Four Commandments to Writing Funny
Exciting news! This week we’re cancelling our normal broadcasting to bring you a series about humor writing. I’ve roped some of the funniest writers and bloggers I know into teaching us all how to make people laugh with our writing. It’s going to be awesome!
Today’s lesson comes from Paul Angone, author and blogger at All Groan Up (puns—humor lesson numero uno), where he writes about the joys and miseries of being part of Gen Y. If you want to get to know him better (I do), follow him on Twitter (@PaulAngone) or like All Groan Up on Facebook. Take it away, Paul!
I can’t force funny. Like trying to trim the nails of an alley cat, every time I try and make funny do exactly as I say, I get clawed.
When I write, my core goal is not to be funny; my goal is to tell the truth in an entertaining way. If that happens by way of funny, then hot damn! Call me a blend of Owen Wilson and Conan O’Brien in blog form. I won’t stop you.
Even though I try not to force funny, when analyzing my writing process, I definitely employ some strategies (daresay, commandments) to allow funny the space to breathe—if it in fact wishes to come to life.
My Four Commandments to Writing Funny
1. Thou Shalt Not Worry About Offending
First and most important, if you’re overly concerned about what others will think, don’t try your hand at funny. Senses of humor are like living room couches: everyone has a different opinion on what should be sitting in the middle of the room.
Sure, stay true to your voice and integrity. Don’t write purely to shock. But you’re going to receive those emails from your classmate in 7th grade, who you haven’t talked to since, writing to tell you that your line about escaping R.E.A.S (Rapidly Expanding Ass Syndrome) was morally offensive. It’s going to happen.
I struggle mightily with this commandment, as I have this nagging issue that I want everyone to like me. But is my commitment to telling truth in an entertaining way or is it to the web-lurkers who only throw grenades, then hide?
2. Thou Shalt Pay Attention to the Mundane
Jerry Seinfield wasn’t funny because he could do impersonations, or was overly animated or creative. He was funny because he told the truth about the mundane. He touched on those taboo simple subjects that we all experience but don’t realize. Tapping into shared experiences is important when writing, but even more so when writing humor. Because you’ll always get a bigger laugh when people are thinking, gosh that’s so freaking true.
3. Thou Shalt Take Clichés to Extremes
My wife suggested to me that I write an article about staying healthy while working in an office. Well, we’ve all read that article a thousand times before. So I decided to take that cliche article and write Eight Creative Ways to Lose Weight in the Cubicle where I encouraged readers to engage in Butt-Clinch Pick-Up-Pens and King of the Cubicle.
Or when there was report after report about the Occupy Movement marching on streets all over the nation, I wrote Occupy Marches on Sesame Street—twentysomething angst taking on the puppets who lied to them first.
Taking cliches to the extreme is the bedrock to satire.
4. Thou Shalt Use Metaphors and Similes Like the Bubonic Plague
(First, see Commandments 1 and 3.)
Metaphors and similes are to funny as Hugh Grant is to romantic comedy.
Instead of writing, “he ran really fast,” why not write, “he ran like a 14-year-old who just walked in on his parents doing the horizontal hula dance”?
Very rarely does a creative simile or metaphor make something less funny.
What other strategies do you use when writing humor?
Let’s practice the fourth commandment. Take one of these three samples below, turn it into a funny metaphor or simile, and post it into the comments.
She was as sick as…
He was taller than…
She relaxed like…
Funniest one, as voted by the readers, will win 100% legit blog-cred.