The Art of Bantering: Not As Easy As You Think

What exactly is banter these days?  I know the official definition is a ‘playful or friendly exchange of teasing remarks’.  Not exactly like what you see in one of the above examples, but I keep seeing examples of banter that ignores the playful or friendly part.  Since comedy/humor is subjective, this is going to be a tough topic to write about.  I know what I believe might not be shared by others, so I’m going to try my best to keep it within the mechanic of banter and what I always thought it was.

Keep in mind that I grew up with The Marx Brothers, who excelled at cutting remarks and comedic banter.  That tends to be my baseline, which was expanded by me reading older Spider-Man comics where he flung insults.  Now, the superhero stuff tends to be labeled as banter even if there’s no back and forth.  I keep running into people saying that they love Deadpool’s banter . . . He’s usually just cracking jokes and insulting enemies.  It’s more antagonizing a foe in a similar vein to Spider-Man, but that doesn’t always fall into the banter category.  So, what do I think you need for banter?

As stated in the definition, there’s supposed to be a friendly and playful aspect to banter.  You don’t typically get this between enemies.  Savage insults getting hurled faster than bullets isn’t really banter due to the emotions.  The audience might be having fun, but it’s the participants that denote banter.  They have to be the playful and friendly ones.  For example, Fritz Warrenberg and Nimby would get into back-and-forth insults at times and that would be banter because they were being playful.  Luke Callindor and the Lich doing the same isn’t the same because they’re trying to hurt each other.  Banter is supposed to be something that friends do and is easily shrugged off because it was ‘done in good fun’.

I’ve seen a lot of people mistake puns for banter as well.  That can be part of it, but a character spitting out jokes isn’t bantering.  Not really sure of the term, but it’s missing an important aspect to be banter.  That would be somebody replying.  This is a two or more person comedy because you need responses to keep the whole thing going.  If a person is flinging insults and jokes without anything going back to them then they’re probably the comic relief.  Hey, I think I remember the term I was thinking of.  Anyway, you can have back-and-forth puns, but it’s that first part that’s necessary for true banter.

This is why I mentioned in the title that banter is harder than people think.  Not everything funny falls into this category, especially when you consider that comedy is as varied as music and movies.  There are genres of comedy just like every other type of entertainment.  Banter is a style and technique that can be used in any of them, but that doesn’t mean it’s always the answer.  In fact, it shouldn’t be the only one used or it loses it’s appeal.  Kind of like how horror movies and video games overdid jump scares a while back, you can eliminate the appeal of banter by overusing it or extending the definition to ridiculous lengths.  This is the challenge: You need to know what a technique really is before you try to use it or say you’re using it.

If I had to give a tip to how to use or learn about banter, I would suggest looking at older comedies.  Not as far back as the Marx Brothers, but I remember a lot of good banter from Eddie Murphy, Gene Wilder, and Robin Williams movies.  Many times, a sharp and quick wit leads to banter because you need to be fast with the responses.  There’s that comfort level between participants that allows banter to move at a fast pace to give it a the natural playfulness.  This also requires that you have a deep understanding of the characters and their relationship when you do it in your own works.  Are they close friends that can get away with such comments?  Do they have enough knowledge of each other to bounce off each other?  Are they really friends or merely coworkers/partners with nothing more than a working relationship?  Weird question at the end, but I’ve seen plenty of ‘banter’ that comes from two characters that show no sign of friendship and the exchange ends up being out of place.  Comedy can’t be forced.

What do you think of banter?  Do you think it’s being either overused or simply being used to define witty comedy in general?  Do you have a favorite banter example?

About Charles Yallowitz

Charles E. Yallowitz was born, raised, and educated in New York. Then he spent a few years in Florida, realized his fear of alligators, and moved back to the Empire State. When he isn't working hard on his epic fantasy stories, Charles can be found cooking or going on whatever adventure his son has planned for the day. 'Legends of Windemere' is his first series, but it certainly won't be his last.
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32 Responses to The Art of Bantering: Not As Easy As You Think

  1. L. Marie says:

    You have the best posts, Charles! Great points. Good banter is difficult. I look at movies like It Happened One Night and His Girl Friday, which are known for their banter. Really hard to write, because as you mentioned, you have to know these characters.

    I love the first Avengers movie because I thought the banter was good. As you said, good dialogue isn’t just about clever puns.

    Like

    • Joss Whedon seems to be really big on banter. Although, I watched ‘The Orville’ and that has some great banter scenes. Seth McFarlane can do it at a fairly quick pace, which reminds me of Mel Brooks and Marx Brothers movies.

      Though it’s hard to beat this scene: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=6u8AgUXPpLM

      Liked by 1 person

      • L. Marie says:

        That was brilliant! I have to wonder how much Chico and Grocho ad libbed during that scene.

        Back in the day we watched reruns of You Bet Your Life whenever they aired on special classic TV weekends. We used to watch Marx Brothers and Buster Keaton movies on TV. I think the first film I saw with the Marx Brothers was A Night at the Opera.

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      • The adlibbing is something to look into. They were Vaudeville first and I read that required a lot of improv. I think A Night at the Opera was my first Marx Brother movie too. PBS has an anniversary celebration so the movie would break for behind the scenes stuff.

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  2. I think it has a broader definition these days. I agree with you, but things evolve. Seems to me like Mr. & Mrs. Smith included some great exchanges.

    Liked by 1 person

  3. I agree with you, both as regards to what it should be, and in thinking it’s being used in situations where a different term should apply these days. There’s supposed to be a difference between playful banter and insults, yet many people seem to forget that these days. It happens in books and movies, and in real life too.

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  4. As you know I use banter on the two prompts that I do a week. I do this to keep the skill and to hone dialog. I love banter and I like telling a whole story with just banter and no dialog tags. Good subject and excellent post, Charles.

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  5. Banter is definitely tricky, both to do well and to define. I can’t think of any examples at the moment, but I do agree with you that a lot of what people call banter isn’t true banter.

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    • It really is hard to think of current examples. Somebody mentioned the Avengers, but I’m still unsure about that. My previous response doesn’t even ring true now. The more I think about it, the more I remember it being more one-liners without any responses.

      Liked by 1 person

  6. Reblogged this on Chris The Story Reading Ape's Blog and commented:
    Read and learn 😃

    Like

  7. paulandruss says:

    You are so right Charles, comedy cannot be forced and hurling insults is not banter. There has to be a element of echoing the original thought and hurling it back with a new twist, for the first part to use and hurl back so on an so forth. I know everything changes but the rapid fire RIP-oste seems a thing of the past! Sadly!

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  8. Pingback: The Art of Bantering: Not As Easy As You Think | Campbells World

  9. Reblogged this on sherriemiranda1 and commented:
    New Yorkers are great banters! As an innocent suburban girl in my twenties (let 70s) , I thought they were angry, but as I kept listening, I realized they were having fun! Sadly, today, many people are just plain rude. 😉
    Peace,
    Sherrie
    Sherrie Miranda’s historically based, coming of age, Adventure novel “Secrets & Lies in El Salvador” will be out en Español very soon! It is about an American girl in war-torn El Salvador:
    http://tinyurl.com/klxbt4y
    Her husband made a video for her novel. He wrote the song too.
    You can watch it on YouTube or go to my home page:
    https://sherriemiranda1.wordpress.com

    Like

  10. lovessiamese says:

    Reblogged this on TheKingsKidChronicles and commented:
    Great post on depicting the difference between banter and sniping at someone. Reblogged from https://legendsofwindemere.com

    Like

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