Writing: Five Tips to Funny


Writing: Five Tips To Funny

You’ve all read that scene. Someone’s snot-nosed character says something lame and the whole damn gaggle of them start chuckling like it’s the funniest thing in the goddamn world. You grit your teeth. You instantly suspect the veracity of every character in that grouping, because that shit wasn’t funny, and if you know it so should they. Otherwise they’re just sad little puppets being yanked to the strings of author ego, yes?

And nobody wants that. If you want people to laugh at your jokes so desperately you’re willing to make them up yourself, you’ve got larger problems than I can handle. If, however, you just aren’t doing it right–well. I’m here for you, baby.

Jokes are instantly 200% less funny if all these motherfuckers are standing around laughing at them. I’m sorry, but they are. Think of the late Sir Terry–how many times does somebody laugh in a Discworld novel, when alcohol isn’t involved? Pretty rarely. Because the shit that’s funny to you isn’t funny to them. Either they don’t recognize the references they’re making–not being members of 21st century Earth, why would they?–or the stakes are too high and, not realizing they’re characters in a story, they’re not likely to take a break from policing/barbarianing/barely wizarding to appreciate the humor.

Now, the one exception here is: when your character is actually, point blank, telling a joke. In which case, a giggle or two will suffice, just like it would if your buddy Travis on the bar stool next to you told it.

The more detail you go into, in an attempt to turn why this shit is funny into your senior thesis, the less funny it will actually be. Repeat it with me, so I know you’ve got it:

The more detail you go into, the less funny it will actually be.

You don’t need to explain why Mordak the Mordblorter wearing a severed head as a hat is funny. If it is, it is, and people will laugh. If it isn’t, it isn’t. By all means, explain how he got the hat. Explain what the hell a Mordblorter is. Or: do this as long as it is important to the story. People might forgive you a joke or two falling flat. They won’t forgive you a joke or two falling flat as your plot crashes and burns around you while you try to resuscitate it. Which is why:

Your joke does not need its own separate subplot. Humor should work in the confines of your original plot–in other words, if a joke changes your story or some element of your scene-building, ditch it. I repeat: folks’ll forgive you a dead joke. They won’t forgive you a stumbling, lurching, club-footed Igor of a plot.

Don’t second guess yourself. Some of the worst jokes I’ve made in the course of a story have happened because I looked at the original and my stoopid brain parts were all like ‘OH WAIT I CAN DO BETTER THAN THAT.’ The result is convoluted, overexplained, worthless. Or, worse, censored–I took out the ‘shit’ or the ‘damn’ and the joke lost the little punch of crudity that made it work.

Here’s my favorite talking muffin joke, done two ways. Which is funnier?

1) There’re these two muffins in an oven. One muffin turns to the other muffin and says, “is it hot in here, or is it just me?” To which the other muffin says:

2) There are two muffins in an oven. One is strawberry and one is blueberry and they’re next to each other. The strawberry muffin turns to the blueberry muffin and says: “is it hot in here, or is it just me?” And the blueberry muffin gasps and says:
“Woah! You can talk! That’s crazy!”
And they have a conversation about being muffins in an oven.

D’you get my point here? The second joke fails for a lot of the reasons I’ve described here–it’s too wordy, there’s too much detail, someone’s censored my motherfucking muffins. Blueberry muffmuff’s overstated dramatic reaction takes too much away from the actual punchline. These are all fail reasons, yes. But the biggest reason the second one fails, and the reason we’re talking about here, is:


Let me make this into a little italicized blurble blurb for you.

A joke is not a story. Humor doesn’t need a denoument and a fifth act. After the punchline happens, get out of it. Because, after the punchline, IT WILL NOT BE FUNNY ANY MORE.

You’re beating a dead horse. A redheaded stepchild. Furthermore: you’re beating a dead redheaded stepchild found in the woods gently rotting amidst the remains of an escaped racehorse.

So don’t do that shit.

There you go. Love in the time of cholera,

PS–As always, I am here bound to promote myself mindlessly. If you want to witness some pretty funny stuff, you might enjoy my novel, Aurian and Jin.

3 thoughts on “Writing: Five Tips to Funny

  1. Also, be prepared to find out that the clever, meticulously crafted artisanal joke of yours will go down like a lead balloon. The trick is that if someone who doesn’t get it should be able to proceed on their merry little way like the scrub they are without realising what you just tried to do there.

    1. Dear Al–

      I love you. No, seriously.

      And you’re right–one of the biggest things about humor in writing is that, in general, not too much time should be spent on it. The more effort goes into it, the less funny it is, generally. Heartbreaking, maybe, but the truth. Because of those soulless peons who just don’t get it. They’re there for the story, and that’s what they should get.

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