Can We Take Funny Villains Seriously?

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Can we take your villains seriously if they’re funny?

Absolutely.  It depends how, why, and when they’re funny.  The 1950s Joker inserted seemingly random stand-up material into his heists and into needlessly complicated deathtraps.  It wasn’t boring, but it wasn’t very often…funny.  You got the idea of a failed standup comedian turned to crime who forgot to turn off the “comedian” bit.

In a world of the MCU, the works of the late, lamented Terry Pratchett,  and a general sense that any main character can get off a few biting quips at any time, your Villain’s in a unique position–assuming she takes advantage of it.  If you’ve got something funny to say, allow us to suggest three rubrics.

  1. Villains can go to social and moral spaces which are barred for others.  Using the death of a dozen cute furry things as a joke?  That’s not funny, that’s just gratuitous (and questionable) animal cruelty for the sake of establishing character.  On the other hand, seeing people die and making a biting comment about how you’ve just sped up the normal workings of society?  THAT can hit home.  In short – your villain is operating from a unique place in the world, and thus able to comment on it in ways prohibited to others.  Take advantage of it.
  2. Is it ZANY, or is it FUNNY?  The distinction’s quite important.  Anyone can be silly, and any circumstances can be silly; the entire genre of humorous scifi in the 1980s was based on ridiculous situations – “Oh, no, we’re trapped on the moon, and all we have to eat is cheese!”  The circumstances are odd and could be risorial. But it’s not actually funny.  Got an acerbic comment to drop on the situation, perhaps a commentary on what would lead a world to people a quality with dairy products?  THAT is where the barb strikes home.
  3. Dare.  Your hero can be an outcast, an outsider, someone not ruled by conventional mores.  Why should she tell the same jokes as everyone else?  Let her find humor in something peculiar and weird – it doesn’t have to be cruelty necessarily; you don’t have to use this to establish meanness or psychopathy.  Just one simple trait: different.  Your villain sees things differently; what does that do to the rare moment when they express a sense of humour?

-Dark Lord Journal

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Villainous Dialogue To Avoid

Not every villainous character is a great orator–but many of them are.  We adore a well-written threat, a maniacal monologue, a speech of triumph.  Properly scripted and delivered, your antagonist’s words can have deep and profound impact.

We’d love to give you some examples, but it’s been a long day and good writing is hard.  So we’re going to give you some terrible writing instead.

Pro tip – Don’t have your villains say any of these things:

  • “And now, we shall lower you into the shark pit!  Sharks were expensive; we hope hamsters will do.”
  • “You’re too late!  I’ve already hit the self-destruct button for my fortress!  Wait…why would I do that?”
  • “At last, the world is mine!  Well, not the entire world, but I’m at least going to claim this couch for a while.”
  • “My hatred for the forces of Good is like an unquenchable fire!  Or a really good hot sauce.  Basically, it’s green and goes well on french fries.”
  • “Foolish mortals!  Soon you will know the wrath of…what was my name again?  I think it was something vaguely menacing and could have been in Latin.”
  • “Welcome to my tomb of horrors!  Pleas sign this liability waiver so my insurance rates don’t go up.”
  • “Haha!  I have tied you to the train tracks!  Now, we just need someone to invent the train.”
  • “I will now leave you to a fate worse than death!  Because I’m essentially masochistic and hoping you’ll escape and destroy me.”
  • “You’ll never foil my plans! Because I don’t have any. I have no idea what I’m doing, really.  Do you know how hard it is to get good career advice as a supervillain?”

-The Dark Lord Journal

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