I'm still trying to figure out funny. It seems like just another kind of voice: once I get my head in it, everything kinda flows. When I put the right kinds of characters together, funny just sort of happens.
But not all my characters end up funny, and I can't always figure out why. This is my attempt to figure out certain types of characters that make humor easy to write.
"You know me. Just when I'm getting a grip on something Fate comes along and jumps on my fingers." -- Rincewind, Interesting Times by Terry Pratchett
This is my preferred form of funny (and the reason I'm writing this post, lest all my characters end up this way). This character probably has good points, but either they can't see them or they don't think they're useful. They're cynical about themselves, even as they step forward to achieve their goals.
Examples: Rincewind (Discworld novels), Hiccup (How to Train Your Dragon), Flint Lockwood (Cloudy With a Chance of Meatballs)
"You know what the chain of command is? It's the chain I go get and beat you with 'til ya understand who's in ruttin' command here." -- Jayne Cobb, Firefly
There are a lot of flavors of ignorant. The thug who doesn't understand the clever wit of those around him. The genius with zero social skills. The ultra-strong gentleman who can't believe someone would actually lie about being in trouble so they could steal his money. One important thing about all of them, though, is that while they're ignorant about one thing (to the point of hilarity), they are specialists in what they do best. 100% ignorant isn't as funny as you'd think.
Examples: Jayne Cobb (Firefly), Carrot (Discworld novels), Nobby (also Discworld), Joey Tribiani (Friends)
"The bright side of it is that if we break our necks getting down the cliff, then we’re safe from being drowned in the river." -- Puddleglum, Silver Chair by C. S. Lewis
If you're ever optimistic, the cynic will be sure to correct you. They'll point out that the plan will never work because nothing ever works (this is especially good if they're genre savvy). It's easy to go too far, but if you keep the character sympathetic, they can be one of your most lovable.
Examples: Puddleglum (Silver Chair), Sam Vimes (Discworld novels), Dolorous Edd (Song of Ice and Fire saga)
"Your work is unparalleled. And I'm a huge fan of the way you lose control and turn into an enormous green rage monster." -- Tony Stark, The Avengers
These are the characters that seem disconnected from reality in some way. You're never sure if they really know something you don't, or if they're just crazy. But they're willing to watch spoiled rich kids put themselves in danger, to commandeer large Navy vessels by themselves, and to poke green rage monsters with a needle. The weird thing is, most of the time it works.
Examples: Tony Stark (Ironman and The Avengers), Captain Jack Sparrow (Pirates of the Caribbean), Willy Wonka (Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory)
the opposite of funny.
There are lots of types of funny I haven't mentioned. What can you think of? Or how would you define characters like Wash and Chandler, or Sokka and Bolin?