How to Write Funny

How to Write FunnyPart 17 of The Do’s and Don’ts of Storytelling According to Marvel

If you ask me, the trifecta of must-have story elements are: relationships, action, and humor. Of the three, arguably the most difficult is learning how to write funny. You can’t fake humor. It either works or it doesn’t.

This might prompt some writers to avoid it out of insecurity with their ability to pull it off. But don’t do that either. Well-executed humor won’t just make your story more entertaining, it will also offer the ability to bring greater depth to almost every other aspect of your story—including character, theme, and even plot.

Why? Because good humor is true humor. And when it’s true, it heightens every part of your story. Even the darkest story can benefit from not just humor itself, but an underlying understanding of what humor does and how it does it.

In Which Thor: Ragnarok Does Indeed Save the Trilogy

Welcome to Part 17 of our ever-expanding exploration of the storytelling techniques found in the Marvel Cinematic Universe. The third (and conclusive?) installment in the Thor trilogy was much anticipated, not least because its addictive trailers hinted at a completely new take on the character. Happily those hints were fully paid off in a delightfully rompy movie that is not only easily the best of the three but also made a concerted and impressively successful effort to clean up its predecessors’ mess.

The Thor movies have always been the most problematic within the MCU. They’ve each struggled under a load of individual weaknesses that mostly stemmed from general confusion about what exactly to do with this character and his world. Muddy themes, overcrowded plots, and misplaced romances all contributed. Admittedly, I liked both Thor and Dark World, but that liking came mostly because I recognized the underlying good points of the characters and storylines—even though they weren’t fully executed.

But that was before director Taika Waititi, previously known primarily for his brilliant indie film Hunt for the Wilderpeople (oh yeah, and Team Thor), took the reins, took over, and took it to the house. He course-corrected the Thor storyline with a radical change of direction that refocused the story on the character’s strengths (hello, dorky humor) rather than trying to make him into something he never should have been (goodbye, epic lover).

I feel like I say this in preface to every Marvel post, but: this is not a perfect movie. As is par for the course, its villain conflict is largely ancillary. It’s a little scattered in places. And some might argue it changes tonally too much. But bottom line (and I know I say this all the time too): I loved it. It was ruthlessly fun, knew exactly what it wanted to be and what it should be, and closed off the character’s thematic arc in a deeply satisfying (if cursory) way.

Almost all of that was due to Waititi’s masterful understanding of humor-driven storytelling.

But before we dig down into what we can learn from his chops, here’s my highlight reel:

  • Hela. Is Cate Blanchett ever not awesome? Other than the fact that she looked Ragnarokin’ (see what I did there?) in every scene, I really loved the little plotline that made her Thor’s unknown older sister. It made very personal what would otherwise have been an even more ancillary conflict, as well as neatly mirroring some of the earlier thematic elements with Thor’s relationship to Loki—not to mention giving Odin new and interesting complexities. I wish she could have been developed more, but, hey, villains never have been Marvel’s strong point.
Thor Ragnarok Hela Destroys Mjolnir

Thor: Ragnarok (2017), Marvel Studios.

  • More Loki. Finally! From Day 1, Tom Hiddleston has been the bright center of the Thor movies, despite being sadly underused in almost all of them. But finally, he was brought on board as a main character and, even better, a main supporting character rather than an outright antagonist. This not only allowed for better development of the troubled brother relationship, but also gave Loki’s mischief-making duality the perfect playground.
Thor Ragnarok Loki

Thor: Ragnarok (2017), Marvel Studios.

  • Matt Damon. That little play Loki-as-Odin was enjoying when Thor first returned home to Asgard looked hilarious—but I honestly have no idea what it was about since I was too busy rubbernecking: “Is that Matt Damon? That looks like Matt Damon. That’s not Matt Damon, is it?”


  • Jeff Goldblum. Reportedly, when Goldblum came on board to play the Grandmaster, he asked Waititi: “Basically, you just want me to play Jeff Goldblum, right?” ‘Nuff said.

Thor: Ragnarok (2017), Marvel Studios.

  • Waititi. Obviously, Waititi is this movie, from start to finish. But he gets extra props for also playing the entirely lovable leader of the Grandmaster’s “prisoners-with-jobs.” Plus: yay for Kiwi accents!
Thor Ragnarok Korg

Thor: Ragnarok (2017), Marvel Studios.

  • Valkyries. Because I totally agree with Thor: Valkyries are awesome.
Thor Ragnarok Valkyries

Thor: Ragnarok (2017), Marvel Studios.

  • Lightning. Raise your hand if you thought Mjolnir getting destroyed was a bad thing. Raise your other hand if you no longer think that. *chills*
Thor Ragnarok Lightning

Thor: Ragnarok (2017), Marvel Studios.

  • No Jane. So this is kinda a highlight and kinda not. I loved Jane Foster in the previous movies, even while knowing she was one of the main reasons the stories never found their proper footing. So I wholeheartedly agree it was a good move axing her from this movie—but I wish they’d found a better way to do it than having her “dump” Thor, since that basically negates the whole point of the second movie.
Thor Jane Hand Kiss

Thor (2011), Paramount Pictures.

  • The funnies. Why do we love this movie again? Oh yeah, that’s why.

Thor: Ragnarok (2017), Marvel Studios.

How to Write Funny (Even in the Middle of an Apocalypse)

It’s not enough to write funny just for the sake of writing funny. Do that, and all you’ve got is a stand-up routine. In order for humor to contribute meaningfully, it must matter. It must be a carefully conceived technique that advances plot, character, or theme—or, preferably all three. Ragnarok nails them all, thanks largely to the following four tenets of how to write funny.

1. Be True to Your Characters

The best humor is character-centric humor. It’s humor that’s funny because it’s coming out of this person’s mouth. Put the same words in a different character’s mouth and the result just wouldn’t the same. It isn’t the joke that’s funny, it’s the character.

What this means, of course, is not every character can be funny. And no character can be funny in the same way as another character. You can’t superimpose the humor on top of the characters. Rather, you must dig down into the characters and find the funny that’s already there.

