One of the most difficult things to do is to be funny through writing – to induce laughter through only your words, on paper or on a screen. It’s hard enough to be funny with visual tools, such as images and video, and linguistic tools, such as stress, rhythm, and voice inflection. But without them, the challenge is even greater.
Where do you start?
Most people can’t just be funny on command. In fact, most people aren’t funny at all. Sometimes, you can get lucky and post something random onto Twitter that makes people laugh. But a majority of the time, you have to experience something that makes you uncomfortable, annoyed, surprised, aroused, or maybe just something that makes you giggle. Feeling inspired to make people laugh is the first step to actually making people laugh.
Most of my funny ideas (well, the ones I think are funny) come to me in the shower or right as I am trying to fall asleep. I can’t explain it; it just might be one of those human nature things. I’m probably not the only one who does his best thinking at these times. Besides inspiration for humor, there are several other aspects of writing that factor into being funny.
Choose your words wisely
I believe that humorous writing relies heavily on diction. No, that isn’t the term for the literary genre comprised of fictional stories about the male reproductive organ. It simply means your choice of words. Some words are without a doubt funnier than others, but sometimes the humor of certain words is circumstantial.
For example, which word do you think is funnier: “poop” or “poo”? Personally, I tend to laugh much harder when I read or hear the word “poo,” but every situation is different. It’s definitely funnier if you say, “You look like you really have to poo“; however, in other cases, “poop” is the obvious choice: “…Did you just poop in my shoe?”
Both of those examples use the word in question as a verb, but even when it comes to other parts of speech – in specific situations – any one word could potentially be funnier than another. So, it’s not just the verbs you need to pay attention to. You must be aware of the decisions you make about every single noun, adjective, adverb, etc., as well as when to use contractions versus when not to use them.
Success lies in the details
Some things are funnier when they are more descriptive, but others tend to be funnier in a more straightforward fashion. The more straightforward funnies are usually more effective when written in 140 characters or less. For example, there is no explanation necessary when you tweet that you saw a woman shaving her legs on the bus to Port Authority.
It’s funny enough as is. Any more description would take away from the experience’s intrinsic comedic value.
In other instances, more description can add to the humor of the story. For example, if you are writing a letter to a celebrity about your potential love escapades, you want to be as vivid as possible so you can illustrate a colorful portrait of what could be. These details should add to the absurdity of the story and should be oddly specific enough to manifest a sense of actuality to the reader.
Keep everything in order
When writing, you must also always be aware of your syntax. The manner in which you order your words plays a major role in the humor your writing creates. Contrary to popular belief, not every sentence is funnier when you write it the way Yoda would say it. However, in some cases, it is.
ex. “Condom with that hooker, I should have worn.”
The order of the words isn’t the only thing you need to pay attention to – the placement of your jokes (or attempts at jokes) matter just as much. Sometimes when you’re writing, you want to position your “punchline” at the end for comedic shock factor.
ex. “I used to play that game ‘Seven Minutes in Heaven’ as a kid. But for me, it was usually more like ‘Three Minutes in Heaven and Four Minutes of Awkwardness.'”
Now, if you’re writing a longer piece of humor, you might want to subtly sprinkle in jokes throughout the piece. Relying on one reveal at the end of a long piece is a dangerous gamble. You saw Seven Pounds with Will Smith. I had no idea what was going on until the last five minutes of the movie, and that ending wasn’t funny at all.
Don’t try too hard
“Don’t think. Just do.” Right?
Trying too hard when writing comedy is usually as evident as it is awful. It’s a lot like trying too hard during sex. You know you’re bad at it, yet you’re still thrusting away, in the hopes that at least one of the people involved will laugh – hopefully with you and not at you. And hopefully, it will be legitimate and not faked.
One way people try too hard is always trying to be inappropriate. Don’t get me wrong; inappropriate jokes are almost always funny. But just because something is inappropriate doesn’t mean it’s funny. Similarly, just because something is funny doesn’t necessarily mean it is inappropriate. Sure, allow yourself to think ideas that make you sick with yourself. Be offensive. Be inappropriate. Cross the line. Just don’t get too out of hand.
I was raised to hate the Giants, so I thought this was hysterical, but it was definitely crossing the line a bit. Whether or not it was getting out of hand is up for debate. Here is another example of crossing the line:
So, to be funny in your writing, you must first understand what IS funny and what IS NOT funny. As you can see above, the death of a loved one is usually not funny, but when combined with sarcastic racism, it is certainly funny. This is because sarcastic racism is always funny. Perhaps the line dividing what is funny and what isn’t funny lies in the way the words are expressed – an extremely difficult discipline to master when it comes to writing.
Things that are funny
- blatantly sarcastic ignorance
- purposely misspelling words
- old people quotes
- hair in weird places
- untimely flatulence
- racial stereotypes
- fat people
- Modern Family
- jokes about having sex with animals/babies
- catching someone picking his/her nose at a red light
- hearing a foreigner try to use English slang
- the elusiveness of love
- your best friend getting piss drunk and vomiting on a girl
- driving drunk
- people’s awkward reactions to homosexual public displays of affection
Things that are not funny
- actual ignorance
- accidental grammatical errors
- terminally ill children
- child abuse
- spousal abuse
- dead parents
- being fat
- Two and a Half Men
- actually having sex with animals/babies
- 40 year old people who act like they’re still 20
- broken hearts
- car accidents
- drunk driving
Now I’m preaching…
Let funny come to you. Let it catch you off guard. Let yourself stray from the proverbial “box” of thinking. But never forget that there once existed a “box” inside which you thought.