections everyone else around bestowed on him so he just cracked. And I’m assuming that humor was his way out? And I love the use of humor in the book; I thought it was genius, which brings me to my question. Are you using humor to mask all of these imperfections life has to throw at us? Because that’s what it seems like you’re doing, well I mean in my opinion. And don’t take that negatively, I’m just asking for he sake of my curiosity.

Ned Answered:

Kyle, humor is a funny thing. What purpose does it serve? How did it evolve? Why is it even funny? Wired did a long piece earlier this year about the benign violation theory of humor, proposed by Prof. Peter McGraw of the University of Colorado Boulder. Benign violation starts with the idea that funny things always involve someone getting hurt: a coyote has an anvil dropped on his heada group of children are terrorized by a giant purple man… but laughter is a way out. It acts as a signal between humans that this violation is benign, that everyone turned out okay.

I don’t think it’s an all-inclusive theory — it doesn’t explain parody, for instance — but benign violation is a good way of understanding how humor can help us get beyond “these imperfections life has to throw at us” (your words). When you are violated, as all of us are every day, you can make a big deal out of it or you can turn it into a joke. The power of humor to turn a negative into a positive isn’t just therapeutic; it’s an intrinsic part of humor. So in It’s Kind of a Funny Story, it’s not so much that Craig uses humor to mask his problems. He uses his problems to be funny.

Ned

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Have questions about writing, or the business of publishing? Ask a real writer! Ned Vizzini Vizzini is the author of three acclaimed young adult books: It’s Kind of a Funny Story(now a major motion picture), Be More Chill, and Teen Angst? Naaah…. Ned has spoken at over 200 schools, universities, and libraries around the world about writing and mental health. E-mail your questions to askned@artandwriting.org.

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