The only way to do this is to:

1. Be entirely aware of your character. Who is this person, really? Smart, dumb, strong, weak, brave, cowardly?

2. Love your character. Humor almost inevitably arises from making fun. If you’re making fun of a character from a place of disdain, it’s rarely as funny as when you’re doing it from a place of affection—and it’s much more likely to be offensive. But when you love your character not in spite of the personality traits you’re making fun of, but because of them—then you’ll find yourself in just the right environment to dig deep for the really funny stuff.

3. Make fun. Once you know and love your character, you get to exaggerate the larger-than-life personality traits that make this person interesting—because, really, that’s all humor is: something interesting that catches us off guard.

How Ragnarok Aced Its Characters

Honestly, up until Ragnarok, nobody at Marvel really seemed to know what to do with Thor. The best parts of his appearances in both his own movies and the Avengers’ movies were always thanks to the cheekiness with which Chris Hemsworth plays the character’s larger-than-life pomposity, bravado, and general obliviousness. The films kept trying to play up his epic-fantasy role as a warrior prince or star-crossed lover, and the results have always been mixed with more than a fair dose of corniness.

Until Ragnarok.

Waititi’s greatest triumph in this movie is letting Thor be Thor. Face it, in his best moments, the “strongest Avenger” has always borne more than a slight resemblance to an overgrown Lab puppy: big, destructive, overeager, and obliviously good-natured. Waititi saw that and took full advantage of it, letting Hemsworth turn loose his considerable comedic skills to make fun of the series’ most over-the-top character.

Although Ragnarok emphasizes this part of Thor’s personality far more than previous films (giving Ragnarok a completely different tone), it doesn’t invent any of this. It just takes advantage of it in an honest way to mine the humor that was always lying there under the surface.

Thor Ragnarok I Won Easily

Thor: Ragnarok (2017), Marvel Studios.

2. Be Unexpected

Humor in a nutshell: the art of the unexpected. Learning how to write funny is largely about learning how to surprise readers by giving them something they didn’t see coming. Think the character is going to say this? Nope, she says the opposite. Think the character is going to react with anger? Nope, she’s actually laughing her head off. Think she’s gonna trip on that banana peel? Nope, she neatly dodges it—only to trip over the manhole cover.

In truth, this is really just the art of good writing, period. If readers can anticipate the end of your every sentence—if they know how one character is going to respond to the other before the words are out of her mouth—if they can guess the gag’s payoff from its setup—then it’s not only not funny, it’s boring.

This is true for every aspect of your story—from beat-by-beat action to the plot itself—but it’s perhaps nowhere more true than in dialogue. We see this especially in funny dialogue. When you’ve heard the joke before, it’s not surprising, and therefore not as funny (perhaps not funny at all).

With every sentence you write, you should be thinking twice about your first instinct: is it unexpected? is it entertaining? Even if it’s not meant to be funny, it should keep readers on their toes in exactly the same way humor does.

The Real Reason Ragnarok Was So Funny

Waititi’s brand of humor is all about the unexpected.

Think Thor’s going to throw that ball through the glass and escape the Hulk’s prison in heroic fashion? Nope, the ball’s going to bounce right back and smack him in the head in the middle of his epic speech.

Think the leader of the gladiators is going to be gnarly and nasty and make life miserable for Thor? Nope, he’s an adorable sweetheart who tried to start a revolution by printing pamphlets.

Think Thor’s going to triumph over the Hulk by using the Avengers’ “sun’s getting real low” code to bring Banner back? Nope, turns out he’s not quite as persuasive as Black Widow in that department.

Honestly, we could go through this movie beat by beat and talk about how almost every single moment makes use of the principle of the unexpected to hold its viewers’ interest, keep them entertained, and spark their laughter.

Thor Ragnarok Arena Fight Hulk

Thor: Ragnarok (2017), Marvel Studios.

3. Give the Audience What They Want

At first, this one seems like a bit of a paradox. How do you give audiences what they want while also subverting their expectations?

Here’s the thing: your readers want to be surprised. But deep down, they want to be surprised by things they either subconsciously expected or consciously desired but were misdirected into feeling were unlikely. When you can set readers up to want something, then make them think they’re not going to get it, then circle back to give them exactly that in an unexpected way—they will love it.

Not all humor will be about pleasant things. There’s a reason the banana peel is a staple of physical humor. But often, the most enjoyable humor arises from giving audiences (and thus, characters) exactly what they want.

You have to be careful with this. Giving readers and characters what they want should never be straightforward. After all, if you keep giving characters what they want, you’ll run out of conflict fast.

Instead, give them what they want with complications. This is the essence of good scene structure. The character thinks he gains his scene goal—only to have it end with some disastrous complication. If you’re wanting to figure out how to write funny, this plays right into your hand. You get to delight readers with the outcome they wanted, while still surprising them and driving the conflict with unexpected eventualities.

How Ragnarok Gave Audiences Everything They Wanted

We might go so far as to say this is the principle that made this entire movie: this film was exactly what Thor fans wanted (a movie that worked), but in a way no one saw coming (a space comedy more in the vein of Guardians of the Galaxy than the previous Thor movies).

Waititi demonstrates this principle over and over again throughout the film. Perhaps the most blatant example is the Midpoint battle between Thor and the Hulk. The trailers unfortunately (if inevitably) spoiled this moment, but it was still awesome.

When the Grandmaster’s “beloved champion” bursts into the arena, we expect it to be some incredibly big, ugly monster. But what we want is for it to be someone we know. If it’s someone we know and love, even better.

So we’re both surprised and delighted when the monster smashing through those doors turns out to be the “innncreeeediiibleee…” Hulk!

Thor Ragnarok Hulk

Thor: Ragnarok (2017), Marvel Studios.

4. Use Humor to Smooth Over the Rough Spots

There is no greater magic in storytelling than humor. It fixes just about everything (including crazy, mish-mashed plots, on occasion). This is especially true for your characters. As we talked about in our first point, above, humor is all about accentuating the extremes in your characters’ personalities. However, by their very nature, extremes are often problematic, sometimes even unlikable.

