The Limitations of Zany Series and Stories

Bugs Bunny

The biggest danger with writing a series that is designed to be crazy and off-the-wall is that you can easily go too far.  You feel like you have to up the insanity with every episode or chapter, which eventually hits a point of incoherency.  Nothing will make sense and most of the audience will drop out.  After all, why continue watching when the rules are broken and the story no longer makes sense?  Better to stop, especially if the experience is no longer funny.

One thing to realize is that crazy antics are to comedy what gore is to horror.  They require a little bit of shock to hit their target.  If you see them coming then they lose some of their impact.  Doing both too often can result in desensitization, which means the audience has no reaction.  They will expect things to go wild, so there’s no longer any tension that can help in getting people to laugh.  Imagine if Bugs Bunny spent 10 minutes doing the same anvil gag to Yosemite Sam.  It wouldn’t be long before you go ‘here goes the anvil’ and roll your eyes.

Another limit is that the craziness can overshadow the story and run it off course.  A writer might think a joke is going to be amazing.  They could very well be right.  Unfortunately, this can come with a sacrifice.  If a character is a target of the gag then it might be hard for them to stay in their role, especially if it was a serious one.  The crazy can ruin the mood of a scene if it required the tension.  Depending on the story’s baseline coherency, you might not have this problem.  Yet, any level of seriousness can take a hit if a joke is timed incorrectly.

As usual, comedy is subjective, so you aren’t going to amuse everyone with every gag.  A reader might enjoy the 4th wall breaking, but be turned off by the slapstick.  Others will get confused by the puns because they don’t understand them.  It helps to have a variety of humor sources to appease multiple groups.  They will scowl at the ones that aren’t for them, but switching up enough will get the point across that there’s something for everyone.  Well, people who are interested in a serious story might have to go elsewhere until they’re in the mood for crazy.

A final limitation is that you cannot predict if people will get a joke.  It could fall completely flat outside of your own mind or social circle.  The further it travels from you, the higher the risk of it running into someone who doesn’t get it.  Never take this to heart or try to explain the joke.  Similar to magic tricks, explaining things will only do damage, especially if other people are paying attention.  This might work for puns, but that’s a stretch too.

What limits do you think a crazy, zany, wild story has?

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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7 Responses to The Limitations of Zany Series and Stories

  1. L. Marie says:

    Great post. As you mentioned, humor is subjective so there is a chance that the crazy antics just won’t be understood, especially if the humor is tied to a particular region. I heard that was why the Rush Hour movies didn’t do as well some countries. It’s hard to write something that is universally believed to be funny,

    I love a zany story. And I respect authors who write them. I have a hard time, however when someone injects a zany scene directly following a moment of high tension or grief. I can understand wanting to release tension. But as a reader, I need time to process emotion. If someone almost dies and then the next moment, you’re telling me someone farted, I won’t take the previous scene seriously.

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    • The placement of a zany scene is really tough and can ruin things across the board. I think some people take them on too casually and believe it’s all good if others laugh. Only way I can see it working after a grief-inducing scene is if the character is purposely using the zaniness to recover. For example, an acid trip to show they’re suffering along with the zaniness.

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  2. I think when you called out the fact that too much zany could lead to an incoherent story is the biggest limitation. Some stuff I have tried to read just leaves me bewildered. Thanks, Charles.

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  3. I like everything you said. Physical comedy has to be tough via the written word. It so visual. I never know if people are going to get my comedy or not. I just set it free and hope it lands with someone.

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