Does humor have a formula? Is it something you just know or can you grow this skillset? Did your reader laugh — aka blow more air out their nostrils than usual — or roll their eyes? That’s easy to gage in person but when it comes to writing words on the internet, you might never know. Before you let down the drawbridge and hit publish, how can you make that draft funnier? Join the team behind The Writing Cooperative as we discuss the answer to this question with our special guest, one of the editors of Slackjaw, sarah james.
Details! Humor comes from closely-observed, hilariously-accurate specifics. After you’ve written a draft, go back over it and look for places where you used generalities instead of specifics — and then get really specific. “My roommate was bothering me” can be “Chad was doing that thing where he peels off his toenails and leaves them in a pile on the coffee table.” If you’re writing short form satire pieces, you also will want to make sure your premise is super clear by workshopping your title. Readers won’t laugh if they’re not sure what the joke is.
Justin Cox, editor of The Writing Cooperative:
Sarah’s explanation is great. I’ll add that humor needs to feel natural and not forced. What makes me laugh are quips that heighten the tone or provide a glimpse into the author’s personality.
Sand Farnia, editor of The Writing Cooperative:
I’ve never tried to write comedy but I love situational comedy. This question made me think back to the day when I laughed the hardest I’ve ever laughed in my life. I was around 12 years old, sitting in our living room watching my favorite sitcom at the time, Married with Children.
In this particular episode, Al Bundy and his wife Peggy, who have been married for decades, somehow cheat their way onto a newlywed game show. The premise of the game show was to see which couple would be willing to torture their lover the most for prizes. As you can imagine, hilarity ensued.
This episode really wrote itself. All the writers had to do was create a funny situation, Al and Peggy, on a newlywed game show. Whatever followed was sure to be funny. And it made me laugh the hardest I’ve ever laughed in my life.
Jessica Jungton, editor of The Writing Cooperative:
My favourite humor articles have personality. I feel like I know the writer through their words and can hear them talking to me.
The humor pieces I’ve written that have done the best stats-wise are honest observations about my life. Not everyone is going to share those same experiences or feelings, and that’s okay. Niche is fine. Humor is subjective. No matter what you write — even if many think it’s hilarious — there will still be some people who don’t find it funny. The sooner you can accept that, the freer and more productive you will be.
Try to have fun writing it and don’t take yourself too seriously. I probably laugh more writing my humor pieces than other people do reading them. If you chuckle and keep at it, eventually you’ll find others who share your sense of humor and enjoy what you made.
Editors Explain: How Can I Make my Writing Funnier? was originally published in The Writing Cooperative on Medium, where people are continuing the conversation by highlighting and responding to this story.
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