Your character is a jerk (hello, Tony Stark), a goody two-shoes (um, Cap?), a humorless bigot (Drax, anyone?)—no problem. A little humor greases those wheels, helps readers get past your characters’ less-than-attractive traits, and even eases them into the ability to empathize with and love these people for their faults.

But, again, this only works if you’re coming at your character from an “inside perspective” and using it to create situations that are self-deprecating. Creating humor from an “outside perspective” can also be useful, but instead of smoothing over the rough spots, it will serve to emphasize them—and not in a kind way. This can work when you’re making fun of truly awful traits or actions, but it is not a feel-good kind of humor and can easily cross the line into offensiveness. The former is about poking fun at ourselves; the latter is about making fun of “others.”

Why Ragnarok Gives Us Our Best Thor Yet

Like all of Marvel’s characters, Thor is a deeply flawed person. As the (essentially) immortal royal son of Asgard, both his strengths and his weaknesses are epically larger than life—to the point of cartoonish-ness on occasion. Particularly in his first movie, he was a short-sighted, arrogant, brawn-over-brains lummox. As Loki emphatically stated, “My brother is an idiot.”

One of the main reasons for the character’s struggles in previous appearances was that the movies tried to play him, in all his Asgardian glory, too straight. Humor was his only saving grace—which Hemsworth seemed to realize, even if no one else did. Wisely, he never took the character, or himself, too seriously and always played the Mighty Thor with a little twinkle in his eye.

Waititi recognized that and finally gave us a version of Thor that takes full advantage of the character’s undeniable silliness—which, ironically, also gives us what is, in my opinion, the most epic version yet. By using humor to acknowledge and lovingly joke about Thor’s extreme personality traits, the character becomes more realistic, relatable, and endearing. His pomposity becomes a joke on himself. His careless (and usually lucky) mistakes become a useful plot device. His oblivious destructiveness transforms him from an unbeatable immortal into a relatable klutz.

This is the Thor who’s always been there, but finally Waititi has pulled him out from under all the unnecessary baggage, dusted him off, and given him a proper chance to … sparkle.

Thor Ragnarok Banner

Thor: Ragnarok (2017), Marvel Studios.


Don’t be afraid of learning how to write funny. It is a teachable technique arising from the strong foundation of well-realized characters and story beats. Immerse yourself in your characters, look beyond plot cliches, and be honest about the story you’re telling. That’s all you have to do discover the kind of humor that will raise any story to the next level.

Stay Tuned: In February, we’ll visit the Black Panther in Wakanda for the first time.

Previous Posts in This Series:

Wordplayers, tell me your opinion! Are you learning how to write funny in your work-in-progress? Tell me in the comments!

Click the “Play” button to Listen to Audio Version (or subscribe to the Helping Writers Become Authors podcast in Apple Podcast or Amazon Music).


Love Helping Writers Become Authors? You can now become a patron. (Huge thanks to those of you who are already part of my Patreon family!)

Sign Up Today

hwba sidebar pic

Sign up to receive K.M. Weiland’s e-letter and receive her free e-book Crafting Unforgettable Characters: A Hands-On Introduction to Bringing Your Characters to Life.

About K.M. Weiland | @KMWeiland

K.M. Weiland is the award-winning and internationally-published author of the acclaimed writing guides Outlining Your Novel, Structuring Your Novel, and Creating Character Arcs. A native of western Nebraska, she writes historical and fantasy novels and mentors authors on her award-winning website Helping Writers Become Authors.


  1. Michael Saltar says

    I know your secret: you write these blog posts because you can’t help it. It’s part of the enjoyment of the movie-going experience for you. Your readers, this forum — it’s the parking lot conversation after the movie. We would have had similar words in person walking to the car (which indeed I did).

    Couldn’t agree more. Nailed it. As per KM usual.

  2. I haven’t seen `Thor: Ragnarok’ yet but you’ve just made me really want to! I completely agree with you about the best humor meaning that you laugh with your characters, not at them. I was spoiled forever on funny sidekicks by Lloyd Alexander’s characters in `The Prydain Chronicles.’ I got so I expected funny sidekicks to show depth and moments of heroism, and I now get very grumpy if I read a story where those things don’t happen. 🙂

    • K.M. Weiland | @KMWeiland says

      I was just thinking about this again this morning. I think this is why I find so little humor these days actually funny: so much of it is mean-spirited and nasty.

  3. Robert Billing says

    I agree with what you have said. For me a lot of humour is about building up an expectation in the reader’s mind, then shattering it. In the first of the Jane novels there is a scene where two black-hats, wearing body armour and full-face helmets are set to guard Jane. Hardened imperial stormtroopers, you might think. But when the helmets come off inside there are a couple of spotty teenagers. They are members of two opposed fanatical religious sects, and instead of guarding they have a ferocious argument which ends in their appealing to Jane to judge who is right. Each time you think you know what is going on you find that everything is being done by a pair of likeable idiots who are making a mess of it.

    Jane, meanwhile, just sits there and smiles, utterly calm and aloof, while everyone else makes idiots of themselves.

    I have also written a stage show which is going to be performed in January. It’s an updated version of Snow White in which the evil queen is really bad at magic, the magic mirror is deeply insubordinate, the dwarfs are in hock to the bank and the huntsman can’t stand the sight of blood. Once again it subverts all the expectations. At one point, in a rage, the queen tries to turn someone into a mouse and feed them to the cat.

    In fact they turn into a computer mouse…

  4. Sparksofember says

    I enjoyed the movie but had issues with it too. The contrast with the characters compared to the earlier movies was jarring. I’m all for reinventing characters but in a separate retelling, not usually as sequels. But I wouldn’t have minded so much if it hadn’t been such an extreme difference. Rather than humor done right, it felt more like humor without restraint. The humorous moments I liked where drowned out by nonstop comedy. I also felt like Loki was dumbed down and I felt like the movie refused to take itself seriously and the entire ending was cliche and a bit deus ex machina.

    • K.M. Weiland | @KMWeiland says

      Yeah, you just had to roll with the major tonal changes. It worked for me since I felt the films *needed* a major course correction, but it definitely wasn’t seamless.

    • Yeah, I agree the movie definitely had its low points. Most people raved about the humor, but I didn’t really laugh during the movie. Which is not the movie’s fault, I just happened to have encountered funnier.

