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The Secret of Writing Funny

writing funny

Writing funny

Do you want to learn the secrets of writing funny? Check out the five tips below.

Laughter has instantaneous health benefits including relaxation, lowering blood pressure, curing male pattern baldness and increasing immune system response.

Almost all of these health benefits can all be obtained by making your reader giggle, laugh, guffaw or otherwise shoot beverages out an unexpected orifice.

Before I share a few of the methods you can use to add humor to your writing, I’d like to digress for a moment by predicting and addressing your objections.

  • “I’ve just never been a very funny person.”
    Have you ever laughed at something? A sense of humor is a bi-directional feature. If you can laugh, you can make someone else laugh.
  • “I write about stuff that is serious.”
    Surprising your readers with a chuckle in the midst of a serious discussion is a terrific way to build a loyal following. Notice I said chuckle – after all, this is serious stuff.
  • “When I try to be funny, nobody gets it.”
    You’re trying too hard. Stop that.
  • “I’m a writer.  I don’t tell jokes.”
    The rules of good writing also apply to humor. Show, don’t tell.
  • “But, I write poetry | fiction | a blog | non-fiction | essays | on bathroom walls | screenplays.”
    Perfect!

Humor isn’t one-size-fits-all, but there are several techniques you can use to drag a smile out of almost anyone.
Tip #1: Be the joke. There’s only one way to make fun of something without offending anyone else, and that’s if you’re making fun of yourself. Your readers will welcome the invitation to laugh with you. This applies to poking fun at your accoutrements as well – parents, spouses, siblings, children, dogs, hamsters and fish. Never make fun of the cat.

Tip #2: Be specific. Generalizations can be funny, but specificity is better. For example, a story about squirrels would be funnier if it were about nine beady-eyed squirrels that stuck to the side of my deck in formation, reminding me of the time my little brother glued his G.I. Joe’s to the kitchen wall and declared war against all things legume.

Tip #3: Use comedic timing. This can be as simple as applying the funny word, phrase or sentence at the last possible moment. You can force a pause before the punch line by starting a new paragraph. If you’re telling a story, you can use this technique to apply the element of surprise, taking the reader in an entirely unexpected (and funny) direction. This method works 100% of the time.
Unless it doesn’t.

Tip #4: Use a thesaurus. A single word can be really, really funny. It may be the way they sound or even how they’re spelled that gets the laugh. You’ll know immediately when you see one, which is why your thesaurus is essential. For example, destroy is routine but pulverize is hilarious. Yellow is conventional but chartreuse is witty. Surprise is ordinary but flabbergasted is priceless.

Tip #5: Use a swipe file. This is one of the best tools for anyone who writes. A swipe file is a collection of really good stuff that you didn’t think of first. Despite the name, there is no plagiaristic aspect to a swipe file. These tidbits are purely for inspiration. I keep my file electronically, and two of my favorite items are transitory phrases: ‘Not to be outdone’ and ‘In a related development’. These are quite useful in introducing a comic turn of events. Feel free to swipe them. I did.

Tip #6: Edit the crap out of it. (Notice how double entendres aren’t really that funny.) The truth is that being funny is incredibly hard work for most of us. Your first draft has some good stuff in it. Use the rules above to make it better. Then do it again. Then read it out loud to someone who doesn’t speak your language. This avoids humiliation while allowing you to hear, and correct, the cadence of your writing. When you think you’re done, ask a friend to read it, silently, in your presence. Focus your attention on the outer corner of their eyes while trying to appear indifferent.

When you see the crinkle, start breathing again. When you see the grin, let out a sigh of relief. When the grin turns into giggle, you’ll find that you are giggling, too. When the giggle turns into a guffaw, send the piece to your editor with the serenity that can only come from contributing to the good health and soda-stained keyboards of your readers.

Author: Annie Binns

Click here to read the article: How to Write Funny

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51 thoughts on “The Secret of Writing Funny”

  • These are very useful tips on how to write in a humorous way, Annie.

    As you say, funny is certainly in the eye of the beholder- just like beauty!

