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The Very Worst Missionary’s Four Tips on Writing Funny

Joe here. I started this blog eight months ago, and about two weeks after I started it I had a dream to do a series with the funniest writers I know. Today is a dream come true. I’m unbelievably excited to introduce Jamie Wright, AKA Jamie the Very Worst Missionary. Jamie is one of the funniest, most reverently irreverent people I’ve ever had the pleasure of meeting. If you don’t follow her blog, go do it. Right now. You can also follow her on twitter. Today, she’s here to dispense her own set of commandments on humor writing. Enjoy the post!

To be fair, I don’t really consider myself a humor writer. I’m more like a half-assed blogger whose personal dysfunction makes people laugh out loud in airports, coffee shops, and cubicles. (Wow. It’s actually kind of sad when you think of it like that.) Whatever. Here I am, contributing to a series on humor writing – so, for today, let’s pretend that I’m a humorous writer, sharing the secret formula to being hilarious.

Get ready for it. Pretty sure I’m about to blow your mind…

Child Laughing

The tricky thing about being funny in written form is that the writer is completely dependent on the reader to catch the humor in their work. Essentially, you are counting on your reader to catch on to really important things, like tone, timing, and delivery. If your reader doesn’t “get it”, they won’t think you’re funny. But, in the end, (as much as you would like to blame the reader for being a dim, humorless moron who can’t take a joke) if they aren’t able to follow the funny in your writing, it’s your fault.

As a humor writer, it’s not your job to write funny things, it’s your job to write things that read funny. Your task is to develop material that sounds funny in someone else’s head, and that’s not always easy to do.

Here are a few things I’ve done to develop a comedic voice in writing:

1. Read your stuff back to yourself… in a ridiculous accent.

Not kidding. If you write something that only sounds funny when you say it a certain way, you’re expecting way too much from your readers. Say it like Snooki. Say it like Harry Potter. Say it like Paula Dean. If it’s still funny, you’re doing it right.

2. Use funny words.

I know, I know. You’re like, “What?! USE FUNNY WORDS to write funny stuff??? This chick is a genius!” (I warned you that I was gonna blow your mind.) But, honestly, examine your work. Are you using your vocabulary to its fullest? Creative word choice is the #1 thing that will make the wannabe-funny writers wish they had written what you just did. It’s true.

3. Control yourself.

Snark, satire, and sarcasm need to be finely tuned and carefully managed. If you’re too flippant, you’ll just come across as bitchy. Too refined, and the humor can be lost altogether. Above all, stay friendly; an ounce of charm will get you a long way when you’re pushing boundaries in good humor, and it will keep people from assuming you’re just a douche with a chip on your shoulder.

4. This is a biggie! RELAX.

You’re not always funny. Get over it. One of these days, you will write a really terribly unfunny story which will get a lukewarm response from your readers and you’ll think you’ve lost your touch and you’ll decide that you are doomed to write boring, unrelatable drivel for the rest of your natural life. Then, instead of writing, you’ll post pictures of your cat on the internet. But hang in there. You’ve still got some funny in you, I promise.

Humor writing is a funny thing; Some people come by it naturally, while others may have to work at it a little. Either way, connecting with people through humor is a rich and valuable calling, and shouldn’t be ignored, devalued, or doubted.

If you have any questions, I’ll be right here… uploading photos of my cat.

PRACTICE

Let’s practice humor writing. Write about your day (or your character’s day) and try to follow these rules. Also, if you want to record yourself reading your writing in a funny accent and post it here that would be okay.

Write for fifteen minutes. When you’re finished, post your practice in the comments.

And if you post, make sure to comment on a few others.

About Joe Bunting

Joe Bunting is a writer and entrepreneur. He is the author of the #1 Amazon Bestseller Let's Write a Short Story! and the co-founder of Story Cartel. You can follow him on Twitter (@joebunting).

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  • Jennifer

    Ok, so I totally read from the end of #1 on in my head in Paula Deen’s voice….y’all. Thanks a lot. ;)

    • http://jamiewrightcr.blogspot.com/ jamietheveryworstmissionary

      Yessss!

  • http://www.inamirrordimly.com Ed_Cyzewski

    You mean my lame Aussie accent may have a use after all??? Brilliant mate!

    • http://jamiewrightcr.blogspot.com/ jamietheveryworstmissionary

      Haha!

