Arts & Entertainment, Writing

Humor and Melancholy

Malcolm Gladwell

Lesson time 09:43 min

Malcolm feels that restraint is essential in the production of real emotion. Learn how to introduce humor and melancholy to form deep connections with your readers.

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Topics include: Provoke Deep, Reflective Emotion • Exercise Restraint When Writing Sadness • Don’t Announce You’re Trying to Be Funny


You know, we live in a society which fetishizes laughter. The production of laughter is something that is taken very seriously in our world. We pay people enormous amounts of money to make us laugh. We venerate comedians. I mean, Jerry Seinfeld is a cultural figure on an extraordinary level. I mean, he is a-- he's a guy who used to do stand up in New York bars who's now practically a billionaire and can't walk down a street anywhere in the Western world, I mean, maybe even beyond the Western world, without being recognized. That's an incredible social status for a joke teller. So we take that really, really seriously. It's an odd thing to take seriously because we laugh a lot. It's not like laughter is something rare. You know, if you just listen to the way people behave in everyday context, they're constantly laughing. Laughing is ubiquitous. Laughing-- I mean, I've never counted how many times I laugh in a day, but like, all of us, all of us are laughing all the time. So when you're producing laughter, what you're doing is you're producing a very familiar emotion. Sadness, on the hand is quite-- genuine sadness is quite rare. You know, we have-- you think about, in the course of in a given day, how many moments of genuine melancholy do you have? Pretty few. You might not have any. You might-- I mean, there's a reason why you can remember the last time you were very sad and you probably can't remember with accuracy the last time you laughed because laughter is cheap. It happens all the time. Sadness is something that's-- So that the task of producing, of inducing, strong, strong emotions, sadness, melancholy, in your audience is a very, very, very different task than the task of producing levity in your audience. So I like-- I think of them as being almost at opposite ends of the continuum from each other. And I've always been more-- I'm way more interested in sadness, melancholy, than I am in laughter as an endpoint of in my audience. I think that-- I don't think of it as a great accomplishment if I've made someone laugh, whereas I think of it as a extraordinary accomplishment if I have managed to provoke deep, reflective emotion in someone. [MUSIC PLAYING] The other thing that's different between laughter and sadness is that laughter can be induced by inauthenticity In fact, it almost always is induced by inauthenticity. You know, you laugh at-- when I'm out of character, if I do something you're not expected, if I play a role I don't normally play, whereas you can't make someone cry by being out of character. You make someone cry by being-- by exposing some aspect of your authentic self, right? So it's a totally different kind of operation, right? And so to kind of get to write something that comes from something deep within you and that opens up a genuine window into who you are or into who someone else is, that's an amazing, powerful, and really hard, really hard, thing to do. So if you think about th...

About the Instructor

Ketchup. Crime. Quarterbacks. Thanks to Malcolm Gladwell’s books, these ordinary subjects have helped millions of readers grasp complex ideas like behavioral economics and performance prediction. Now, the renowned storyteller and best-selling author of Blink and The Tipping Point is teaching his first online writing class. Craft stories that captivate by learning how Malcolm researches topics, crafts characters, and distills big ideas into simple, powerful narratives.

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Malcolm Gladwell

In 24 lessons, the author of Blink and The Tipping Point teaches you how to find, research, and write stories that capture big ideas.

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