    I like the approach you suggest, especially to edit ruthlessly.

    All too often, a rambling lead up to the punchline can destroy any laughs you’ve tried to set up.

    Now, I’m off to try the art of hilarity :-)

  • Eric Honaker says:

    Thanks a lot. Like a lot of good advice, this entry is made up of things I knew, somewhere in the back of my head. I just hadn’t thought of them in a useful and organized way.

  • --Deb says:

    I agree, humor is HARD. I can write in a general, conversational way easily enough, but I can only write “funny” when the stars are aligned just so. Good tips!

  • Writer Dad says:

    If you can breathe, you can be funny. You just have to look inside yourself and discover what it is that tickles your own toes. Chances are, if it can widen your smile, there are plenty of others who will feel the same way.

  • Terri says:

    I do write about a fairly serious topic and I really think humor is necessary to help the medicine go down! These tips are great!

  • I like that, “be the joke”. I’m somebody who isn’t afraid to crack jokes (even if they make some people uncomfortable) and I’m definitely not afraid to make myself the butt of the joke.

    Humor is universal, and if you can pull it off, do it.

  • Annie Binns says:

    @Scott – I think rambling is necessary to get those first drafts off your chest. You’re right, though, it can be a real buzz-kill when you are going for a laugh.

    @Eric – Glad it helps to see them listed out. That’s what I like so much about Leo’s other blog. Lists rock!

    @Deb – I think we’re all that way. I have to find something to make me laugh first to wake up my funny bone. That’s not always easy to do!

    @WriterDad – Yessssssssss!!!!!!!! That is why even my CAT is funny!!!!

    @Terri – You are so right. The best eulogies I’ve heard have extremely funny stories about the people we’ve lost. Being serious, respectful and funny is humanity at its best.

    @Alex – That’s precisely why I can get away with telling blonde jokes. :-)

  • Ron Rink says:

    Great advice — the kind I need to take to heart. I write much too seriously. Ohh — and a good place to build up a swipe file is the sound bites of politicians. Some of those are REALLY funny!!

  • This is really solid advice to help bloggers inject some funnies into their writing.

    I believe humor almost always enhances ones writing. I am always looking for the opportunity to add a little humor in my writing. It makes everyone happy.

  • Terri says:

    OOps forgot to say my new word for surprised that I intend to use someday is gobsmacked–isn’t that hilarious?

  • Mary Jaksch says:

    I’m a very serious person and I notice my friends sometimes behave in a strange way that could mean they are amused.
    Could I have some advice on how to deal with that, please?

    I’ve noticed that friends dining with me often choke on their food and snuffle into their drinks. Especially when food on my plate slides off onto other laps – which it does seem to do quite often. And of course wine glasses are so badly designed that they don’t easily stay upright.

    I offer to hit them – I mean my friends – to stop them choking but that seems to make things worse. They tend to double up, start crying, and make strange noises.

    What should I do to help them?

  • Mary Jaksch says:

    What I was trying to demonstrate in the comment above is that humor also works if you play the ‘straight man’. You’re then the only person unable to see the joke.

  • Humor is hard to execute, and without resorting to the old Vaudeville rules for comedy (the letter K and anvils are comic gold!), it can be hard to wring funny out of an otherwise dry piece on, say, peak oil or the global conspiracy involving Freemasons, al Qaeda, the Illuminati, and Starbucks. Here, then, is the absolute simplest piece of advice that I can give (and I have been officially certified in the lab as a funny – the tech noted that the last time he had seen readings this high, it was when he tested a platypus, widely known in biology as the funniest creature in the animal kingdom (in fact, its scientific name, LOLificus WTFarum means “holy sweet mother, I’m gonna pee myself just LOOKIN’ at that thing (which is exactly what the discoverer of the platypus did (this being the heady days before Depends)))).

    So here now is my single most effective piece of advice – don’t be afraid to bomb. The trouble with humor is that not everyone is going to get it. In fact, no less than 72% of you reading this groaned in agony at the above paragraph (the other 28% are patiently awaiting their medication). How many people walked out on Andy Kaufman because they didn’t get it? Humor that is worried about going over to the audience/reader almost always resembles a sitcom written by committee, and we all know how funny committees are, right?

