1. black-radish
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    black-radish Senior Member

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    How to write funny ?

    Discussion in 'General Writing' started by black-radish, Oct 4, 2010.

    I'm broading my horizon as a writer and decided to give myself an assignment to write a bit of a humerous story, for entertainment alone.

    But this is the toughest challenge yet!

    So I'm wondering if anyone here has experience with it? And if so, could you give me some usefull advice?

    I guess for the biggest part it's just how you were born, not everyone has quick wit or charisma.. But still, are there some basic rules which you can apply?

    Thanks for the help :)


    Lola
     
  2. arron89
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    arron89 Banned

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    It really depends on what kind of humour you're going for...the options are virtually endless. The only good advice really is just read other writers you find humorous, analyse their style and emulate the bits you think work, same way you learn any other skill really.
     
  3. Mallory
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    Mallory Mallegory. Contributor

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    I've done satire. An essay back in HS written as a satire, and a short story about people at the DMV (kind of a satire on bureacracy with a hyperbole plot) that I did for a workshop class a couple of semester ago. If you want me to email it to you, feel free to PM me.

    Main thing to know, be exaggerated...with everything...:)

    Terms to look up (and use) -- travesty, ad hominem, litotes, hyperbole, etc....and learn to combine them. :)
     
  4. mammamaia
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    mammamaia nit-picker-in-chief Contributor

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    there are no rules for writing comedy... to do it well one has to be born with the right ingredients, can't learn to be funny...

    to find out what's funny and how it looks/reads/feels, read lots of the best humor writers' works... including woody allen's early stuff, steve allen, kurt vonnegut, douglas adams, erma bombeck and whoever passes for the current examples of their ilk...
     
  5. arron89
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    arron89 Banned

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    You can learn it, or at least learn to fake it. It's not magic, it's just language.
     
  6. Mallory
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    Mallory Mallegory. Contributor

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    I agree with this.
     
  7. Kichae
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    Kichae New Member

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    Being funny is a skill like any other. It's no different from being a good cook, being a good driver, being a good listener, being good at math, being a good skater, or being a good public speaker. It takes a little bit of study, a little bit of thought, and a lot of practice.

    The first step to making someone else laugh is introspection. You need to sit down and figure out what makes you laugh. Pick up a book by George Carlin, or Sarah Silverman, or John Stewart, or whoever makes you laugh and see how they write. Study their writings, and every time you read something that you find funny stop for a minute and analyze it. Why was it funny? What, specifically, made you laugh, or chuckle, or smile?

    Once you figure out what exactly it is that makes you laugh, it'll be much easier to turn around and make your own writing funny.
     
  8. Elgaisma
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    Elgaisma Contributing Member Contributor

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    I recommnend:
    Douglas Adams
    Alan Bennett
    Will Self
    Gervaise Phinn
    Mike Devlin

    I am sure many others but I find their books laugh out loud hurt my sides kind of funny. Like others have said best way is to read it. My book isn't funny but it has a range of humour types that I love from satire and irony to malapropisms to boys singing when they pee. There are moments it still makes me grin.
     
  9. thewordsmith
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    thewordsmith Contributing Member Contributor

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    Y'know, that's an excellent analogy. Mind if I take it a step further?

    There is a great difference between being a 'good' cook, driver, mathematician, skater, or public speaker and being a great one. Some people are born with a natural affinity for certain things. Mathmatics, for instance. Long ago scientists determined that men tend to be better at math/number oriented problems. Don't know why, but it continues to prove out.

    And, as far as good drivers go, there is good enough to get out on the road by yourself and getting onto the track at Indianapolis or Daytona or competing in the Grand Prix at Monaco.

    Perhaps you can rip around the ice at your local rink, or even competed in skating events when you were in high school. You may have even dreamt of competing in the Olympics or becoming a Right Wing for your favorite NHL team. But, just because you want it, doesn't mean you'll make the cut... because you're not quite good enough.

    And, while some people have no problem with standing up in front of a room full of people and delivering a speech, others will freeze even at the very thought of it. Some will even wet themselves if impelled to go out there in front of that crowd.

    The same goes with comedy/humor. You've heard people say something like, "He has such a great sense of humor." Why would something like that be noteworthy? Because not all people are born with the same affinity for humor.

    That is to say, essentially, mamma is correct. Some people are just born with it. They seem to have a natural ability to recognize what is funny. That doesn't mean other people cannot be taught what others see as funny but I'm not sure that is something that can be learned in a short period.

    I also don't know that merely reading the works of humorous writers will necessarily imbue someone with an awareness of what makes any particular work funny. The greatest difficulty in learning 'how to be/write funny' is best illustrated by the incredibly wide spectrum of what people percieve as funny. The truth is, what one person finds funny, another does not. This tends to make the art of humor very complex, indeed.
     
  10. arron89
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    arron89 Banned

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    I think you're putting far too much stock in the genetic, or 'nature', side of the equation. You're right, men are generally speaking better at logic and spatial reasoning than women due to a genetic propensity to develop those areas of the brain in a different way to women. But this does not translate to being born with the ability to do calculus.

