Are you funny?
You probably don’t think you are. Someone asks you to tell them a joke and you get all tongue-tied, or you mess up the punchline. Get up on a stage and try to make people laugh? Forget it.
That’s not the kind of funny I mean. That’s joke-funny, and the world doesn’t need more joke-tellers. It needs people who can see life’s absurdity and weirdness and make others see them too. The internet is filled with them. TV has a lot fewer of them than it thinks. (If you’re not giggling at the laugh track, your sense of humor is already sharper than most.)
Unless you’re seriously humor-challenged, like most politicians and that guy at the end of the bar, you can build up your funny bone with just a little practice. And you’ll be glad you did. The ability to use humor is an essential skill for any good writer; not only does it engage and entertain the reader, but it can lighten a serious piece just as the reader needs a little relief.
I’ve written satire for the entertainment tabloid Weekly World News and won humorous speech contests, and I’ve discovered a few essential rules for using humor in writing or speaking.
7 Totally Serious Tips for Writing Funny
Surprise your audience
Set them up to expect one thing and give them something completely different. I opened a humorous speech on bad drivers with an absurdity: “Teenagers texting, guys shaving, women shaving – their legs.”
A variant of surprise, this puts two opposites together. The writers at the online humor site Someecards are masters of this. Sweet-looking young women make saucy comments; handsome men make insulting remarks.
Punch up, not down
The weak attack the powerful, not the other way around. A worker making fun of their boss is courageous; a boss making fun of their employee is a bully.
Only laugh at yourself
Unless the other guy is a jerk.
Be funny, not punny
Wordplay is fun and engaging, but don’t go overboard. Stick to a few well-placed puns for maximum effect.
Cut the laughter
Trust your reader to get your joke; you don’t have to add hints like “haha” and “lol.” These are the written equivalents of a laugh track.
The funniest bits are true, if not factual
At the Weekly World News, I wrote a piece arguing that the secret to a happy marriage is living apart from your spouse. I used a fictional couple (we got to do that, for entertainment) who talked about how great it was not having to talk to each other. Of course, the couple and their comments weren’t factual, but anyone who’s been married would probably admit their remarks were true.
Need Some New Material?
Just look around – on the road, at your job, in the news. Humor is everywhere, just waiting for you to let us in on the joke.