    And don’t forget to use the single funniest word in the English language – suppository. It sounds like it should be a warehouse for suppositions – it’s not. Oh, it’s really not.

  • Annie Binns says:

    @Ron – Politicians are becoming funnier and funnier as November approaches!

    @Bamboo – So glad you liked it! I’m a HUGE fan of yours and your brother. :-)

    @Terri – I love that word! It brings to mind that look of complete, utter shock that I see on my husband’s face when he hears the words, “Honey, I made dinner.”

    @Mary – HAHA! You could only pull that off under a pseudonym – you are too well-known for your introspection to be the straight man. Woman. Person.

    @Charlie – As a fan of both platypuses (platypi?) and Andy Kaufman, I thank you for your very funny comment. Notice how I’m not going to mention the suppositories

  • Annie,

    This was fabulous. I love humor and wit in whatever I read, especially when it’s supposed to serious.

    In my own writing, however, I interject humor very cautiously. You’ve encouraged me to be bolder even at the risk of bombing as pointed out by Charlie as a real danger.

  • @ Annie: Me and my brother are honored, and thrilled to have you as a reader.

  • SpaceAgeSage says:

    I tried humor a few times in a newspaper column I used to write, but I haven’t played around with it much in my blog. I’m known for serious, not funny, except when teaching. I wonder why I can be funny in front of a group, but not so humorous my writing?

  • Mary Jaksch says:

    Hi Spaceagesage

    I’ve got the same problem. When I write for my blog Goodlife Zen, I’m serious, although in ordinary life I’m actually quite zany – especially when I’m with friends.

    What’s your suggestion, Annie?

  • Annie Binns says:

    @Flora – Glad to hear you’ll take the humor challenge!

    @Spaceagesage & Mary – My opinion is that this idea of serious writing can be traced to our formal education. If your writing bones were formed in a classroom, throwing in a laugh can feel like a stress fracture! My suggestion is rudimentary – give it a try. A small one. Then do it again. The fact that you can be goofy off-paper means you just have to give your inner editor a martini or two.

  • Mary Jaksch says:

    Hi Annie!
    My inner editor is awfully strict with me: No martinis allowed!!

    Maybe it’s a case of trust versus control. I mean, if we trust out baby humor steps, we can grow and learn. Whereas, if we allow the inner editor to stifle us with her or his tight control, we can’t develop anything new.

    Trust is difficult for me because my parents moved to Germany when I was little and that’s were I grew up. What I took on board is encapsulated in the following German saying (please read aloud with a gutteral accent to get the full flavor):

    Trust is good; control is better!

  • SpaceAgeSage says:

    Thanks for the insight, Annie. My inner editor’s mentors must have been the hard-drinking, but ever-so strict journalism profs; that and my very German family background. Everything must be proper, you know.

    Mary, that quote was perfect!

    Lori

  • Annie,
    Your pithy suggestions are so helpful. Thanks. Here’s brief posts on humor in writing or speaking – and on contagious laughter
    How Hard is it to Get Others to Laugh?
    http://www.movingfrommetowe.com/2008/03/10/how-hard-is-it-to-get-others-to-laugh/

    Don’t Start Your Speech With a Joke
    http://sayitbetter.typepad.com/say_it_better/2008/02/dont-start-your.html

    New Way to Laugh at the News
    http://sayitbetter.typepad.com/say_it_better/2007/03/new_way_to_laug.html

    Laugh and the World Laughs With You
    http://sayitbetter.typepad.com/say_it_better/2007/02/laugh_and_the_w.html

  • Mary Jaksch says:

    Hi Writing Dad!
    I had a look at your new blog. Congratulation! I love the tagline “Life’s a lot better when you have the right words.”

    Good idea to buy Darren’s book. It makes it so much easier when you have great advice to hand.

