Make ’em Laugh!

photo credit: Roger Rabbit fan club
photo credit: Roger Rabbit fan club

Roger Rabbit, while hiding from the evil Judge, assures Eddie Valentine that the guys in the diner won’t turn him in because he’d made them laugh. That laugh, he said, created a special bond that won their loyalty. And the crazy thing is–he was right!  Because the humor had helped them through their hard times when they were out of work and out of luck.

What makes tweens laugh?

Slapstick. This is especially good when it’s comic violence or clumsiness on the part of the “bad guy”. Paint cans or bowling balls falling on heads. People slipping on ice, skateboards, or anything else that will toss them in the air and on their bottoms. Tweens are starting to get the idea that violence is a bad thing (probably because they’re being exposed to it more often), but they still hearken back to childhood cartoons and want that “bounce back to life” ability of beloved characters. The slapstick is a carry over.
Silly names. Alliteration is always a plus. Tippy Tinkletrousers and the like. Boffo the Brave or Lois the Lunch Lady. Character names that are fun to read encourage them to read aloud. Funny names also make situations less threatening, so they can ease into more grown-up themes without having to be too…grown-up about it.
Bodily…Stuff. **sigh** No getting around it. They still think burps, farts and boogers are hilarious. At least the boys do. If such things can be used as weapons against an antagonist–even better! Sounds can’t always be transmitted through print, but the more creatively the author tries to convey that BRA-A-A-APTHFT!!! the more likely the tween reader is to try saying it aloud. Laughter follows. It just does.

photo credit: The Sandlot fan club
photo credit: The Sandlot fan club

Clever insults. This is where teens actually show some class. Rather than lashing together a row of swear words, they prefer the more creative taunts a la The Sandlot (“Buffalo Butt Breath”, “You bob for apples in the toilet, and you like it!” and the ultimate zinger, “You play ball like a girl!“). Tweens are discovering pecking orders, yet they’re still mostly vulnerable. If they can win a battle of the wits at this age…well, that has sticking power. Kids will be loyal to the one who made them laugh at the bully by calling him a “bootless toad-spotted bladder”.
Over-the-Top “Sexy”. I don’t mean actual sexy. Far from it. I mean things like ridiculously voluptuous chickens in a computer animated show, or a hip-swinging, lip-sticked slug monster. Tweens are just becoming aware of sexuality, but it’s still a little bizarre to them, so laughing at it–mocking it, even–makes it easier to handle.


Turns our Roger Rabbit was on to something.  Laughter helps people get through tough times, and being a tween can be tough.  A whole new world of emotions and relationships and challenges surround them, and some of them are overwhelming.  Being able to laugh about them just helps!

17 thoughts on “Make ’em Laugh!

  1. I loved this. Humor is so important for this age group (for all ages, actually) –especially slapstick. It is truly universal. I’ve been a fan of physical comedy practically my whole life, and I’ve even had the pleasure of performing it from time to time. As a soon-to-be published author of an adventure book splashed with this kind of humor, I’m pleased to have found your site. Good job informing while entertaining, always a great combo.

    D.D. Larsen, aka Dean, President of Goofballs Anonymous

  2. With a 12 year old boy in our house, the slapstick never ends. He loves watching old Red Skelton episodes and The 3 Stooges. I laugh just listening to his laughter fill the house.

  3. We recently watched “Home Alone 3.” My 11-year old son could not stop laughing. The rest of us laughed just because his was so infectious. And, yes, boys in this age think various bodily “things” are just hilarious. And I’m not sure they grow out of that. =)

    My 13-year old’s humor is a bit more sophisticated, but she’s a girl. She likes word play. If a character is good with words, or has the right “tone,” it makes her smile.

    1. That’s a fun evolution, from the thigh slapping reaction to the subtle “knowing” smile of, “I get ‘smart’ jokes now!” I find it interesting to watch the way kids react differently to such humor depending on who they’re watching it with. Truth is, they still thing the stuff is funny, but they don’t want to look like they do if they’re around more “mature” people (which usually means sense-of-humor-squelching people).

  4. Great roundup!

    And I can attest to the “bodily functions” one: I’m just about to self-publish my first ebook in Sep – a “tween” canine mystery inspired by my own Great Dane who has a popular blog – and I was lucky enough to have one of our blog followers who is a middle school teacher offer to beta read my 1st chapter with her classes.

    My 1st chapter involves the main character, a Great Dane named Honey, having her usually peaceful life turned upside down by the arrival of a petsitter with a puppy in tow. This puppy, of course, is still getting to grips with toilet training – cue lots of opportunities for toilet humour. I was fascinated when the teacher reported back to me that her younger class LOVED those moments and that just even the word “poo” in the manuscript would get get them all giggling! 🙂

    (writing as H.Y. Hanna – ‘Curse of the Scarabs – A Big Honey Dog Mystery’)

    1. Isn’t that funny? Such a simple thing as the word “poo” and they think it’s so funny. As if that taboo being written in a book is so outrageous.

  5. Why, oh why, does “Lois” always have to be a lunch lady or someone’s Great Aunt? Is it just the way of the world?

    Loved your post. I’m going to reread it often as I tackle writing my next tween book.

    1. Ooops! Sorry. If it makes you feel any better, you can bet that with a name like Lia, the rhymes from tweens were really annoying for me. They’d call me Lia Pia and squeal hysterically, like it was the funniest thing they had ever heard… **groan**

  6. Excellent post! And being surrounded by tweens, I can attest that you are spot on, especially about the bodily functions. I absolutely agree with the clever ribbing, as well, not only for tween readers, but for teen and adult audiences, too. Stringing together swear words is lazy on the author’s part. Challenge yourself. Good natured zingers are memorable.

  7. Loved this post, Lia. It was filled with the clever humor I associate with your work. Say, do you know when the boys outgrow that bodily humor thing? My husband is 41 and I’m still waiting…

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