The Avengers and Writing Humor

I really enjoy the Marvel movies and, with Ant-Man still in the theaters, I thought I’d talk about my favorite thing in them. No, it’s not Tom Hiddleston’s smile or Chris Hemsworth’s biceps. It’s not the epic scale of the movies or the special effects. No, my favorite thing about the Marvel movies is the use of humor. And the best part about the humor in the Marvel movies is that it’s totally relatable to writing, which means I can watch the movies and call it research.

Some people shy away from using humor in their stories because they aren’t writing a funny book, but using humor in a story does a lot more than make the reader laugh. In fact, I think it’s something that most, if not all, stories need to have in small doses. In any case, I thought I would highlight a few ways that the Marvel movies use humor:

1. Hooking the reader (or viewer)

In the very first scene of Thor, Jane grabs the steering wheel from her assistant and their vehicle crashes straight into Thor, running him over. To make matters worse, Jane’s assistant then proceeds to taser Thor. The unexpectedness (and because the viewer knows that Thor can’t be permanently injured by something so piddling as a giant research van or a taser—this wouldn’t be funny at all if it happened to an ordinary mortal) of the accident makes it funny and intriguing, making us want to know why the Norse god of thunder is wandering around in the middle of the desert, and we’re hooked into the story.

2. Creating relatable characters
At one point in The Avengers, Tony Stark is asked what he would be without his Ironman suit. To be honest, I don’t relate to much of his list. I’m not a genius or a billionaire or a playboy. Maybe a bit of a philanthropist, but, really, that’s not what makes me relate to Iron Man. What makes me relate to Iron Man is his sense of humor throughout the movies. He’s quick with the snappy comebacks and often makes me laugh, even when the situation is dark.

And humor in dark situations leads me to my next point:

3. Breaking up tension

This is something that the Marvel movie franchise is fabulous at doing and they do it all over the place. The writers are very good at breaking up tense scenes with a witty line or something funny. One of my favorites is near the end of The Avengers when Thor and Hulk, who had previously been fighting each other, had just cleared out the train station of all the aliens. The two of them look at each other, share a brief “good job” sort of look…and then the Hulk punches Thor, sending him flying.

At that point, the Avengers were in the middle of a nearly hopeless battle against the aliens, but that small moment gave viewers a break in the tension of the situation, gave them a little moment of hope. Giving small breaks like this is crucial in writing and storytelling because in breaking up the tension, it actually amps it up. It seems a little counter-intuitive to briefly stop the tension in order to increase it, but it works. The reason is that in tense scenes, especially longer ones or when the tension continues over several scenes or long periods of time, essentially only one emotional note is hit. In this instance, it’s fear. Fear that the Avengers won’t succeed, that they won’t work together well enough, that there are just too many aliens, etc.

But if the writers hadn’t added in any humor and kept going with fear, the monotone nature of the emotions in the scenes would become, well, boring. And we all know that the one thing you can never do in writing is be boring. Briefly changing the emotional tone in scenes keeps things interesting and keeps the reader from feeling overwhelmed.

4. Hinting at who to root for

Humor is often used to let us know who to root for and also which characters are redeemable. The Red Skull doesn’t really have a sense of humor. When things go wrong, he doesn’t crack a joke and I never want him to succeed with his plans. Loki, on the other hand, does have a sense of humor and because of that, I want him to win, even though he’s the antagonist.

5. Makes us feel like we’re part of the group

One of the things they do in The Avengers is constantly poke fun at Captain America because he misses so many references. As a viewer, though, we catch most of those references, so we feel like we’re in on the joke. Also, through well-placed and humorous dialogue, we understand the Avenger’s private jokes, like the shawarma, and we feel like we’re part of their team…only without the superpowers.

6. It’s just plain fun

Let’s face it, adding humor just makes things more fun. So go to and let yourself have fun adding humor to your stories!

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Jenilyn Collings loves to read and write things that are humorous or romantic (preferably both). She has worked as a dental researcher, a florist, a martial arts instructor, and a tracker at an alternative high school (she’ll leave it to your imagination what that entailed), but she’s now focused on writing and child wrangling. A long time resident of the Mountain West, she recently moved to New England with her family where she is gaining an appreciation for umbrellas, fall colors, and turning lanes while driving

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