      When I left the theater, I was a mix of disappointed and excited. Excited because the mid-credits scene blew my mind away, but ultimately disappointed by the movie as a whole. I love humor, I had no problem with Ragnorak basically being Guardians of the Galaxy. I pushed my friends to watch the movie with me despite them not wanting to, so I was upset that I was the one being disappointed.

      I agree with the post, that the movie finally nailed Thor’s character. I love the way his character had evolved. But only him. Yes, the movie tried to hit some emotional balance and thematic moments, but they were… lacking.

      Thor had no emotional connection to anyone. Most characters just sort of stood around and looked pretty. Throughout the whole thing, I was waiting for it to click. For some moment that will bring it together into a cohesive movie.

      Do I hate the movie like some people? No. It was aesthetically pleasing to watch, and I’m going to rewatch it. It was like someone put the movie on x2 speed. Blink and you’ll miss it. Rewatching it will fix that. I’m always more of an action and humor person, but I think the importance of humor in a story is the balance. You can’t sell your story on pure humor alone. I wouldn’t say take out the humor, but humor is superficial, so even one or two lines of dialogue with actual weight could have made it so much better.

      Ultimately, this is a Thor movie. Not Loki’s, not Odin’s. So if he’s going to get a glow up while everyone else is dumbed down, then I suppose it’s his right, after being overshadowed in the previous movies to the point it’s a running joke. And he’s a superhero. And this is a movie. The action is going to be front and center and the depth is going to take the backseat. In other words, I’m desperate to love the movie but have spent too many days trying to figure out how to justify its flaws.

  5. So many great points on humor, I’m going to comment on some as I go …
    “Put the same words in a different character’s mouth and the result just wouldn’t the same. It isn’t the joke that’s funny, it’s the character.”
    Yes, because every character can’t be the class clown. Someone must be the straight man. And each of the characters must remain true to their nature. If they do something out of character, so the writer can make a joke, it feels manipulative and unreal – therefore, not funny.
    The 2nd Harry Potter film made a good improvement for humor by giving one of Dumbledore’s lines in the novel to Prof. McGonagal. Early on, Ron assumes, “You’re going to expel us, aren’t you?” McGonagal replies, with an edge of warning, “Not TODAY, Mr. Weasley.” It may have been funny in the book, but nowhere near as funny as it was coming from McGonagal, with the implication that she’s always thinking about expelling him. This was used later in the films again, as part of the running gag, when she tells someone, “Go give Weasley something to do, he looks FAR too happy.” When the humor becomes cemented as part of the character, writers can get a lot of mileage out of it.

    • K.M. Weiland | @KMWeiland says

      Yes, running jokes are the best. You can tell jokes with a character at the end of a story or series that just wouldn’t have worked at the beginning.

    • When writing humor I love that moment when you realize that a joke plays better when a different character is the one to deliver it, because then you know it means more coming from them or it’s meaning is more layered. Like you say, that line is funny coming from Dumbledore, but it’s a throwaway joke. However, coming from McGonagal it becomes a “kidding but not kidding” veiled threat that gives it a lot more weight and makes it a lot funnier!

  6. “Love your character. Humor almost inevitably arises from making fun. If you’re making fun of a character from a place of disdain, it’s rarely as funny as when you’re doing it from a place of affection—”
    This is why the Wonder Woman TV show never worked. I saw the pilot online, and it was clear the writers didn’t respect or “get” Wonder Woman. They wrote it from a modern offended PC perspective, positioning WW as a CEO of a “Wonder Woman” corporation that did some kind of global charity work. Yet when she heads up a meeting, her major concern is about how her measurements are exaggerated in the company’s Wonder Woman doll. She later tries to persuade a guard to let her into a secure area while dressed in her WW outfit, telling him, “Listen. This outfit opens doors for me.”
    I was stunned by how focused the writers were on things that the WW character would never think about, let alone concern herself with. So the show failed, while the WW movie, that got the charcter right, succeeded.
    As for humor, this worked beautifully in “Avengers”, when poor Capt.America finally gets a reference in people’s modern conversation, about “flying monkeys” from “The Wizard of Oz”, and realizes he’s getting off topic by being so proud of himself. One of the funniest bits of the movie!

    • K.M. Weiland | @KMWeiland says

      Yes, the “flying monkey” line was one of my favorites in the entire series. It works because it’s entirely character-based. It becomes an in-joke of sorts because viewers understand Cap’s journey.

  7. Loved it! It was finally, exactly what I thought a Thor movie should be. He was in his full power, top of his game, fully in charge of himself (well, except for thinking he was the God of Hammers). His humor and “clumsiness” along with his cheerful optimism – “That’s what superheroes do.” – made him both charming and utterly adorable. Finally, he didn’t just fall for every old trick his brother pulled. And finally, he and Loki got to be on the same side. I didn’t feel the shock from old to new (although I watched the other Thor movies – I just didn’t love them – I didn’t even like the 2nd one enough to see it again… ) it felt like it finally grew into itself to become what it should be. The humor is the best link between the brothers too… “let’s do ‘help'”… followed at the end by them going against Hela at the end with “We are NOT doing ‘help'”… And Heimdall’s “I saw it – knew you were coming.” And what a great foil – Skurge. I also loved how they were able to weave in appropriate backstory and give a highpoint and character arc for each of the characters… Thor, Loki, Hulk, the Valkyrie, Skurge, etc…. I thought they did a rather masterful job of pulling the individuals as well as the movie through a complete story. Hela was awesomely nasty too!

  8. Still no Patreon account? That’s funny.

  9. I was meh on the first two Thor movies. But this one? As soon as I saw the trailer at Wonder Woman and Hulk lands in the arena to beat Thor’s brains out, I was so excited. It didn’t disappoint.

    It’s the funniest non-Guardians entry into the MCU, and one of the best IMO. It hits all the right notes, just like Guardians.

    As a Dirk Gently fan, I also died laughing over Odin in the nursing home. That’s from The Long Dark Teatime of the Soul, the second Dirk Gently book.