    Some people probably are born with a genetic propensity towards social skills--humour, communication, empathy--but they're not born knowing how to tell a joke. It's something they learn along the way, something that is taught. I'm yet to meet a funny person who isn't full of recommendations of comedians, movies, books that they read and learned from.

    Some people freeze at the thought of public speaking, but if it was impossible to overcome this fear and learn to do it then courses on public speaking wouldn't be offered internationally, books on it wouldn't be bestsellers. The difference between an average driver and a F1 racer isn't some magical property they inherited at birth, and they'd be the first to admit it; it's practice, practice, practice...the people who excel at things are the people who are passionate about things and devote themselves to learning more, improving, honing their craft, not the ones who believe that they were mystically endowed with some gift.

    There's no reason humour would be any different. As I said earlier, there isn't anything magical about humour that divides it from other writing, it's still just particular patterns of language, patterns that can be analysed, emulated and reused, just like comedians have been doing for millenia.
     
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  11. Conscription
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    Conscription New Member

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    Very well said! I was going to say something but you've covered it here.
     
  12. thewordsmith
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    thewordsmith Contributing Member Contributor

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    You may be reading too much into my comments. And I did agree that humor can, in fact, be learned.
    However, I also made note of the fact that, due to the widely diverse range of what constitutes funny, it's fairly complex and not something to be learned on the short term.

     
  13. arron89
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    arron89 Banned

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    You don't have to learn or master different kinds of comedy though. No comedian works that way. You find your niche, your particular style that makes a certain group of people laugh, and learn that well. The fact that many different styles of humour exist doesn't make it difficult to learn one any more than the fact that there are many different languages makes it difficult to learn one (which it obviously doesn't).
     
  14. Elgaisma
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    Elgaisma Contributing Member Contributor

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    Actually whilst I think funny can be learned humour is a completely different skill humour doesn't have to be funny
     
  15. art
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    art Contributing Member Contributor

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    Can one to be funny in the same way one learn's a language or an instrument. Sure, why not? But the performance is likely to appear a performance.

    Humour is something more than a skill, not just another tick on the CV.
    Humour, proper, is a permanent cast of mind, a personal characteristic. One doesn't turn it on and off. One doesn't think now I will be funny, now I will be earnest. It colours and twists every single piece of information that enters the mind.

    Can the selfish person be made selfless? Can the extrovert be made introvert?
    Can people change?

    So yeah you can learn comedy and be Bob Monkhouse. Heck, you might make a living out of it...but not off of me.

    Or you can be Peter Cook.
     
  16. HorusEye
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    HorusEye Contributing Member Contributor

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    There's many different angles on this. Watch two standup comedians being equally funny on stage, and then see them in interviews afterwards where one keeps cracking jokes on the interviewer and the other appears all serious. Some study, think and prepare their act of being funny, others have a natural funny-bone and can't stop pouring out jokes.

    But when you saw them on stage they were both funny. In writing, you have the luxury of being either one of these two types and the text will likely not reveal the difference.
     
  17. thewordsmith
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    thewordsmith Contributing Member Contributor

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    Lola, I came across the following on another writers' forum and immediately thought of you. Check it out. You might find more help there. Good luck.

    http://www.absolutewrite.com/forums/forumdisplay.php?f=41
     
  18. EdFromNY
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    EdFromNY Hope to improve with age Supporter Contributor

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    Also try James Thurber, Robert Benchley and O. Henry. Thurber had a way of making everyday problems side-achingly funny (e.g. "The Night the Bed Fell"). O. Henry was a master of irony ("Ransom of Red Chief", "The Hobo and the Anthem"). And don't forget Mark Twain.
     
  19. Cogito
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    Cogito Former Mod, Retired Supporter Contributor

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    Some people simply don't have a sense of humor. Without that, it doesn't matter how well they write. They won't be funny because they can't even see the target rthey need to write to.

    Worse yet, they often think they do have a sense of humor. Break it to them gently.
     
  20. Kichae
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    Kichae New Member

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    I still stand by my original intention.

    Goodness, greatness... It's all learned and practiced. Some people live or have grown in environments which make accessibility of the skills necessary to be great at a given thing easy. I had a girlfriend once who was an excellent musician. She fell into the same sort of faulty thinking. She had two parents who were very good at and very passionate about music, so she attributed her proclivity to simply being genetically predisposed to being a good musician.

    Completely ignoring the fact that her mother was a relatively renown music instructor, and that she grew up surrounded by and learning how to play almost every musical instrument under the sun.

    Children who are read to early and often develop language skills more quickly than their literature deprived peers. People who read often read faster, absorb what they've read more quickly, and have an easier time writing.

    Kids who are encouraged to do math at a young age, and who don't come up against much discouragement through school, tend to do better in math and the sciences when they're older.

    It has little to do with genetics, or with being "a natural". That's sometimes very dangerous thinking. Telling someone who's struggling to accomplish something that "some people are naturals" sends the message "I'll never be as good as 'them'," which can easily lead to "so why even bother trying?"

