Seeing as some of my writing has been called funny, I thought I'd comment on a post made yesterday by my friend Peter Rozovsky of Detectives Beyond Borders. Pointing out that true crime is no laughing matter, Peter asks, "How do your favorite authors maintain the balance between the comedy and the crime?"
I agree with those who've pointed out that humor is subjective. Humor tends to work in crime fiction because of how often crime fiction uses the subjective POVs first-person and limited third-person.
With these two POVs, stories can become more about following the protagonist than presenting the crime. In my opinion, this doesn't trivialize crime so much as make it a palatable subject for fiction. As realistic as we want our stories, we sometimes forget they are fiction, that we're meant to be able--even to enjoy--reading them beginning to end. As realistic as we want our stories, the crime element is often there to help authors make larger points.
I never begin with the idea that a piece of writing should be funny. If the humor occurs naturally, I go with it. If it doesn't, I don't drag it out.
By the way, my entry title is also the title of a book by Donald E. Westlake, who wrote the comedic Dortmunder novels under his own name, but also the hard-boiled Parker novels under the pseudonym Richard Stark.