  10. Jenny North says

    I was beta reading for a friend recently and I mentioned that I thought she needed to be harder on her protagonist, which is a trap I sometimes fall into. It’s easy for a writer to get attached to her characters and treat them like little glass figurines rather than the durable rough-and-tumble toys they are. (They’re fun to play with because they can handle some wear and tear!)

    But with comedy I think you really do need to be even more ruthless. You can’t hold back out of fear of making the hero look silly or foolish or you risk undercutting the joke. Besides, it’s how they bounce back that really shows their character. Take Thor…lots of the jokes are at his expense, but it’s fun because he doesn’t let them get him down. (“Strongest Avenger!” “Access denied.” “…Damn you, Stark. Point Break.” “Welcome, Point Break.”) And there are several times Thor just wanted to win some really petty argument (“We’re kind of both like fire…”) which does make him seem insecure, but also funny and relatable!

    Of course I still love that little moment in the last movie where he enters the apartment and very politely hung his hammer on the coat rack. That’s just gold. 🙂

  11. Yes, humor can be learned, just like writing fiction can be learned. I taught and wrote a book on the process. One thing to add that I learned while writing is, Do no harm. We want our characters to suffer in stories, and we want to create humor by having someone “suffer” a bad situation. But it must do no genuine harm to the character, or the humor is lost. If someone slips on a banana peel and falls on the grass, looking silly, it’s funny. If they fall and break their neck, it’s not. As long as we know the character will be all right, it can usually work. Another example from the 2nd Harry Potter movie, Harry breaks his arm and the inept Gilderoy Lockhart volunteers to “fix” it, but ends up magically removing all the bones in Harry’s arm. Since it’s a magical world (and since no one completely freaks out in panic), we know this can be fixed, so the missing bones can still be part of a joke.

    • K.M. Weiland | @KMWeiland says

      IDK, there are lots of comedies that end with someone in traction. 😉

    • Jenny North says

      I remember reading an interview with director Irvin Kershner about that moment in Empire Strikes Back when they first enter the asteroid field and Han ducks down out of sight and gets clobbered on the head with the tool box and howls “OWWWW!” with pain. Kershner noted that it was really important for Han to pop his head up right away so that the audience could see that he was okay because otherwise they might worry he’d been seriously injured and it would take the air out of the joke. I always thought that was interesting because the action is retroactive–we’re already laughing, but seeing that he’s okay signaled that it was okay to laugh!

  12. Andrewiswriting says

    So much to love about this movie. I’ve seen it three times so far. The only thing – and it’s a minor criticism – is that dorky wave at the end. Doesn’t really fit, I feel.
    Everything else, golden.

    Oh, and as an Aussie, I can teach you how to write a Kiwi ecksunt properly: Korg dudn’t prunt inuff pemflits


  13. DirectorNoah says

    I was very disappointed when I saw Thor Ragnorak.
    I’m a fan of the first two movies, despite their faults, but in my opinion, the plot of the third film was so messy and wobbly. The first thirty minutes felt terribly rushed, with so much happening so fast I could hardly keep up. But worst of all, the characters seemed clumsily written and misused. The Warriors Three had no thought or consideration given to them, and were treated unfairly as insignificant baggage. Jane Foster’s ‘dumping’ completely undid the previous films, and basically voided her relationship with Thor. Odin’s dark history seemed to totally contradict his wise, regal persona. Valkire appeared two-dimensional, was given a weak arc and didn’t really seem fleshed out enough. Thor became flippent and lost some of his good honour and responsibilty, and even poor Loki’s flame was dimmed. Hela was the only powerful and interesting villian, alongside Skurge.
    And the junkyard on the Grandmaster’s planet instantly reminded me of Star Wars (couldn’t they come up with something a bit different!?)

    Ragnorak did have potential, but I thought the jokes stifled any seriousness it could have had, and were so overdone, it became stale rapidly, especially with the ending. I agree that humour does enrich any story if done correctly, but for me, the movie felt as if the jokes came first, above the story, and was more important than the characters or plot. Humour is a poor substitute when swapped for a good story. But then again, it’s also subjective and down to personal taste, and I’m afraid this movie just didn’t work for me. 😟

    • K.M. Weiland | @KMWeiland says

      It’s totally one of those movies that you either love or hate.

    • Different strokes for different folks, I guess. Just one thing:

      “And the junkyard on the Grandmaster’s planet instantly reminded me of Star Wars (couldn’t they come up with something a bit different!?) ”

      As a 45yr+ reader of comics, I recognised the set design in that movie as straight out of the Jack “King” Kirby school of design, circa 1960-70. Junkyard, flying weird shapes, riotous colour combos, all of it.

  14. Insightful post, KM. Appreciate you continuing the Marvel series.

    As to the movie itself, as always, I took opening day off to go see it with long time comic book friends. We all loved its humor and, like any good comedy, it benefited from a viewing in the theater surrounded by a crowd that was laughing and in good spirits. That atmosphere never fails to amplify the moviegoing experience of a comedy for me.

    My wife couldn’t come, so I took her about a week later. While still enjoyable, it defintely didn’t have the rewatchability that the original Guardians had. You make a good point about being unexpected with your comedy above. The flip side to that, in this case, was the story underpinning the humor was a bit shallow once you know what to expect in the ha ha department.

    While I am always glad to see Karl Urban in anything, Skurge’s arc was as predictable as could be. And, as you point out, Hela could have been better developed as a villain. As glorious as Cate was vamping it up on screen, there was a really solid back story to her character that sadly ended up without much emotional impact. As cool as it was to see Hulk vs. Thor, I wish they’d spent the time beefing up the conflict between Thor and Hela instead of keeping them apart for the entire second act.

    But I also realize that would have robbed them of the fish out of water comedy opportunities that made the movie so enjoyable. And I thought the opening scene, leading all the way up to his reappearance in Asgard with Skurge covered in goo, was about as fabulous an opening as they could have put together.

    So I’m torn. There’s certainly a place for a story whose primary purpose is to entertain. That’s clearly what Taika was going for here and he succeeded. I certainly walked out of the theater happy. But, in many ways, I prefer the resonance of Thor’s arc in the first movie, and I wish this one had some more emotional resonance to it. For me, a movie doesn’t have that rewatchability factor without it.