    A sense of humour is cultural, and cultural constructs are learned. As such, anyone can learn to be funny, and they can do it without having to tremble at the idea of being handicapped by nature. Persistence, passion, and most importantly study are the keys.

    Oh, and as for that whole thing about scientists determining that men are just naturally better at math than women? It's due to selection bias and cultural bias. Scientists are people, born and bread in a culture just like anyone else, and they have the same prejudices. Especially when we talk about scientists "long ago", who were 99% men, and were all too happy to see that as the natural order of things.

    Thankfully, science is a self correcting institution, and it's finally starting to get around to correcting itself.


    So, again to the OP, if you're really interested in writing humour, start steeping yourself in things that make you laugh, and then start figuring out why they do that.
     
  21. art
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    art Contributing Member Contributor

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    Aye. Exactly right.

    To clarify: the characteristically humorous person is by no means the person who never stops jesting, never stops broadcasting delightful absurdities...whatever. He may be shy; he may self-censor etc etc

    Entirely possible that the unrelenting joker is not characteristically humorous. He is likely a performer: desperate for adulation, acceptance etc etc
     
  22. Elgaisma
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    Elgaisma Contributing Member Contributor

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    Humour can be a craft, as can entertaining people. I grew up in a city famous for it's sense of humour, but like Kichae says part of that is the culture. I know going to stage school gave me confidence to deliver humour, which was born out of dyspraxia - if you are going to be clumsy and malaprop left right and centre may as well make it funny. I am watching my daughter's ability to be funny increase as she attends stage school.

    I don't think it is a coincidence that a lot of the best most entertaining performers were bullied at school, it is the place where humour is born. Most of the best comedy actors and writers are boring when interviewed. They can however produce funny material and deliver it.

    I love Ken Dodd - whilst his hair and teeth are genetic the rest of it he learned and borrowed.
     
  23. madhoca
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    madhoca Contributing Member Contributor

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    I once noted this down when I was in the library looking at the treatment of humour in children’s writing a couple of years ago. I don’t know if Kappas' study is on the Net, but she seemed to give a good basic summary of humour in writing, and not only writing for children:

    Ten Types of humour in children’s books:
    Exaggeration
    Incongruity
    Surprise
    Slapstick
    Absurdity
    Situational humor
    Ridicule/satire
    Defiance
    Violence
    Verbal Humour, e.g. word play, name-calling, jokes and puns, malapropisms, or the misinterpretation of language.

    SOURCE: summarised from: Katharine Kappas (1967) A developmental analysis of children’s responses to humor, The Library Quarterly, 1.

    I suppose this is only the tip of the iceberg. There are so many different types of humour in writing, and it changes from era to era and between cultures as well. I mean, not all humour crosses the Atlantic (either way), although it might be interesting to think about just what humour has lasted and travelled! I guess the most successful stuff is back to that old thing, you know, good writing.

    I’ve met a few writers and journalists who weren’t particularly funny in the flesh, they seemed to save it all for the pen.
     
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  24. Melzaar the Almighty
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    Melzaar the Almighty Contributing Member Contributor

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    I find the way I try and write when I'm attempting to be funny is just to over-think a pretty innocent or boring situation, and stretch it to the point where you're hardly even looking at it from the original subject. I usually cut down a lot once I'm done rambling and just keep the good lines. I've only got a shortened, edited version on this computer, but I'll show one my favourite opening paragraphs... Don't know if it's *actually* funny or not, but it was an attempt at a humorous paragraph.


    I start with a flat statement, then quickly throw in a line that shows I'm not looking at it in a serious way - in this case taking a situation which is very unlike one in the home, then applying a sort of "this is how it would happen if we were just talking about my desk lamp" sort of logic. Then I go back into explaining the original statement, leading into a ridiculous conclusion we all know is false, but is presented, by the logic contained within the paragraph, as fact.
     
  25. madhoca
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    madhoca Contributing Member Contributor

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    To me, your example is altogether too wordy for the kind of pithy humour you seem to be aiming at. Less is definitely more when it comes to humour.

    Comes down to writing again, and writing style—although, obviously, the style one person finds funny is not necessarily what everyone is amused by. Your example didn't seem natural language if you are British, and e.g. what is 'granola'? (I see you are based in the UK). I think you could perhaps listen to how British people express themselves, so that you are less influenced by humour on the internet or in comedies imported from the US. But maybe you are from the US, which of course would explain that!

    For example, let the reader realise that the lights are nasty, don’t just tell them—your ‘weird sickly grey’ shows that, anyway. You don’t need to say ‘I don’t know’ because you use ‘maybe’ twice in succession after, and ‘in the dark…’ well, obviously ‘in the dark’. You lost me with that random stuff about hippies, it wanders too far from the original idea.

    If you get rid of the excess, you are left with the main point of what you are trying to say:

    They’d replaced the streetlights with power-saving ones. Or maybe they were out of yellow bulbs. The new ones were a weird sickly grey. A two-pronged incentive, perhaps? Save energy and cause more crashes to lower the population and take cars off the road.

    IMO, it comes over more as humour in the pared-down version, although none of it makes me laugh, exactly.
     

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