  • Tumblemoose says:

    Humor. An absolute necessity. A writer can still have a professional post or writing and inject appropriate humor where appropriate.

    Thanks for the tips and the reminder.

    Lighten up, people.

  • unero says:

    the only funny thing about this article was that every joke made was terrible.

    seriously. this shit is useless. “use comedic timing”. well that’s a very fucking specific technique isn’t it?

    if there was a “secret” to writing funny, then everybody’s story or blog would be full of amazing jokes. Humour would be the kind of thing where you could sit down and work out and eventually say “There. That’s hilarious.” But it’s not. Humour relies on a keen eye for subtleties, careful exaggerations and yes, timing, but having a list of tips to refer to is either going to make your humour generic, lifeless, or, most likely, both. If you have a sense of humour and are inventive and creative with the way you write, you’ll express your humour automatically through your work. As you write you’ll think of funny ways of looking at things and they’ll come out and they’ll be funny. It’s never funny if somebody says something and it’s obvious they thought of the line ages ago and have been waiting to say it.

  • Sun says:

    Very good. Thank you for the information.

  • Mary Jaksch says:

    I recently received an email from a friend, Bert Freestone. In it he told two stories from the time when he was involved in an orchestra. Bert sure knows how to write funny:

    “They let me play the cymbals in the School of Music orchestra, when I was their tea-boy (or concert manager –as they called me-to keep me interested). I’m sure half the audience only came to see/hear my mistakes! Once –at the end of the 1812, I had eight crashes to play. I couldn’t read music so the tympanist said “count one-two-three-crash- eight times – and I’ll kick you when to start”. Unfortunately he kicked me a bar too late, and there was a crash when everybody else had stopped. There was utter silence – Frank Clayton-Oxley – the conductor, was looking daggers! What could I do? I bowed – and the audience erupted in applause – and laughter !

    Following the 1812 debacle – a month later we were performing a concert for the Intermediate School. By this time we had a proper percussionist- Marion Raywood – the Education Board Music Advisor.
    By now I had learned to roll the side drum and Marion and I shared percussionist duties between us. During a Hayden symphony while Marion was on the triangle and I on the cymbals,it was necessary for Marion to take over the cymbals to enable me to roll the side drum. Unfortunately –being an impetuous woman – she grabbed the cymbals with one of my thumbs still in a cymbal strap. Consequently I had to roll the drum with one hand, while the other moved backwards and forwards in unison with the cymbals. Of course the children loved it!”

  • dave goodwin says:

    INNOCENT SUFFERING

    Another travelled day
    Many now have I seen
    Travelling many miles in my mind
    Yet nowhere have I been
    Wrestling with myself
    Day in and day out
    Waiting for some divine inspiration
    I could shout
    But who would hear me
    When innocent children can’t be heard
    So I speak to you not with a conceited voice
    But with love shinning from my words
    I can no longer beguile you
    I now abide in some greater place
    My words may not be as pretty as a smile
    But they are my face
    And you will clearly see me
    in no matter what time it is you live
    Just try to understand the love
    My pen does give
    Worry not on death
    Death is just absurd
    There are innocent children suffering all around you
    That can’t be heard

    DAVID BRIAN GOODWIN

  • MattC says:

    Hey Annie;

    Love the article! I am generally a fairly funny person, get laughs from friends, etc. Yet most of that humour is sarcastic. Sarcasm doesn’t come out too much in print. Or does it?

    Is there a way to portray sarcasm so the reader will still get it without having to say “hey, that was a joke!” We all know that’s not funny.

    Thanks!

  • Adlibby says:

    and with that.. I am a fan for life! Awesome information. Thank you!

  • Louise says:

    Why not the cat?

  • Bahri Gordebak says:

    Good tips.

    Another tip could be using unrelated things together for a surprising effect.

    But I think laughing at funny things, doesn’t mean you have good sense of humor. Making people laugh is the hardest thing on earth. That’s why so many people fail at stand-up comedy. Only a few succeed.

