There are many subjects that people tend to avoid treating humorously, as many people are easily offended and may be put off by what they perceive as a lack of sensitivity. While there are certainly instances in which serious subjects deserve a serious tone, Hugo Sebastian Hirsch explains that there are instances in which humor is not just acceptable, but absolutely necessary. Hirsch, a professional blogging consultant and writer whose work has appeared in numerous online and print publications, believes that understanding how to appropriately use humor in writing is essential for even the most serious of scribes.
“Writers have to recognize that humor is an important tool, and avoiding a humorous tone in writing so that no one is unintentionally offended would be the same as a carpenter electing not to use a hammer so that their fingers are not unintentionally harmed,” said Hirsch. “Humor should not be limited to comedic endeavors, as it is an excellent method for pointing out the absurdity of a situation or circumstance, and comic relief is critical for even the most serious of creative works.”
Hirsch points to Ken Kesey’s One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest as a perfect example of the effective use of humor. While dealing with serious subjects such as insanity, abuse, racism and oppressive power structures, Kesey’s book is marked with comical incidents that induce laughter just as effectively as they inspire thoughtful reflection. The reader is entertained by the novel’s humor while being simultaneously informed about important and pressing social issues.
“Kesey uses humor so effectively that the reader is informed of these vital social issues on an almost subconscious level,” says Hirsch. “The novel does not come off as preachy or as having some ulterior motive with regard to inspiring widespread social change, but rather as a brilliant book that touches on the full range of human emotion, including, of course, humor.”
While Kesey was a master in using dark humor to convey a message, there are circumstances in which writers must exercise caution. Humor should not obscure the seriousness of the subject, so writers should ensure that their use of humor underscores and emphasizes the significance of the subject. Hirsch advises new writers to ask for editorial guidance whenever they are unsure of whether their comedic tone will emphasize or obscure, and it is often best to simply err on the side of caution. Even though restraint is sometimes necessary, writers should also understand that avoiding a natural human emotion can be quite detrimental.