Humor Writing Tips: You’re Not Funny, But You Can Be

My whole life people have told me that I’m one funny motherfucker, but you know, looks aren’t everything.  That’s an old, awful joke that you should never repeat.

Humor writing is one of the most difficult types of writing to master, in my opinion.  It’s one that I see people trying very hard to apply to everything quite often and Jesus H. Christ it’s painful.  So I wanted to write a treatise on just how to improve your humor writing.

The problem I quickly found is that humor writing is more than I can possibly put into a single blog — it’s an attitude, it’s a way of being, it’s a way of seeing things differently, and it’s definitely a book’s worth of guidance.  Hell, it might be a class.  I dunno.  The point is that it’s huge and you are small and this blog is never more than about 800 words.  And in 800 words I can barely dip a toe into the waters that are comedy writing.

To be clear, I’m talking about writing humorous columns, or adding a dash of humor to an otherwise bland and boring business blog.  I’m talking about cheap shots on social media.  I can’t help you with your stand-up comedy, I’m not that sort of writer.  Timing is everything, but timing is different between the written word and the spoken word.  So if you’re here for advice for your routine, keep that in mind.  I’m not responsible for all the fucking tomatoes about to be lobbed at your head.  (Please send us a link to the video, though, because we want to see it!)

What is Humor Writing, Really?

I’ve been studying comedy since I was 10 or so, whether I knew it or not.  All those hours spent watching “Evening at the Improv” and “Saturday Night Live” with my brother late into the night and reading “Norton’s Book of Light Verse” and Shel Silverstein and trying to really figure out what it was that made things funny were the bedrock of what would later become a more formal study of humor and how it functions in the human brain.  What I’m trying to say is that I can make you laugh.  Even if you don’t want to.  It’s like a fucking super power.

But it’s not magic.  Not really.  It’s science, in a way.  It’s all about understanding what people think is funny and how to add the unexpected in places it shouldn’t be.  Humor is about bringing a twinkle to someone’s eye, not beating them to death with jokes about ducks.  In the written form, it’s subtle, it’s graceful and it’s fucking hilarious.  Go read some old Dave Barry or Erma Bombeck and see how they do it.  They don’t throw joke after joke at you, they spin a web with jokes stuck here and there.  And that’s what we’re gonna do.  Because that’s how it goes.

Tips for Improving Your Humor Writing

Face it, your humor writing fucking sucks.  But, we can fix that.  I mean, maybe.  Maybe you’re doomed to a life of mediocrity because you don’t care to study or learn or get better.  I don’t fucking know you.  But this is a good place to start.  Also, read this, because I thought it was an excellent article on the topic.  Also try this stuff:

Stop trying so hard.  Humor works best when it comes naturally.  When you’re trying to force it into every crack and crevice, your audience is going to notice.  I mean, sure, tweak your words so your delivery is solid, but just fucking chill a little.  If your writing’s uptight and then a joke comes along, one of two things is going to happen: that joke will sound totally unnatural and thus your reader is going to stumble over it or worse, no one will notice it at all because they’ve already fallen asleep.

Consider your audience.  So, this may sound awful, but I don’t particularly fucking care because it’s the truth.  Some audiences will laugh at fart jokes and others laugh at parenting jokes and a third group only want to hear awful, misogynistic, racist jokes.  Obviously you can deduce my stance on the third group.  If you have to tear someone down to get a laugh, go fuck yourself.  But, the point of this is that you have to consider what your audience thinks is funny when you’re writing humor.  If you tell pie jokes and your audience thinks pie jokes are fucking hilarious, then don’t start telling jokes about dogs because they’re not going to hit.  Stick with pie jokes.  Branch out into cake, see how that goes.  Baby steps.  Remember that your audience is the most important thing because jokes are very personal.  Not everybody has to like what you’re selling, but your audience should.

Pepper that shit in.  I see you guys smearing jokes on thick like they’re peanut butter and you’ve got one last slice of bread.  Jesus.  Let it go.  Calm the fuck down.  When you’re writing a column or a book or whatever, you need to go easy.  Jokes are tasty little spices that add to your message, not rapid-fire missiles to use to attack your readers’ eyeballs.  So, slow it down.  One joke at a time.  Give your reader a minute to digest the first joke before the next one comes.  Give a joke, then something useful, then another funny little tidbit.  Otherwise they’re going to choke on your words and someone’s going to have to call an ambulance.

Have something to say.  In the same vein as the statement above, you’ll need to have something to say to go along with your written jokes.  Whether you’re telling a story about your cat or explaining how rockets work, keep that joke in context.  A joke without context is… what?  A bad dad joke?  A joke a fifth grader would tell?  We’re better than that, people.  Tell a story, give your audience a show.

I know this is a sorry shitty excuse for what you really need to improve your humor writing, but it’s a start.  I intend to do an eBook and post it here in a while about humor writing and how to do it.  This is definitely a book… not a blog.  There’s just too much.  So, stay tuned for that kids.

Until then, stop being a shitty comedian.  Stop being a racist humorist.  Find something funny that’s not tearing down other people.  People of Walmart isn’t funny… but you know what is?  This.*  THAT IS FUCKING HILARIOUS.

*(Special thanks to Sara Barcus: Fine Art and Illustration for that one)