    I think writing the best you can write is enough for a writer. Sometimes, trying to be funny makes it worse. A joke is like farting, you don’t have to know how it’s made to do it. (That’s trying hard, for example.)

  • James Clarke says:

    I was actually just googling how to write funny stories and came upon this. You definitely know funny =). I wrote a funny story (about ninjas in space…) for school (college). I really like writing funny stories and when I right non-funny fiction I have a lot more trouble. I can only really right two things, funny and emotional… and I don’t want to have to share the latter in class. Only problem with when I write funny is I write jokes I like. So a lot of people might not get it. In the story i wrote I referenced star wars, 300, and the dark crystal. I have never seen 300 yet I still managed to joke about it. Even though I wrote the jokes because they were funny to me, I know my friends will get the jokes and that’s all that matters =). As one of my friends said to a new guy we met, “You get used to him.”

    Sorry this is so long, but one more thing. When I do public speeches (taking public speaking class and had to do my valedictorian speech in highschool) i use humor all the time. In my last speech a few days ago, I called everyone in the class irrational, said all religions were fake, and showed a russian propaganda poster. As far as I know no one was offended. I love using humor in speeches cause people listen to you. And when people are smiling and laughing at me my confidence goes up a lot more. Also, it makes the atmosphere a lot nicer and it feels like the speech is more of a conversation. So ya, in summation, humor works everywhere, not just in writing or on tv.

  • NoraLumiere says:

    Funny is so hard to do and you’ve given such practical how-to advice that I can hardly wait to try it.
    I recently sat down to write a funny post. Funny, I said to myself over and over. I’m witty, I can write funny. But the words refused to be funny.
    The funnier I tried to be, the stodgier and stiffer and stonier and duller they became.
    I finally abandoned the post, it just died on me.
    I can write funny when empassioned, but I’d like to be able to do it at will.
    Thanks for the tips, will let you know if they work for me.

  • I applaud you for trying to teach how to be funny but as the old quote goes “Dying is easy, Comedy is hard”.

    My kids are funny and I know it was a very intentional effort on my part to make sure they learned how to be funny, but it did take some time. So I believe that comedy can be learned but I think it is learned through long exposure.

  • CFI says:

    I have always tried to add some humor to my writing style, and I usually write about flight instructors teaching others how to fly. Yes, the topic is something on the serious side, but adding a little humor keeps it interesting, and my audience more attentive and involved. Thanks for sharing this. Helps when I see reassurances from others.

  • mk akan says:

    great tips,
    every one wants to be entertained.we all love entertainment .it is something we should all add to our post .
    There is nothing as sweet as learning while laughing your ass off.Remember the the FUN THEORY

  • Simone says:

    Thanks for the information. Help is always a good thing.
    Sometimes my writing just flows, while at other times
    it creeps or worse just sits still. Thanks again.

  • John Ceccon says:

    As a stand up comedian, It’s my job to make other people laugh. You make some great points here and a great article overall. Your suggestion to edit the crap out of your material is something that people new to comedy always overlook. Just about every joke I have ever written has started out being twice as long as the joke that I actually tell on stage. In stand up comedy, we are always editing down. Always making the joke shorter and quicker. However, I have found that when I blog, sometimes my editing can make the blog longer and sometimes my editing makes the blog shorter.

  • Great advice, no one is too serious to be funny!

  • ♥Ashi♥ says:

    im writing a story for fanfic and its a humor story (obviously) and this didnt really help. at all. i got three of my friends to read my story and they cacked themseleves laughing. you just go for it, dont try to write a humor stry by rules, thats just not the way it goes.

  • Louise says:

    I’ve put my book (not published yet, any offers?) A Proper Charlie, out for public comment and I’m getting a gloss over that “it’s light”, “easy read”, “casual”, “fun” as if it was easy to write, and other books not in that genre are more literary somehow.

    It’s blimming hard to write funny! So, here’s to us who’re trying.

  • gordon hay says:

    im flabergausted tgaht really fucking sucked

  • Aaronmark says:

    There’s a comment! I’m naturally a brunette, been a redhead, now currently mostly blond, going gray fast…

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