    • K.M. Weiland | @KMWeiland says

      Yes, it’s a shame we could have somehow taken the best parts of all three movies and put them together. *Then* we’d have really had something special.

      And, I agree, Karl Urban was totally wasted. Or… you know what I mean. 😉

  15. “Sutur, you. . . son of a bitch!” – Thor, Thor: Ragnarok

    I’m sorry. Ragnarok was GOOD??? This was by far THE WORST movie of the three. The humor, if anything, was humor done ENTIRELY WRONG. I don’t understand. . . I am entirely confused. A laugh and a chuckle-worthy line every now and again is fine. But trying to do that EVERY. SINGLE. LINE. is redundant and idiotic and classless.

    Loki’s character was flat and pathetic and literally stupid. He should’ve been vaporized; maybe then I could’ve tried to find some sympathy for that class clown. Thor was an absolute fool; I liked nothing about his jokes and, as a writer, found his speech grating. Any writer knows that you can’t change speech pattern and colloquialisms like that. I came for the elegance, not trashy American/21st century “jokes” that are really nothing but crude, pubescent boy attempts at gaining laughter from the masses.

    I cannot praise Taika because he has created nothing in this movie worthy of praise. Even Korg was embarrassingly idiotic. I shudder to see what the rest of his films look like.

    I have no idea, but I suppose just have a standard that I adhere to, and Ragnarok was definite trash. I think the plot was next to nonexistent, and Hela was weak and her backstory stereotypical; anyone who didn’t see she wasn’t going to be some sort of relation from the START is either blind or ignorant of the mythos. Odin was made into a terrible parent who dumps the “bad” children instead of trying to help them become better. Loki was cast to the role of fruitloop who can’t even get out of a simple falling spell. Strange is a fairly young magician/sorcerer, so the fact that he somehow upstaged Loki is an egregious fault I cannot forgive Taika for.

    Valkyrie/Brunnhilde was flat and 2D and SO EXTRA that I gagged whenever she came onscreen. I know when a writer has added a character simply to check a box, and Valkyrie was DEFINITELY that. Two, actually: Person of Color and Female Side Character.

    Maybe it’s just because I like characters to have a DEPTH to them. I have no idea. But I DO KNOW I did not go to see Ragnarok because I wanted to laugh. It’s RAGNAROK; the end of all things, the Twilight of the Gods. I expected more from this film then men in ripped red capes with buzzed hair, drunk women with cliche attitudes, and the God of Cheap Jokes, aka Loki.

    What I learned from this film is how to ruin my characters, how to cheapen their personalities, and how to destroy something fully and completely.

    This Star Wars/Star Trek/Guardians of the Galaxy/Gladiator parody should’ve stayed in Hel where it belongs. It’s worthless from my writing standpoint and cruel to have utterly violated these characters so appallingly.

    I’ll forever remember this movie as the movie that turned a good character into the fool Loki always took him for, wandering through the cosmos utterly lost.

    In parting, I leave this line of Loki-as-Odin:

    “Oh shit.”

    Please tell me how THAT was in-character for the person who brought me into this fandom?

    • Roinda Bennett says

      I haven’t seen this movie yet, and to be honest I’m in two minds about it. I’m interested in seeing it, but on the other hand, I’m uncertain.

      I remember reading an early review of this movie and the writer wasn’t totally enamoured by the changes in Thor. I’m paraprasing here as I can’t remember exactly what he said, but one of the things that has always set Thor apart from the other Avengers is that he is Asgardian, he’s going to be different, i.e behaviour, speech, manners, technological knowledge, that’s what makes him who he is.

      Comedy is something I’m always wary of. I’m maybe being rather oversensitive, and have probably read too many fanfictions, but when it comes to my favourite characters, I don’t like it when they are made to look stupid. It’s alright if they are laughing along, but if not, then no. How many times have I read about Thor trying to use a toaster/oven/microwave etc and blowing it up for the nth time because he doesn’t know how, despite the numerous times he may have been shown. Thor may not be as clever as Loki, but he isn’t stupid, if he can learn and retain the skills of battle and fighting and how to use different weapons then surely he can do this with other things.

      I’m currently writing a fanfiction story which is basically my own take of the first Thor movie with a Thor who is smarter and wiser than he is normally portrayed, although if you’ve read the Journey Into Mystery comics he was portrayed as such then, there were still times when he rushed into things headfirst without thinking, but he also showed that he could come up with plans without having to rely on other people.

      I’m not intentionally bashing any fanfiction writers, if that’s how they see Thor then that’s fine, they can write how they like, I’m simply giving an opinion.

      It’ll be interesting to see if they bring this new Thor into Infinity Wars.

    • Jenny North says

      I respect your opinion on the change in tone of the movie, but I’m curious why you thought the Valkyrie character was two-dimensional?

      She’s a supporting character so she’ll never get as much backstory as the main characters, but what she had I thought fit pretty seamlessly. She had a connection to the antagonist since Hela killed all the valkyries, and had a connection to the protagonist not just as a bounty hunter who caught Thor, but also because Thor to her represented Odin and Asgard. (Odin of course being the one to order the valkyries to their deaths and then added insult to injury by whitewashing Hela from history and therefore the valkyries’ heroic sacrifice.) She was a soldier who saw her comrades annihilated and then returned home to find even glory stolen from her. Not only is she the last living witness to Hela’s first reign of terror, she’s the PTSD poster child. And she remained disengaged until Asgard in the form of Thor shows up on her doorstep.

      All of that is way more motivation and backstory than we ever got for Sif, the Warriors Three, or Heimdall. I can understand if you didn’t care for that type of character or maybe the actress who portrayed her, but to my mind, the writing was spot-on.

      • @JennyNorth. Well, as exhibit A, I’ll just put Loki out there. He was supposed to be a side character; secondary-character-turned-villain because that was his plotline. His story is just as tragic as Valkyrie/Brunhilde’s (also, Valkyries aren’t ALL named Valkyrie, that was terrible writing there). But Loki has something Brunhilde will NEVER have. (I’m calling her Brunhilde because her character is owed that mark of distinction from her fellow warriors.)

