Why Serious Beats Funny in Writing

I’m reading The Woman Who Went to Bed for a Year by Sue Townsend at the moment. It’s enjoyable. I give the odd chuckle here and there. The words ‘laugh out loud funny’ feature on the blurb. I appreciate that Sue Townsend is a great comic writer. But it’s not going to hit my top 10 any time soon. Comic writing just doesn’t engage my emotions.

People would probably use the words “depressing” or “heavy-going” to describe the books on my top 10 books that other people routinely describe as depressing or heavy. I prefer to use words like “profound” or “moving.” I understand that life is crap and that people read to escape that crap. But I like to see real life reflected back at me. That’s what serious books do. They help you to understand life better, to understand why people behave the way they do.

A Dose of Reality

Comedy acts as a buffer. Have you ever been in the company of a person who cracks a lot of jokes and you’re entertained for the evening, but then come away feeling that you don’t know them at all? That’s the effect a funny book has on me. The comedy sparkles, but it feels as if the story is concealing its heart.

Serious stories don’t shy away from life’s truths. They allow you to really know what’s going on in a character’s mind and heart. They give you an insight into what it’s like to live someone else’s life, to experience loss and upheaval. You can then imagine how you would react if these events happen to you, so that when difficult times come, you don’t get as much of a shock.

Emotional Workout

And if you’re in the middle of those difficult times, isn’t it great to know that there are others that have gone before you? It’s comforting to know that whatever you’re experiencing, there’s a silent army of support waiting for you in the pages of a book.

Reading a story with a sad or difficult theme, whether it’s a memoir or a novel, is a cleansing experience. It allows you to explore your own experience and to get in touch with your emotions. Above all, serious stories can be a beacon of hope, a testament to the enduring strength of the human spirit. Read A Fine Balance by Rohinton Mistry and you’ll see what I mean.

Do you have a similar response to serious stories? Or do you want to plead the case for comedy?


4 thoughts on “Why Serious Beats Funny in Writing

  1. Yes, I will plead the case for comedy, or at least humor.

    I think by far the novels that have affected me most have been funny, and that doesn’t mean they do not also have serious themes. I’m thinking of authors who have reached classic status, such as Mark Twain, Charles Dickens, Kurt Vonnegut. All of these writers are funny, and they all “get in touch with your emotions” (in your words), their work all includes serious themes as well as laugh out loud moments.

    Humor is essential to our humanity, so to characterize it as “less than worthy” or “inferior” I think is a mistake. Beyond that, it is entertaining, and the ability of a novel to entertain (laughter and joy are emotions, too), as well as make us think, or burst into tears, is nothing to dismiss.


    1. Thanks for that eloquent rebuttal. There’s nothing to beat a potent blend of the comic and the serious. On a personal note, I simply feel more of an emotional connection to serious books.


  2. I like serious fiction books. The more true to life, the more they reflect life in all its aspects the better. It’s what makes a serious book a serious book and worth the time spent reading it. But we also need the occasional side spltting laugh. Bill Bryson’s books make me laugh as also did McCarthy in ‘McCarthy’s Bar.’


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