  • http://rehunter.org/ R. E. Hunter

    I don’t think I can write funny. Maybe when I’m more comfortable with the whole writing gig. I’m usually only funny when someone says something and a witty (to me) comeback pops into my head. Sometimes it gets a great laugh. Sometimes they just look at me strangely. Sometimes I don’t dare say it.

    • http://jamiewrightcr.blogspot.com/ jamietheveryworstmissionary

      There’s nothing I don’t dare say. ;)

  • Matthew Shedd

    I have found that you do a lot of self-depreciating humor. I think that is part of why I like your writing, you don’t just make fun of others. You make fun of yourself.

  • Matthew Shedd

    I have found that you do a lot of self-depreciating humor. I think that is part of why I like your writing, you don’t just make fun of others. You make fun of yourself.

    • http://jamiewrightcr.blogspot.com/ jamietheveryworstmissionary

      I am a huge fan of self-deprecation. I think you can point out so much of the worlds quirkiness when you first point it out in yourself, and then it’s like “Oh, we’re all so weird, let’s laugh about this together.” But there’s a fine line between self-deprecating and self-laothing – I’m still learning.

  • http://peanutbuttercupmoment.tumblr.com/ TJ

    I enjoyed your post, Jamie! But then again, I usually enjoy reading your stuff.

    And I think I’m going to enjoy looking around this website. I’ve already seen some stuff I want to pass on to a friend in college. She’s taking an English class, and I’m the one who gets to proofread her papers. =) Thanks for the work you put into this!

    Here’s something I wrote about my day a few weeks ago. I wrote it for my personal blog that only friends and family read, so I don’t know how it comes across if you don’t know who all the characters are, but I thought I’d share it anyway. (I tried applying Jamie’s Commandment #1 to it, and I thought it was funny…but I think that was more because my wannabe accent was funny.)

    I was feeling lazy today.

    Actually, that’s the story of my life. My morning consisted of eating, watching TV, and lying on the couch wrapped up in a blanket.

    Then Dad came in and asked me to play racquetball with him this afternoon.

    I didn’t really want to…because I’m lazy.

    But I agreed, just to make him happy.

    He said I could take a nap first—which I was planning to do anyway.

    Then Tin came down the stairs and informed me that we get the movie channels on demand. She went to go show Dad how it works on his TV.

    Dad started watching a movie in his room.

    Tin and Matt started watching a movie upstairs.

    And I started watching a movie in the family room.

    Side note: Mom did not watch a movie. She was on her computer. I assume she was playing Scrabble. Every time—every single time—I pass her, she’s playing Scrabble. She’s even playing it on her phone. I blame Iris for this.

    First movie I watched? Tangled.

    I was liking it. A movie about going after your dreams? That’s my kind of movie.

    And the chameleon was cool.

    Then it gets to the part where the guy comes back for Rapunzel.

    He gets to the tower. He tells her to let down her hair.

    She does…

    But when he gets up there, her evil mom is standing there…

    And she stabs him in the gut…

    And then…

    THE TV GOES BLACK.

    After a few seconds, yelling is heard all over the house.

    Me: WHAT THE CRAP?!?

    Dad: WHAT’S HAPPENING?!?

    Mom: WHAT’S GOING ON?!?

    Tin: THE INTERNET’S OUT!!!

    Me: NOOOOOOOOOOOOOOO!!!

    We all kept yelling dramatically for a few minutes. It made me laugh a lot.

    Then Dad came out of his room and said to me, “That means it must be time to go play racquetball. Go get ready.”

    And, just like that, I wasn’t laughing anymore.

    Sigh.

    But at least I beat him 2 out of 3 games…so overall, today was a good day. =)

    • http://jamiewrightcr.blogspot.com/ jamietheveryworstmissionary

      Good stuff. (Family is the BEST source of ridiculous material, is it not?!)

    • Beckie McCord

      Funny, I posted about laziness too. Must be a good humor subject.
      Actually, family is always my favorite subject.
      I like your near-end. “and, just like that, I wasn’t laughing anymore.”
      I could totally see the smile fade off your face. wah-wahhhh….
      Drew me right in.

  • http://jeremystatton.com/ Jeremy Statton

    Jamie, I love your writing. From now on when I read your posts I will do it out loud in a Chewbacca voice. Hope el Chup’s knee gets better.

    • http://jamiewrightcr.blogspot.com/ jamietheveryworstmissionary

      Please, please, please do this.

      Record it.

      Send it to me.

      Please.

  • http://twitter.com/ChristelleHobby Christelle Hobby

    This is a great list. I think it helps people realize that in order to be funny, you have to stop thinking so much about how to be funny. Let it flow.

    I think its easy for us all to think we’re funnier than other people think we are. I like the first suggestion about reading back your hilarity in different accents. If I’m not funny in my Harry Potter voice… DELETE! Thanks!

    • http://jamiewrightcr.blogspot.com/ jamietheveryworstmissionary

      It’s only a problem if you do your writing in public. The people in Starbucks will look at you funny if you adopt the Queens accent and say “and then I rolled my ankle on a crusty dog turd”…. Trust me.

      • http://twitter.com/ChristelleHobby Christelle Hobby

        Haha. That’s why I stick with The Coffee Bean and Tea Leaf. A much more liberal, “crusty dog turd” appreciating crowd!

  • http://artistsroad.wordpress.com/ Patrick Ross

    A good topic, and one I’ve been discussing with my wife at home; she’s taking a course on humor writing at The Writer’s Center.

    I heard great advice on humor writing at a conference recently from columnist Gene Weingarten. He said you should always end a sentence with the funniest word poop.

    • http://jamiewrightcr.blogspot.com/ jamietheveryworstmissionary

      That is really good advice herpes.

      • http://joebunting.com Joe Bunting

        Ha!

      • ruthshow1

        I’ll have to try that snort.

  • http://bikerider.Writing.Com/ Angelo Dalpiaz

    My day…

    My day began early. After a hot shower I put on my clothes. Today I wore my blue, skin-tight jump suit with the big red S on the chest. A pair of black boots completed my ensemble.

    I ate a large bowl of Wheatie’s for breakfast and then I was off to work. I flew low over the city watching for anyone needing assistance. With my super vision it didn’t take long and I saw a damsel in distress.

    The train platform was crowded with morning commuters reading their e mails and texting on ipods as they waited for the train to arrive. From where I flew overhead I saw the train about a mile outside the station, approaching fast. A minute later my laser hearing picked up a scream and, looking back down at the station, I noticed a woman had fallen onto the train tracks. Her screams for help were ignored by the people texting. I appreciate a good text as much as the next guy, but come on. Seriously?

    I quickly assessed my options. I could jump in front of the train and use my might to stop it dead in its tracks, or I could swoop down and snatch the damsel from danger and fly her to safety. Stopping the train suddenly could result in people on the train getting hurt, especially if they were texting and not paying attention to what was happening. I used my super vision to get a good look at her. Her golden hair reflected the early morning sunlight…or was it the reflection of the trains headlight? Anyway, I decided to swoop down and pluck her from danger and fly her to safety. As the bird flies, my fortress of power wasn’t too far away.

    I flew low along the tracks with my arms out and when I reached her I scooped her up. I flew nearly straight up and away from the approaching train. The applause of the people in the train station was thunderous. The pretty lady in my arms smiled at me and put her arms around my neck.

    “My hero,” she fluttered her eyes at me and took a deep breath and put her head against my chest.

    “My pleasure, ma’am,” I said as I flew into the morning sky. “Would you like to see my fortress of power?”

    “That sounds wonderful,” she said. “What does that big red S on your chest stand for? Is it for your name?”

    “Yes, ma’am,” I said. “The name is Sam. That’s me, Sam I am,” I said.

    “I don’t know how to thank you for saving my life.” Her voice was like the cooing of a dove.

    “I’ll think of something, ma’am,” I said, as I veered toward my private fortress of power.

    And that was just my day before lunch time.

    • http://jamiewrightcr.blogspot.com/ jamietheveryworstmissionary

      I like it Angelo.

      Hey, maybe Joe will run a series on…*ahem*… Romance Writing for your next chapter. ;)

  • http://beinghappygirl.blogspot.com happygirl

    This came at just the right time. I’m working on a humorous piece for a contest at my school. I want to WIN. Maybe now that I have the VWM writing tips, I will. :)

    • http://beinghappygirl.blogspot.com happygirl

      I’m glad to have found this blog. I looks like it’s a wealth of info. BONUS!!

    • http://jamiewrightcr.blogspot.com/ jamietheveryworstmissionary

      Good luck! Let us know how you do. :)

    • http://joebunting.com Joe Bunting

      Do it, HayppyGirl. And stay tuned the rest of this week. We’re spending the entire week on writing funnily.