        Depth. Let me explain.

        The first time we see her she comes ripping out of a spacecraft stumble-bum drunk. “He’s mine!” she slurs, and promptly falls into a sea of garbage only to reemerge perfectly pristine. What does this tell us about this woman?

        1. She’s a skuz
        2. She’s a drunkard
        3. She has no respect for herself

        Contrast this to the first time we see Loki (we’ll skip kid!Loki and go right to the adult/teenager): “Who said I was wise?” (in response to Thor telling him it is unwise to be in his presence). This sets up for us his character in one move. First, that he IS, in fact, quite clever. Second, that he wants to be praised for actually BEING clever.

        His reply is equivalent to someone nonchalantly saying “Who said I was good at _____?” and hoping the other person will contradict the statement. Thor does, by looking at him for a moment.

        Also we can use the Warriors Three as examples here too. When they first come into the room, Fandral complains about the mess (which reasons that he likes things to look good). Volstagg laments the food Thor has wasted (which tells us, along with his girth, that he has a penchant for fine foodstuffs). Hogun is silent, merely watching (he observes. . . He looks at things from the whole picture, not just pieces at a time). All these things set up the characters.

        But instead of setting up Brunhilde so we understand who she is, we get a drunk women falling over herself to claim Thor. Also we learn that she’s potentially lazy because she doesn’t do the fighting herself, she lets her machines do it. If she fell into the trash and never came back out, the plot would never have missed her. She’s simply not key to it. Unlike Loki in the first and second Thor films.

        She could’ve been done QUITE differently.
        “Give him to me.” she could have said, and despite throwing a beer bottle saunters off that spacecraft like the goddess of war she is. And when they don’t cooperate, use some kick-ass moves from her heyday to make us think (if Taika hadn’t been too afraid to leave us ANY secrets, but more on that later) “whoa, this woman is SOMEONE, or, at the very least, HAS BEEN a Someone Of Importance.”

        For a character who suffers PTSD it really wasn’t utilized like I’d have expected. Unlike how WELL Stark’s was used in Iron Man 3 (I think it was???) In fact, the ONLY TIME she seemed to show any PTSD at all was when Loki made her remember her past, and she hit him. I would’ve liked more on that. More her gazing at her uniform with trepidation in her eyes. Thor and Loki discussing “Will she really help in the battle we’re facing, or will her memories get in the way?” Brunhilde staring at Hela and her hands shaking as she screams her battle cry and charges toward her, doing what she was made to do: protect Asgard as long as she lives.

        Whatever Taika gave is, it was cheap. I love the potential I see in Brunhilde’s character, which is why I say she made me annoyed whenever she was onscreen (which was a LOT).

        Also the fact that whatever soundtrack there was was UTTER crap. I’ve never heard such a TRASH soundtrack in my life.

    • DirectorNoah says

      Yes! This was totally how I felt coming out of the cinema. They were right about naming it Ragnorak. It certainly was the destruction and end of the familiar characters I’d grown to know and love from the previous movies. As for the Twilight of the Gods… maybe they all should have been in a nursing home, like Odin.

      • K.M. Weiland | @KMWeiland says

        Well, you gotta admit, at least Taika got passionate responses. 😉

      • Agreed! Exactly, @DirectorNoah! It was a shame, too, especially because I brought along some family members. They were disappointed. Not the Thor they enjoyed and not the Loki they’d become familiar with. A nursing home would’ve been appropriate, I agree.

    • Oh, after that review I am DEFINITELY going to check out Ragnarok…

  16. Ooh, I love this. You touched on points I was thinking about in regard to ensemble casts, but I was inspired by a comedy in my musings, so it fits. Still haven’t seen Ragnarok, but I’ll trust you that it’s s worth looking forward to 🙂

    Regarding #2, being unexpected, I’ve noticed that when it’s done well it’s an extension of number 1 (being true to the character). Mr. Spock can’t lie so maybe he wouldn’t bluff in a game of poker. But when a poker face is called for in a situation, Mr. Spock would be your guy.

    The biggest mistake I ever see is jumping straight to Rule 2 without taking time with Rule 1. Unexpected moments, humorous or otherwise, have to be earned. The “Excuse me, I speak Jive” line in “Airplane” only worked because the public knew the actress as Mrs. Cleaver. She was established in the mind of the audience, so for her to speak Jive was funny and unexpected.

    If you have to explain that a character is “normally” one way and is now behaving unexpectedly, then you’ve already failed. It always falls flat when a story tells us that a character is doing the unexpected, which often happens at the beginning of the story before the character has been properly introduced. Before telling readers a comedian must be funny because Mr. Spock is laughing at his jokes, you have to lay the groundwork and show Mr. Spock as coolly unemotional before you have him rolling on the floor laughing out loud.

    Now I’m considering whether or not I missed any moments to be comedic in my own WIP …

    • K.M. Weiland | @KMWeiland says

      Spock’s a great example. He’s a very funny character–and his humor is entirely character-driven. Give his funny lines to any other character and they wouldn’t be funny in the least.

  17. I think there are different kinds of humor and it’s important to bear that in mind. A person may enjoy one kind while finding another tedious. In that vein, absurdity is probably the most divisive as it requires the greatest suspension of disbelief. Early in A Hard Days Night, the Beatles are on the train mocking a pompous banker. Then suddenly they are running beside the train, banging on his window. It’s hilarious, unless you are the type of person who says, wait a minute. How’d they get off the train- and then right back on?

    One should find the style of humor they like and attempt to figure out why it is funny. Then put that in one’s WIP. That is a quick way to understand the craft of humor.

    • K.M. Weiland | @KMWeiland says

      It’s kind of like how “getting” British humor is a very in thing–supposedly not everyone does.

  18. One interesting thing about humor (and running gags in particular) is how humor can set up drama. I’m thinking specifically of Pitch in `Dreamlander’. His last lines in the book make my teary Every. Single. Time. I think it’s because the earlier humor takes you off guard and endears the character to you, so when they say something characteristic in a more dramatic setting, you’re getting the memory of all those warm fuzzies, and it catches you right in the heart.

