Four aspects of funnier writing

Some people think my humor comes from my mind working in odd ways. They may be right. However, everyone can be funny when they write. Humor, sometimes elusive, does have some common elements that you can rely on to give your writing that extra, funny kick. Not all humor has to have all of these elements, but the more, the merrier.

1) Humor is unexpected. People laugh when something violates their expectations in a certain way. This is why there are comedians that often push the envelope of offensive speech. We don’t expect people to violate social norms regarding what is appropriate conversation. When they do, it can be shocking, and funny. This is also true of inoffensive humor. The famous ‘Who’s on First?’ routine relies on a misunderstanding based on baseball players with unexpected names.

2) Humor is extreme. Overstatement and understatement are great friends to the humorist. Contrast is key. Calm, soothing tone in extreme situations can be as funny as wacky antics when normality prevails. The deadpan delivery of Steven Wright and the manic delivery of Robin Williams both work because both are extreme.

3) Humor is contextual. While humor can be more universal, there is a bit of an inverse relationship. If humor is more universal, more people will get it, but it will be less funny. The more context-specific something is, the funnier it will be, but the fewer people will get it. The ultimate example is a ‘you-had-to-be-there’ story that loses all its humor for people who weren’t there when the event happened. Another personal example: When I lived in Germany, I saw a stand-up comedian completely bring down the house with a bit about Boris Becker. I was the only one who didn’t get it, since I’d never seen an interview with Becker speaking his native German. All the humor (and judging from the audience reaction, there was plenty of good stuff) was lost on me.

4) Humor is uncomfortable. There is a risk in attempting humor. Humor may fail. People may not get joke or may not laugh even if they do (some people won’t allow themselves to laugh at ‘inappropriate’ things – particularly in public). Humor also tends to reveal personality. By making a joke, you are putting a tiny, odd bit of yourself on display. This can be nerve-wracking.

I realize with some chagrin that this post on humor is woefully unfunny. That’s OK. The point of this was not to be funny, but to help you be funny. Good luck!


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