In yesterday’s post I showed you how Scott Meyer’s comic, Basic Instructions, would look stuffed into a traditional comic strip format. It’s a tight fit.
Today, as an experiment, I rewrote Scott’s joke for Dilbert, to see how many words I could save by featuring a well-understood character, and reducing the humor peaks from four to two.
There are only about a hundred jokes in the universe. All humorists recycle them with their own twists and characters. In this case, you’re seeing a variation of “advice that makes things worse.” Scott’s twist on it is great because doing a bad job calming a child is naturally worse than doing a bad job at most other things. His setup does half of the work. That’s how he can find four separate humor points on one setup.
I took that same excellent setup and put it in an office setting. By featuring Dilbert, there’s a lot I don’t have to explain to the reader. You already know Dilbert has no skill in dealing with people, much less children. And you know his impulse for honesty and quantifying things causes him trouble. I don’t need words to describe any of that.
Click to enlarge
Using familiar characters, in familiar situations, makes humor work more easily. People perceive the familiar as funnier than the abstract. Familiar situations allow readers to add their own feelings to the situation. I would imagine, for example, that taking your own kid to the workplace would make you wonder about the worst thing that could happen to him there. That adds something, if you’ve ever been in that situation or considered it.
I’m not trying to compete with Scott’s frightened child comic. It’s his joke. If it works in Dilbert, it’s only because the setup is so strong. I’m just showing the benefit of having established characters. And one of the benefits is reduced words.
It should be noted that The Far Side had no established characters and used few words. There isn’t one solution to art. I’m just showing you the options.