"How To Be Funny"


"This Won't Do You Any Good But I'll Try Anyway"

You can't learn how to be funny, at least not by reading an online lesson written by a dork like me. This is because you are in all statistical likelihood a slow-witted fool. But I'm going to try to teach you anyway because I'm a really nice guy. Also because you have one huge advantage when writing humor: you have all the time in the world to think of your jokes, unlike the proverbial zinger that you think of a moment too late in a verbal sparring match.

Off the top of my head, I can think of X ways to be funny in writing, where X = the number of topics listed below.

Unexpectedisms, Reversalizing, and Incongruation: In your story, say (and when I say 'say', I mean 'write') something unexpected in a given situation, such as the reverse of the expected. I'm going to pat myself on the back here and use examples from my own written work (this lesson): I started off a lesson about being funny by telling you that you can't learn to be funny. Of course I've just killed the joke by analyzing it this way (see below), but it's a good example nonetheless. As I am one of those gifted few who is funny both in writing and extemporaneous speech, I often use this tactic as a high-school teacher, calling my students dorks and telling them they should drop out and things like that. They think I'm joking, which makes it even funnier, and they get a kick out of it because I'm probably one of the few, if not only, teachers they have who says such things to them. Thus making it unexpected. Thus fitting in with the title of this topic.

Repetition: That which is not funny the first time may be hilarious by the fifth. Or it could make people hate you, or barf while reading your books, which is bad for the paper and smells for a long time afterward. You have to be careful. For example, suppose you are writing a Christmas story in which Santa says, "What the Sam-hell is going on here?" This will strike people as funny, unless they are nincompoops. And it will be amusing, and easier on you because you don't have to be original, to have Santa say 'Sam-hell' again later in the story. Then it will be funniest of all when at some critical moment, another character says 'Sam-hell' in obvious imitation of Santa.

Scaffoldinizing and Worsenization: A scaffold is something that allows you to build progressively upward. (I'm defining this because, as you may recall, you are a slow-witted fool and might not understand the title of this section otherwise.) A good way to build on the humor in a situation is to carry ideas to ridiculous extremes. For example, it was probably only mildly amusing to you when I said that people might barf while reading your lame humor, but the scaffoldinizing came in when I extrapolated from a remark which you thought I intended as a mere euphemism for intense dislike of your lame humor and pointed out the logical consequences of barfing on a book. You want to create strong but unexpected mental images in your readers that nonetheless follow naturally from what came before. Such comments should also leave your readers in awe at your ability to think inanely, at least if your skill level is anywhere close to mine.

Realism: It is important to maintain as much realism as possible in your humorous story, insofar as it doesn't interfere with your jokes. I can't quite put my finger on why.

Unawareness of Humorization: Characters shouldn't talk, remark, or think about the fact that they're being funny. It usually spoils the effect. The only exception I can think of is myself, remarking on my own hilariousness in this lesson. You don't see Jerry Seinfeld, for example, telling George what a funny comment he just made.

Perpetual Smart-Assetization: One way to improve your humor-writing skill is to be a smart-ass in everyday conversation, all of the time. It will annoy some and make others hate you, but think of it as a test of character--your true friends, and any truly decent people--will laugh. An example of perpetual smart-assetization arose a few days ago at work. A somewhat annoying male co-worker said to me, as he looked me up and down, "You look nice today." Now, males in America don't normally say such things to one another unless they're gay, and this guy isn't, and I wasn't wearing anything special. This male also has the occasional habit of making lame, futile attempts at belittling me, including making fun of my clothes, not out of any personal antagonism but because he's a nincompoop. So when he told me I looked nice I asked him if he wanted to go on a date. That's because of all the possible responses in any social situation, smart-assetization is always effective, and once you get in the habit of doing it all the time, you will be much better at humorous writing. Your decreasing number of friends will also give you more time to write.

Nincompoops Are Inevitable: One critic said of my extremely funny story, "The Capacity To Appear Mindless", that it was the type of humor that made her want to put a bag over her head. I held back from responding that, after seeing a picture of her, that bag might not be a bad idea, and instead consoled myself with the knowledge that there will always be nincompoops. It's the humor analog of the aphorism about not being able to please everybody. Basically, you can write the funniest story in the world and some nincompoop won't laugh. Don't let this hold you back. Simply use a scathing witticism to put the nincompoop to tears and move on.

Warnings For Slow-Witted Fools: (isn't it telling that you're reading this, even after seeing the section heading?) Here follow a couple no-noes (yes, fool, that's the plural of 'no') that should be obvious, but as I've abundantly pointed out, you're slow-witted.

Everyone Hates Puns: People who make puns in everyday conversation suffer from that peculiar form of social unintelligence that involves totally unawareness of the effect of one's words on others. Simply put, when someone makes puns, those nearby want to punch him in the face (and it's always a 'him'.) In writing, any possibly positive aspects of making puns, such as the appearance of quick-mindedness (which is a total illusion, as any fool in a pizza parlor can make a dozen pizza-related puns, if possessed of the desire and the requisite stupidity to do so) are lost. This is because any fool reading your story realizes that you had all the time in the world to think of your puns as you wrote. Any way you slice it, puns are a bad idea.

Slapstick is Hard: On the ladder of nincompoopery, those who laugh at Curly poking Moe in the nose are only a small step above those who make puns. Attempting to get someone to laugh by reading about someone poking someone else in the nose is just plain ridiculous.

BOTTOM LINE: I am funny. You are not. But with luck, and worshipful attentiveness to what I have written, you may one day learn to draw up the corners of someone's mouth.

NEXT: My twenty-seven favorite rutabaga recipies.

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