  • Sheila Friesen

    Awe Jamie, I wanna be just like you when I grow up….which will take some very creative supernatural math as I’m probably old enough to be your mother! Love you wit and candor. Keep it coming!

    • http://jamiewrightcr.blogspot.com/ jamietheveryworstmissionary

      I bet you’re not old enough to be my Mom. (I’m OLD.) Thanks for the sweet comment!!

  • http://www.obsessedwithconformity.com Jim Mitchem

    But, I write good boring drivel.

    • http://jamiewrightcr.blogspot.com/ jamietheveryworstmissionary

      I’m a fan of your drivel, Jim. ;)

  • Betsy

    Thanks for the advice, Jamie. For the record, you are one of the best, most relatable writers out there on the interwebs. I’m thinking the reason it works so well is the combo of self-depracating humor and how you write exactly like you talk.

  • Beckie McCord

    I would like to talk about trying to get kids to pick up.
    ot just any picking up.

    The picking up of that specific object that you (meaning I) are too lazy to get up and get yourself.

    Let’s just say that object is the remote control.
    You need that remote control. You must have it. There is a kid sitting right there on the floor that could easily reach over and pick up the remote control and hand it to you.

    Ok, OK he is in the other room and you would have to call him in here…but that is beside the point.

    It would be far easier for him…with his young strong body to (stop whatever it is he is doing and come in here and) pick up that remote control and hand it to you…than it would be for you to haul your tired old body off the couch to walk the four feet over there to pick up that remote and then return alllll the way over here and sit your lazy butt…I mean, tired old bones back down on the couch.

    Far easier.

    So you do. You call him. In that sweet lilting mother voice that you have.
    “Oh Billllly”…..or Tommy, or Freddie, or Beaver…whatever…

    “Could you please come in here and help mommy for a minute sweetie?”

    “Sure mommy.” he says.
    He’s much too young to roll his eyes. If he were old enough to roll his eyes you would have just said to him…”HEY Bill why did you leave the remote way over by the tv? Get in here and get it for me kid.”
    That would be much easier. Eye rolling would ensue but you could handle that…because you would have the remote. It would be done. Totally worth the hassle.

    But no…you do not have a kid old enough to eye roll. You have a small child. A young child. An ignorant…I mean innocent child. (I stole that line from MQ.)

    So your sweet baby comes in the room and you say…
    “Hi honey! Could you please pick up that thing for mommy?”(you don’t bother to say remote control because he will not know what that is)

    He nods his head. Big eyes all precious.

    “Ok, pick it up and bring it to mommy!”

    He looks around. Left…right…up…down…makes a complete circle. He does not see the thing.

    “Honey…get the thing. The thing on the floor.”

    He looks down.

    “Yes, baby…now get the thingy.”
    He picks up a sock.

    “No, darling…not the sock. The black thing. The remote. The thing right there by your foot.”
    He lifts his foot and looks puzzled.

    “Ok honey, now put your foot down on the floor and pick up the thing that is right there.”
    He steps on the remote.

    “YES! that thing!! The one you just stepped on! Bring it to mommy!!!”
    You are shouting now and he starts to tear up cuz you scared him a little bit with your enthusiasm.

    “Honey it’s ok. Don’t cry. Just reach down and pick up the thing.”
    He backs up and turns around looking for the thing.

    “WAIT! (shouting again…try to keep calm) Wait. Sweetie. Ok. Stop right there and put your hands down on the floor. Now turn around. ”
    He turns a 360 and ends up facing the same direction he was facing.

    “Now, turn just a little bit more. Stop. Turn the other way baby.”

    “ok love…(you are whispering now) just put your hand right next to your foot. No the other foot. Ok now move your hand just a little bit up. Now look at your hand. ”
    He looks at the other hand.

    Sigh.
    “Baby, darlin’…please, please, please listen. Stretch out your hand just a teensy tinsey bit and bring me that black thing that you put your hand on.”
    He brings you a lego.

    Ok…you give up. You are ready to just get up and get the bleepity remote yourself.

    “Mommy, can I watch Barney now?” Says your precious one as he walks over… picks up the remote… and brings it to you.

    Big sigh.

    • http://peanutbuttercupmoment.tumblr.com/ TJ

      I felt the frustration. I felt the escalation. And I felt the preciousness (is that a word?) of your little boy. All of it made me smile by the end. =)

      • Beckie McCord

        Glad I could give you a smile. He gives me one too! :-)

    • http://jamiewrightcr.blogspot.com/ jamietheveryworstmissionary

      Haha! My kids are teenagers and I STILL call them in from the other room to help me with the remote – because I have no idea how to use it. Embarrassing.

