How to Be Funny With Well-Chosen Words

by Joe Bunting | 32 comments

This post is written by the very witty Emily Drevets (her Twitter bio is, “God said let there be stew. And there was stew. And He saw that the stew was good.” Isn't that amazing?!). She blogs at Snotting Black and tweets @drevets. She's also a triplet which is cool. Here's her four tips on writing funny (what's up with all of these posts having four tips?).

In our visually-focused age of memes and imgur, one thing you may not realize is that people can also be funny with words. In fact, we’ve done it for thousands of years, from the boring and hard to understand William Shakespeare—nice try, Bill—to the more manageable Dave Barry. People have wooed lovers, conquered nations, and embarrassed their children with effective humor.

But how do they do it?

Photo by Erika

Everything is funny and nothing is funny.

No situation is inherently funny or will make someone laugh by default. The humor comes from the way a given situation is presented. By choosing the right words and framework, you can make anything funny: a 2 year-old’s birthday party, eating a pretzel, stealing quarters from your parents, etc.

The words you choose are your giggle daggers. How can you use them most effectively?

1. Be specific and use vivid imagery.

Why describe someone as ugly when you could say their face is an abomination? Why use the words yell, say, talk, or point when you could say screech, yammer, chit chat, or gesticulate? Why say a man did something when you could say an arsonist did it? Some words and phrases, like chuckle bucket, just sound funny. Use your ears and hear the humor. Read your stuff out loud to anyone who will listen.

Whenever you can, use specific place names, fruit types, brand names, i.e. floppy eared teenager running away to Omaha instead of merely running away to the west. The more ridiculous, vivid, or shocking the image, the more laughs you can milk.

2. Mix it up.

Varying the level of your language can be an effective way of building humor. Don’t be afraid to use slang and formal language right next to each other: “President Obama politely excused himself from the cabinet meeting in order to take a dump” is funnier than “President Obama went to the bathroom.”

3. Shock your mother.

Much of humor is the result of surprise. President Obama taking a dump is effective because the phrase seems so vulgar next to his very formal name.

4. Be Real.

Don’t lie to yourself. If something isn’t working, it must be deleted.  Read what you wrote 10 minutes later and see if the funny stuck. If it didn’t, change something.

You must be fearless, prepared to delete even your most favorite phrases if they don’t fit. Be ready to edit, edit, and edit again.

PRACTICE

Okay, now that we’re all funny, you have 200 words and fifteen minutes to tell us something involving spoons. Make it humorous using the above guidelines. You can do anything you want, as long as there are spoons in the picture. When you’re finished, read it to someone and see if they thought it was humorous too. Now go forth and bring the funny.

Disclaimer: Contrary to popular belief, humor is a science, but it is a secret science known only to a group of white haired freaks living underground near Detroit. Therefore, the above guidelines merely elaborate my own theory on humor writing. There are certainly other, incorrect, schools of thought.

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Joe Bunting is an author and the leader of The Write Practice community. He is also the author of the new book Crowdsourcing Paris, a real life adventure story set in France. It was a #1 New Release on Amazon. Follow him on Instagram (@jhbunting).

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32 Comments

  1. Jeff Goins

    Love this, Emily. You’re great with words — the more subtle, the better. Love your wit and humor.

    Reply
    • Emily Drevets

      Aw shucks, Jeff. Now I’m blushing.

  2. Marianne Vest

    I’m not sure what’s happened with this website, but I can’t navigate it the way it is now. I used to go back and forth using title that were above the main title and went in chronological order. I can’t find where I left off now. Can this be fixed or is it there and I just can’t find it. LIke where would I go if I wanted to look at yesterday’s topic or day before yesterday’s topic.

    Reply
    • Joe Bunting

      Hi Marianne,

      So sorry for the confusion. I’ve recently installed a new theme and things are slightly different. You should be able to find those buttons below the post and above the comments. Sorry again for the change.

    • Marianne Vest

      I hate to use cliches but, duh, I found it. I am just not good at web page navigation. Well now I can get around and see things and comment again Thanks

    • Joe Bunting

      Haha. I’m glad you weren’t confused for too long, Marianne 🙂

  3. Christelle Hobby

    Number 4 is definitely the “kill your baby” tip. We all tend to cherish our humor as if it were a child, but it isn’t. Sometimes you have to know when to let go. Sad as it may be, it’s better for your readers.

    Unfortunately number 3 won’t work for me, my mom says more shocking statements in a night than I could come up with in a year. Perhaps I’ll aim to shock my grandmother instead. Thanks for the tips!

    Reply
    • Joe Bunting

      Ha! I think I’d like to meet your mother.

    • Christelle Hobby

      Proceed with caution! Funniest woman alive, no filter. Lol

    • Emily Drevets

      As long as you’re shocking someone, someone else will be happy.

  4. Sherrey Meyer

    Great post, Emily! I especially liked “chuckle bucket” and tip #4. Enlightenment from someone who makes her writing funny seem as easy as melted chocolate dripping from a spoon is worth a lot!

    Reply
    • Emily Drevets

      Thanks Sherrey—may you bring forth the laughter.

  5. Emily Drevets

    My practice:

    Tonight the spoons come alive. Filled with yearning, they will stop at nothing to achieve their greatest desire: to communally bury themselves waist deep in a pint of Chunky Monkey ice cream and feel the substance turn from solid to liquid around their lower portions.