  19. Having read your previous posts made it easier for me to not miss Jane, because this movie got to be all about family and honor and responsibility and stuff, but they had to flail a bit because they were trying to pretend The Dark World was canon. So yeah, I think I agree with you that I only mind Jane’s absence because they needed to come up with some ridiculously honorable and over-the-top reason for them to have broken up, not just brush it off. I’m just wistful for the only pure romance in the MCU. :-\

    The other thing I noticed in both GOTG2 and T:R was something that I often find alarming in comedies: they ask us to laugh about an awful lot of collateral damage. In this movie, Valkyrie mows down a bunch of human scavengers and it’s meant to be funny because she’s drunk but like, this isn’t the Greek comedy where death is funny because it’s really the tragedy of the gods that they can’t die — you’re just asking us to laugh at people dying. (Same with the climactic flight of the arrow in GOTG2 when the remaining crew die, after the deaths of the first half of the crew were treated as horrific, which is how mass casualty should be considered.) These deaths were kind-of meant to seem like they had it coming but I don’t feel good laughing about it.

    • K.M. Weiland | @KMWeiland says

      Don’t get me wrong. I missed Jane in spite of myself. I kinda wonder if the “she dumped me” line was maybe a reference to Natalie Portman leaving the franchise and weariness she’d never been in another superhero movie.

  20. Hello! 😀 It seems like months since I read one of your blogs. I like adding humor and wit in my stories, which I usually do based on what some of my characters’ say, but I also like to add humor in my narrative summary and descriptions. Humor really can liven up a book and make it more entertaining. One particular way I like is a character who says the wrong thing at the wrong time, or something funny during a serious event. There always seems to be someone like that in the midst, and I think it’s hilarious.

    • K.M. Weiland | @KMWeiland says

      Welcome back! 🙂 Yes, one of my favorite humor tricks is characters who have no social tact and say the wrong thing–but the right thing, too, you know? 😉

  21. I’ve been working on some comedy of my own.

    Here’s what I have learned:

    1. Humor requires subversion. You set up the audience with a convention (genre or otherwise) and subvert it somehow, make it less important in someone’s eyes than is the accepted norm. (in other words, the set-up).

    2. Humor requires continuity. The inappropriate subversion will be inevitably argued against and the perpetrator had better be ready with a case for it, justifying or rationalizing it somehow. (in other words, the punchline).

    It’s a dual usage of KM’s 2. and 3. Consider the following:

    In my junior high band class, there was a trombone player, Jacob. Strange kid. Right in the middle of The Star Spangled Banner, he said “Grape. Grape. Grape.”

    The teacher cut the music and said, “Why are you saying that?”

    “No raisin.”


    If that didn’t tickle your funnybone, try the rules with other jokes and come back here to say what is missing or extraneous.

  22. Thanks for the article.Writing a funny literature is very challenging and it takes years of writing experience to get it done.I think we writers shoul collaborate to make our writing readable and interesting gor audience which is not a single person job.Collaboration between writers could be helpful for readers that should be given chance.

  23. Hannah Killian says

    Other than being a little disappointed about the Warriors Three dying (*Darth Vader voice* NOOOOOOOO!!!!!) and Thor not being given a scene to react to that, I liked Ragnarok and didn’t find Thor’s humorous side off-putting at all. If anything, he sounded kind of like the Thor portrayed in the animated shows.

    That being said, I tried having my characters point out genre expectations and cliches for some of the humor. Here’s a little quip from one of them, and he actually says it in the Climax (which I haven’t gotten to yet)

    “Dude, this isn’t the movies where you can’t spend the rest of the countdown finding that ‘magical’ red wire that you miraculously cut at the last second!”

  24. Completely agree with all of this! This is now my favorite Marvel movie, and not just because Loki is my favorite Marvel movie character.

    I think it’s important that it wasn’t just funny, it was FUN. The humor was all in the spirit of just loving the characters and setting and all of the stuff the audience is bringing to it. There were times when the humor was overdone but I was having such a good time and I knew that the people behind the movie just wanted me to have such a good time that I didn’t care in the least.

  25. Wow, such a great piece! A bit that especially struck a chord with me is the bit about knowing your character and sticking to their core truths. I think this is something that Justice Leauge failed to do, almost as well as Thor: Ragnarok achieved it. Batman’s one-liners… just fell really flat, just didn’t sit right for the well established, dark, brooding character. Oh well. Very good read! 🙂

  26. this was so helpful! loved point #1 – Be true to your characters. This is the best way for me to understand how to add humor in my book, especially since I can now see it in so many other books I’ve read. I love my characters! and playing up their personalities by letting them make a quip, take a klutzy fall, or laugh at their own ridiculousness is the best way to get genuine humor. now just to remember to craft them all differently (I’m less talented at finding snarky comments for them to say, but some of them are begging for those lines!).

  27. Hi there, I just wanted to say how much I’ve been enjoying this series. As a huge Marvel fan and a superhero writer, this series has helped me way more than I expected. I’m always recommending it to my writer friends. I just finished this series and am planning on reading the character structure series before I start editing my novel. I might be able to publish my first book soon, thanks to this blog!
    God bless!

  28. One of the funny (pardon the pun) things about this movie is that because it is so funny some of the emotional impact of what happens to the characters doesn’t quite hit home. It was only after watching Avengers: Infinity War that I caught up emotionally with what happened to Thor and his friends in Thor: Ragnarok. They lost a lot and went through a lot. The fact that they came through it all so hilariously was amazing and I loved the film. Without saying too much about Infinity War, one of the worst things about that movie to me is that it feels like it negates everything saved in Thor: Ragnarok and makes the struggle of the Asgardians worthless. Please say you are going to write on Inifinity War and Black Panther soon?!!

    • K.M. Weiland | @KMWeiland says

      Yes! I’m watching Black Panther tonight (I missed it in theater due to a series of unfortunate events) and should have it’s post up by the 28th. Infinity War‘s will be the week after.


  1. […] Gail Green gives us 5 ways to recover from being stuck, K.M. Weiland shows us how to write funny, and Lee Lofland has cop terminology to make you crime dialogue […]

Leave a Reply

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.