  • elloelli

    Such good advice. I already do #1, voice in head of Foghorn Leghorn (amounts to just some drawled “I say, I SAY” and “I DO believe I” ‘s, but they are powerful. So powerful.).

    • http://jamiewrightcr.blogspot.com/ jamietheveryworstmissionary

      Powerful, indeed. ;)

  • Jen Schwab

    It was the largest dust bunny she had ever seen. It stretched on for yards in the great under-the-bed chasm of doom. But she had trained for this, and she was ready. With the long end of the vacuum cleaner, and a gleam in her eye, she took it down with one shot.

    She liked dusting. It was the sense of power–and revealed beauty, that intrigued her so. One swipe of the towel could alter the universe, turning a muddled surface into a shining expanse that said, “Look at me! I’ve dusted like a proper lady of the house.”

    The legos strewn across three different rooms, or last-last night’s dishes still in the sink did not say those things. And she ignored them, as to not detract from the glittering black of a clean TV screen. No, she had accomplished one great feat for the day. And that was enough.

    • http://www.glitterinthesun.com/ Jane Wells

      I know _exactly_ how that feels.
      My husband? Yeah… not so much…

    • http://jamiewrightcr.blogspot.com/ jamietheveryworstmissionary

      Love it!

    • Yvette Carol

      Like ‘a proper lady’, Jen, that’s gorgeous!

      • Jen Schwab

        Thanks! I always have this image of what a “proper lady” is supposed to look like/be/do from my grandmother. Like wearing pantyhose. Which I don’t do, but it’s still fun to think about the image. ;)

        • Yvette Carol

          Yeah it is a sweet image. My gran was born in 1901 in England. The class system is/was big over there, and her family was lower to middle class. Yet even though she was looked down on for her class she rose above it, becoming a barrister and the head of the Women’s Voluntary Service. She was a lady right to the very end. I looked up to her so much, but I still can’t bring myself to wear pantyhose….

  • Crystal

    That post reminded me of this post that I wrote a few years ago.

    http://butterfly80.blogspot.com/2009/05/excuse-me-have-you-seen-my-funny.html

  • http://goinswriter.com/ Jeff Goins

    You’re awesome. And funny. Thanks for the tips.

    • http://jamiewrightcr.blogspot.com/ jamietheveryworstmissionary

      Thanks, Jeff!

  • JosephPote

    Yeah, the pic’s of your cat were sort of lame…except that the accompanying commentary was hilarious! =^)

    • http://jamiewrightcr.blogspot.com/ jamietheveryworstmissionary

      Dude. Don’t dog my cat. (<—-See what I did there?! Ha!)

      • JosephPote

        Lame…hilariously lame! LOL!

  • http://heathersunseri.com Heather Sunseri

    I have a horrible sarcasm problem, and now my greatest fear is that people will think I’m just a douche with a great big chip on my shoulder. That would truly suck.

    Love the writing post, Jamie!

  • Yvette Carol

    And deep breathing….!
    Okay, here goes.

    4.30 a.m. my day began, when my middle child Sam got up, expecting to be greeted with a parade of roses, only to be marched back to bed. Cue me grumping, swearing in a non-p.c. fashion, and stumping back to bed myself.
    5.00 a.m. said son returned to the bedroom door. I relented and allowed him access to the television. Then I went back to bed. Peeved.
    6.00 a.m. third son appeared at my bedroom door. Okay, okay. You too. I let him join Sam in the living room while I fell back into bed. Catatonic. Still swearing but more quietly. Out of breath.
    7.00 a.m. I rose and sallied forth. Time to engage the troops in that most dreaded of all calls to arms; ‘time to get ready for school’. Noooo!!
    7.00 – 8.00 a.m. negotiation/attack/counter-attack/sabre-rattling/bartering/haggling/treaty-making/hand-wringing/breast-beating/howling/mud-slinging belligerence!
    Ceasefire.
    8.30 a.n. Blessed mobilization. School achieved for two boys for one day. Check.

  • Kim Hall

    While I didn’t do the exercise you recommended, I did use your suggestions as I wrote my latest post: When Multitasking Meets the Treadmill, and Loses.
    Thanks for the help, and the free ebook that came with my subscription!

  • Chidinma Nwoha

    This is also a great page…. see also http://www.unn.edu.ng/