Being funny just seems to come naturally to some people.
We all know the class clowns, office jokers, and court jesters that make us laugh.
We know our favorite TV sitcoms and comedies that crack us up.
And we serious writers may be thinking to ourselves, “I could never be that funny. I could never be that clever.” And maybe we’re right.
But what if we could be funny in our own way? What would it take to find our own humor voices?
Anyone Can Be Funny
Anyone can cause a reader to snicker and leave an audience in stitches. And every writer should take the time to learn humor writing, because it’s the difference between flat writing and dynamic communication.
There’s a reason why most public speakers open up their talks with a joke. When you get people laughing, you make a connection with your audience.
Same goes for writing.
Three Tricks for Humor Writing
So what does it take for people like you and me — normal folks, we are — to be funny? Try these three tricks:
1. State the obvious.
Think Jerry Seinfeld or Brian Regan. What’s something so absurdly evident that no one’s seemed to notice? Talk about that.
For example, my friend Bryan Allain shares this: “When you think about it, a spoon is really just a tiny bowl with a handle.”
2. Be subtle.
A well-told joke is understated. It allows the audience to fill in the blanks. It makes them feel like you’re letting them in on a secret. The trick to this kind of humor is to not over-explain the punchline.
As an example, take this conversation between a man and God I read in one of Brennan Manning’s books:
Man: “God, is it true that a thousand years is like a minute to you?”
God: “Yes, that’s true.”
Man: “And is it true that a million dollars is like a penny to you?”
God: “Yes, that’s also true.”
God: “Yes, son?”
Man: “Can I have a penny?”
God: “Sure. It’ll just take a minute.”
Another excellent example is Tina Fey. There’s nothing explicitly hilarious about her comedy — be it on 30 Rock, SNL, or the big screen — but her subtle silliness causes you to crack up every time.
If you can’t explain what makes it funny, then you know it’s good.
3. Surprise your audience.
Professional comedian Ken Davis once told me the secret to being funny: Set up a scene for your audience and then pull the rug out from under them.
Spend 90% of your story convincing the listener you’re going in one direction, and then spend the last 10% going in a completely different one.
It’s all about the set-up.
The trick to all of this, of course, is to not try being funny. As with anything, in order for humor to seem effortless, it requires a lot of practice.
I recently heard that Chris Rock spends five nights a week, doing standup at small clubs, bombing every single show. He uses these small audiences to test out his material and fail fast, so he can create something great for the big weekend show.
So let’s give this a try, shall we? Practice humor writing for fifteen minutes.
Pick something obvious, subtle, or surprising (just pick one) and write a little rant on it. Don’t try to be funny or over-explain your joke. Let your audience make the connections. You can be deadpan or over-the-top; — whatever suits your fancy.
Write it and share it in the comments, and we’ll help each other get better.