Funny Things are furry, bouncy little concepts that occasionally jump into your peripheral vision and then go jumping away again. They have shrill and gleeful little voices and mumble incoherent things like toddlers drunk on milk. If you’re too gung-ho with writing, you may miss the sylvan cadences of Funny Things sweeping past. You may even miss out on capturing any Funny Things. That’s is a sad indictment on your writing, because Funny Things can turn a piece of writing from drab to fab in one wee sentence. That’s the Scottish wee, not the amber nectar wee.
There Are Many Different Types of Funny
As we all know, there are many different types of Funny Things. Only some will resonate with a chosen audience and that’s why it’s always a good idea to use juicy morsels of humour sparingly. There’s the Owen Wilson goofy funny. The whimsical and cute Jean-Pierre Jeunet funny. The Woody Allen pithy one-liner funny. The venomous and sarcastic Black Books funny. The creepy and weird internet meme funny. And of course there’s you’re kind of humour, which can be unique and your own signature if you capture it on the page.
Always be aware that there’s no magic bullet of humour that transcends all cultures and IQ scores. The chances are, someone somewhere will think the joke was dumb or won’t even understand it. That’s why it’s a good idea to be pragmatic about it. Don’t set out to be funny, and instead use some of these techniques that have worked for me to bring Funny Things out of their hiding places.
”Comedy just pokes at problems, rarely confronts them squarely. Drama is like a plate of meat and potatoes, comedy is rather the dessert, a bit like meringue.” Woody Allen
Get Visceral and Keep it Real
What this means is, let your creative mind run wild. Even the most seemingly boring pieces can be made funny by creating a funny scenario. For example, I had to do an article about air conditioner maintenance. The article sounded soul-crushingly dull and I was dreading writing about it. Until a scenario popped into my head regarding air conditioner maintenance.
A woman is asked on a date by an undesirable character. Yet now she has the perfect excuse for not going out. One that highlights how repugnant the guy is and also how much she despises air conditioner maintenance. She can simply mumble into the phone ”Tonight I’ve got to err…clip my toe nails and umm…do routine maintenance on my air conditioner”.
I’m not saying that this is comedy gold by any stretch of the imagination. However it was at least an amusing aside from the onslaught of technical information. The rule of thumb is – Funny Things happen spontaneously when you imagine scenarios. So think laterally and out of the box. Picture scenarios and then show, don’t tell about them.
Red Wine Helps
I don’t know what it is about red wine, but it does help to make me funny. Something in the tannins and fruity spicy flavour gets my brain going. Perhaps it’s simply the alcohol content. I could revisit this article again in the harsh light of sobriety and it will be a bucket of piss. Only time will tell. An important caveat, dear wine drinking comedienne, is that you should restrict yourself to two glasses. This is just enough to gain access to a languorous lubrication of your brain cells. After this your brain will be cactus and you should watch Game of Thrones re-runs or perhaps bust out some mean shapes on the dancefloor.
Metaphors and Similes
Peppering your writing with metaphor, simile and funny scenarios can uplift a boring piece of writing into something celestial. Although navigate around cliché – this is the epic ruination of any writer. A great metaphor or simile is one that’s fresh and never been used before in that context. It fills the reader with a rich and evocative sense of understanding, time and place. Australians do this well, with a richly descriptive list of metaphors and similes to describe bodily fluids, toilets, weather and so on.
Not very intelligent
- A few stubbies short of a six-pack
- The lights are on but nobody’s home
- A few roos loose in the top paddock
Thinking highly of oneself
- Flash as a rat with a gold tooth
- As ugly as a hatful of arseholes
- As ugly as a wombat’s arsehole
Desirous of having sex with a woman (derogatory)
- Up that like a rat up a drainpipe
- All over her like a cheap suit
- Driving the porcelain bus
- technicolour yawn
- Putting some zeds in the air
- Dropping the kids off at the pool
A complete debacle/complete mess
- All over the place like a mad woman’s knitting
- A dog’s breakfast
Hanging around like a bad smell
Try your hand at answering these. Pretty much any answer is going to be insightful, colourful and amusing.
She was happier than
He was busier than
She was as sick as
He was as angry as
Pay Attention to the Mundane
The king of comedy about mundane everyday life is Jerry Seinfeld. He created a very successful show about all the niggling and annoying aspects of life. The characters went through all of the pathological aspects of the human condition. That’s what made his comedy and his show so universally popular. Tap into this and explain it in elegant and simple terms in writing. Therein lies comedy gold.
The foundation of satire is taking clichés to their logical conclusion. Use irony, sarcasm or humour to show the indelicate, ugly or ignorant sides of human nature. It can be as jolting like a bucket of cold water on the head. However it doesn’t need to be vicious or obscene to be funny. Some of the most elegant satire is literary and insightful rather than insulting.
Try and appear serious in the delivery, this often adds more punch to the reader’s moment of realisation that it’s fakery. For maximum effect, take well-worn clichés farther than they have ever gone before. Alternately, turn everyday truisms on their head. Advertising does this well. For example, when ads portray adults as infants, or infants as adults.
The Onion Image Source
Keep it Tasteful
So you’ve managed to locate comedy gold. So you think! How do you know if you’ve gone too far? Ask yourself one question – would you let your grandmother read it?
This is a good litmus test for the tastefulness of jokes. My grandmother is a progressive, yoga-loving independent woman. However at the same time she’s got clear ideas of what it means to be classy and crass. The moral of the story is – don’t descend into swearing, sordid stories or anything that would offend your grandmother. It may be funny on 4Chan or the darkest depths of the internet, but rarely will this sort of writing gain a mainstream following or respect from anyone.
Offensiveness is a relative term with no concrete meaning. That’s why it’s important to use someone you respect as your moral compass. Particularly when you let your Good Taste GPS escape by way of a bottle of Cabernet Sauvignon.
My grandmother second from the left, me with the parrot.
Is the Humour Scalable?
In other words, does the humour remind you of a particular novel, magazine column, comedian, TV show or film that you’ve seen or read somewhere. Funny Things don’t come out of a vacuum. Make sure that the material can be understood easily by a particular audience. Some people get into writing so deeply that they lose sense of all reality and what’s actually going to make people laugh. So get at least four people to look over the piece. Get them to tell you in a blunt and honest way – if it’s funny or not.
Here’s some amusing writing I prepared for eHarmony. I hope you enjoyed this piece. Let me know what works for you in terms of making writing funny, I would love to know!