One thing I’d love to improve on, as a writer, is how to use humour. A story that makes you laugh and cry, in my mind, nails it all. So I sit at my computer and do an internet search on ‘how to write a joke.’
A piece by the Writing Cooperative pops up, entitled “How to Write a Joke,” a formula that works for all writers, even if you aren’t funny.
The article tells me I can learn to be amusing, even if I’m not the type of person who enjoys making their friends laugh. The trouble is, I strive to make my friends laugh, but seldom do it. The ability eludes many of us, but it is inborn in certain individuals. I imagine a seven-year-old Dorothy Parker speaking to her best friend during recess at elementary school. She says, “The first thing I do in the morning is brush my teeth and sharpen my tongue.”
I get the bare-bones of funniness, though. A basic joke has two parts—the setup and the punchline. Let people believe one thing, then squash it with the punchline—the bigger the surprise the better.
So, back to the internet to try it for myself. I scout for common phrases to work with.
From a French proverb—Better be alone than in bad company. But that only works if you like yourself.
From Alexander Pope—To err is human, to forgive a travesty.
The italicized bits are mine, and as you can tell, I’m no Dorothy Parker.
When that’s over, I’m onto another website. The topic promises to teach me how to write funny shit and make people laugh. But instead it’s endorsing the benefits of laughter, which I don’t want to write about.
We all know it’s good to laugh.
Choose your Material
But, this next site has some excellent advice—use yourself as the butt of the joke. This is especially apt in our present-day, super-PC culture. Self depreciating humour is virtually the only approach left to jokesters. You are not allowed to make fun of:
- Religious or racial groups (unless they’re WASP—and even that’s iffy these days)
- Political candidates who fit into religious or racial groups
- Community organizations that have members who fit into religious or racial groups
- Anyone of the opposite sex who may fit into a religious or racial group
- Anyone of the same sex who may fit into a religious or racial group,
- or an alternative sex…
… I think you get my drift. So, the lesson learned is, stick with yourself or choose a general topic like your mother-in-law, unless she fits into a religious or racial group.
Fiction and Funny
Because I’m a fiction writer, this does not depress me. If my character tells an off-colour joke, it’s down to her isn’t it? There are some nasty characters out there, and I cannot be held responsible for their deplorable behaviour. Since I’m just the reporter, no one will cancel me. Now, I just need to learn how to write funny stuff.
WikiHow has a section on how to write a good joke. The topic is joke material, and cautions you to be sensitive to your audience—what one person finds funny may be offensive or seem stupid to another, which brings us back to my previous point in a way.
Sidenote: It’s apparently okay to poke fun at celebrities—punch up, not down.
After another web search, we’re back onto structure. The advice offered is—twist the meaning of words or use irony. I’m pleased with this bit of insight. This is something we writers, as wordsmiths, can wrap our heads around.
Finally, I find some practical advice in the comments section of one article. To avoid being sued, never use a joke without permission. Jokes are intellectual property and rules and regulations on copyright apply.
As a wrap up, I do a search, ‘funny writer quotes on writing.’ I’m hoping to find fellow writers who’ve preceded me with some quotable humour. What I discover is, 98% of writers appear to have no sense of ha ha whatsoever. It seems we are a serious bunch. But here’s a few quotes that make me laugh:
First—Dorothy Parker again
“If you have any young friends who aspire to become writers, the second greatest favour you can do them is to present them with copies of The Elements of Style. The first greatest, of course, is to shoot them now, while they’re happy.”
… and again
“I’m not a writer with a drinking problem, I’m a drinker with a writing problem.”
“A synonym is a word you use when you can’t spell the other one.”
“He does not so much split his infinitives as disembowel them.”
“I am a writer. If you upset me, I will put you in my novel.”
I’d love to hear from you if you have other examples. Just hit reply to this email or leave a comment on my website.
FYI—I’ve posted a few new pictures to my gallery in the “Digital Art Room” and the “Landscape Studies Room.”
Check it out on my un-funny website: