Humor: The Spoonful of Sugar

It pays to make your reader laugh.

Yesterday while I was puttering along on the treadmill, I watched a brilliant TED Talk by Jennifer Aaker and Naomi Bagdonas – Why Great Leaders Take Humor Seriously. It isn’t hard to get someone to admit that they love to laugh and why is pretty obvious once you realize something that Aaker and Bagdonas point out. When we laugh, our brains release hormones. Yes, that’s hormones plural. During laughter, the brain released endorphins (as during exercise), cortisol (as during meditation), and dopamine (as during sex). That’s a three for one impact!

The power of laughter is so strong, and so important in today’s world, that Aaker and Bagdonas teach a class at the Stanford Business School. Read that again. The Stanford Business School. You can get something about laughter and leadership or you can take personal management or microeconomics.

The pair went on to explain that listeners were more receptive and willing to pay more for a product or service (20% more!) if they laughed. This is a pretty powerful message for writers especially writers who deal with serious subjects.

At the moment, I am listening to The Book of Lost Friends by Lisa Wingate. For those of you who don’t know the book, there are paired story lines. One is about a former slave child who sets out to rescue two young women, her hated mistress and this woman’s creole half-sister, and ends up looking for the siblings and cousins she was separated from during the Civil War. The second story is about Benny, a new teacher who realizes that her poor African-American students don’t care about Animal Farm but might connect with stories from their own pasts.

It is some scary, serious stuff. In spite of this, Wingate make you laugh. When Benny realizes some of her students are hungry, she starts stocking cream cakes (think Ding Dongs) which solve the problem so much as encourage her students to ask for sweets. She is taught by an older woman in the community to make a healthier banana and oatmeal cookie that is cheap to make. It would have been super easy to call them banana oatmeal cocoa cookies or cocoa raisin banana cookies or whatever. Instead, this stern, dignified matriarch teaches Benny to make Cocoa Oatmeal Raisin Pooperoos.

I laughed out loud. In no way does the name of the cookie diminish the desperate poverty in the modern community. It doesn’t take away from the fact that young women were still be snatched up and sold after the Civil War. But it does help the reader release some of the tension that they are holding and continue on with the story.

The print book that I’m reading is just as serious but I’m not going to name it. The author is a best seller but he has forgotten to make his reader laugh. And because of this, I’m contemplating skiping to the end and calling it a day. Without the humor, the book is just too much to slog through.

And now I’ve got a mission. I know I managed to pull it early on in Airstream, but I need to do it again. I need to make my reader laugh. I want them to stick with my story until the end.

Too bad I can’t just recycle Cocoa Oatmeal Raisin Pooperoos. That name still cracks me up.