    Within the silverware drawer they lie, waiting for the perfect moment. The humans bustle and belch and finally go to sleep. Then the spoons awake. Their time has come. Armed with a higher brain to body ratio than most crows, they hack their way out of the drawer, gathering en masse on the countertop. The leader indicates the freezer and the rest clink in excitement. All of their dreams are coming true. Using technology the Confederation of Spoons stole from NASA, they open the freezer and remove the Chunky Monkey Ice Cream, and as one spoon they pry the lid off. A moment of victory.

    But then, madness. Chaos. At the sight of ice cream, the spoons go mad. They have the hunger. Families fight each other as they scramble awkwardly, viciously for a position. Overcome with the fever, they are reduced to beasts, and the cause is lost.

    Reply
    • Marianne Vest

      That’s funny and very inventive. Thanks.

    • Yvette Carol

      Loved the solid turning to liquid around their lower portions. That was a light-hearted moment with the perfect turn of phrase. Nicely Done Emily!

    • JB Lacaden

      Great story!! It was a very entertaining read 😀

    • Katie Axelson

      I especially love this line:
      “to communally bury themselves waist deep in a pint of Chunky Monkey ice cream and feel the substance turn from solid to liquid around their lower portions”

  6. Yvette Carol

    The spoons huddled around the counter, casting looks back over their shoulders at the other.
    “Who does he think he is?” said one.
    “He’s acting all uppity snobbity,” said another.
    “Like some sort of fork.”

    Reply
    • Joe Bunting

      Ha! Those snobbity forks. Gosh.

  7. Alexis Hervis

    Here’s my practice. It took me a little longer than 15 minutes and it’s a bit longer than 200 words, but hey, I’m still practicing! 🙂 Let me know if you think it’s funny–I do. 🙂

    “Save the Spoons”

    At the crack of dawn, I make my coffee. I go to the drawer where we keep our scarce supply of silverware, and grab for a spoon. WHERE ARE THE SPOONS?! I nearly have a heart attack before I realize that all of the spoons must be sitting in the dishwasher; used and left to rot in their own filth until I decide to decontaminate them out of their wretchedness.

    I choose a lucky spoon, and as I begin to wash him, I start to realize how I have been taking advantage of spoons all my life. Without spoons, we couldn’t eat chicken noodle soup, Cold Stone ice cream, or put sugar and creamer in our coffee! The basic necessities of life, and without spoons we would be deprived of them. I conclude that we would DIE if it weren’t for spoons.

    I have a sudden urge to go to Target and save the spoons. I need them, they need me—I’m going to give them a good life. Instead of wasting away in a grimy cardboard box all day, they’re going to get to explore the food of the world (or at least the food in my kitchen). So many spoons out there are deprived and distressed. We have the power to save them! Remember, each spoon saved is one less spoon suffering.

    Feeling appreciative, I decide to bathe all my spoons before I head out to save the others.

    Check out my blog: alexiskrystina.wordpress.com
    Follow me on Twitter: @alexiskrystina

    Reply
  8. Archon

    You can’t teach some people comedy. Some time ago, at a business meeting, a suit began a joke. Bubba the Sheriff hauled a young lad up before the judge. The judge asked, “What’s the charge?” “Arson, your honor,” replied Bubba. “There’s been too much of that going on recently. THAT”LL BE A TWO HUNDRED DOLLAR FINE!” Polite chuckles, and the crowd thins out fast. Two years later, I heard someone else launch into the same joke. I almost parked in his shirt pocket to catch the punchline, which was, “There’s been too much of that going on recently. I WANT YOU TO MARRY THE GIRL. Ah, Southern humor, drevets will get that one.

    Reply
  9. Geekinacardigan

    “I seem to have a startling lack of spoons in my life.”
    “Why do you say that?”
    “Because it’s true. I can’t remember the last time I used a spoon.”
    “And this bothers you?”
    “It really does, doctor. It really does. Spoons are so…I don’t know…curvy and sensual.”
    “You find spoons sensual?”
    “Well, aren’t they?”
    “I suppose so.”
    “And the foods you eat with spoons are sensual as well. Moist. Amorphous. Easily spilled, and therefore somewhat dangerous. Spoons tend to give us a really thrilling visceral experience, don’t they?”
    “I guess I never thought about spoons in that context.”
    “Few people do.”
    “I think we should adjust your medication.”
    “If you say so, doctor…Spoons.”
    “What was that?”
    “Nothing, nothing.”

    Reply
    • Abigail Rogers

      Brilliant! Made me giggle.

    • Jeff Locust

      Not funny. If THAT is funny, my name ain’t Jeff Locust.

  10. jimbo

    I held the spoons with my knuckles turning white. Quickly, I jabbed the metal instrument into the anus hole of the terrorist.

    “Okay okay! I ll talk !”

    It was by far one of the quickest interrogations I’ve done to date.

    Reply
    • Joe Bunting

      Ha! The last line was funny. The spoon part? Nasty.

  11. Jeff Locust

    President Obama had a BIG dump

    Reply

Trackbacks/Pingbacks

  1. How to Be Funny With Words « Snotting black - [...] go to The Write Practice, and for God’s sakes, write something funny for once in your life. Do it!…
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  3. A Historical Case For Why You Should Write Funny - [...] Emily Drevets rightly pointed out the other day that Shakespeare is bor­ing and hard to under­stand, in his day…
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  7. How to Be Funny With Words | Snotting black - […] go to The Write Practice, and for God’s sakes, write something funny for once in your life. Do it!…
  8. Top Picks Thursday 03-29-2012 | The Author Chronicles - […] For those of us who struggle with adding humor to our manuscripts, Jeff Goins explains humor writing for people…
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