A Guide to Comedic Writing
Do you want to learn how to write about the humorous events in your life?
Need to make sure those funny moments are remembered?
Wish you could share funny times with your family and friends?
Writing in a humorous style might be a somewhat special craft. It may even be intimidating. After all, some performers get paid top dollar to perform comedic sketches. And a bit that falls flat can be a little embarrassing. So, how do you make writing about funny events or a funny essay into an enjoyable experience for both you and your readers?
The Basics of Subtle Humor
Remember, you are writing for humor and not having to perform stand-up comedy. So, you won’t have to worry about tone of voice, dramatic pauses, facial expressions or your body language. (Collective sigh of relief.) Now that we’ve got that out of the way, let’s look at some of the basics of using subtle humor in your writing.
Often, humor can be achieved through practice.
- Observe and absorb your surroundings
- Look within yourself for the funny and interesting
- Master language and using plays on words
- Appreciate sarcasm
- Look at the big picture (not taking things so seriously)
- Look at the “something wrong”
First, you’ll want to identify your style of humor. Some people might be a joker, a clown or a teaser. Perhaps your sense of humor is more dry, sarcastic or self-deprecating. Or maybe you are fan of parody, irony, satire or slapstick comedy. Humor can also be used in both positive (enlightening) and negative (backhanded) ways. Ultimately, one of the most well-received senses of humor is one that helps you laugh at life and not take things so seriously.
Humor is an integral part of our daily interactions. We use humor to tackle stressful situations. It helps us see the lighter part of life and even laugh at ourselves. Self-deprecating humor can help bring laughter to others and make them feel better about themselves. And, in turn, they are more open and accepting to you. The act of laughing is also a release of anxiety and tension, and it creates a bonding experience. Laughter reduces stress by releasing hormones and endorphins into our bodies. Even the act of smiling is said to reduce stress—even if you fake it.
What Makes Something Funny?
As with many other things in life, humor can be subjective. Not everyone will find the same thing to be humorous. And while some people may enjoy physical humor, such as slipping on a banana peel, others may find more subtle and sophisticated humor to be more entertaining. So, how do you write in a humorous way that will entertain everyone?
The first thing to consider is that what makes something funny is the subject matter. When writing about funny events in your life, you may want to focus on those stories that feature a universal experience. Everyone can identify with a relatable experience: an embarrassing stain, a Freudian slip or being forgetful. Second, how you tell jokes or a funny story is important. You’ll want to refrain from being offensive, while at the same time relaying an event in a benign comedic way. In essence, do no harm. Humor that causes hurt is not funny at all. And it’s the quickest way to lose your audience—whether live or readers.
A story can be humorous for several reasons.
- It’s expected, in a Murphy’s law sort of way.
- It’s unexpected, meaning there’s a surprise factor.
- It’s familiar, as in a universal experience.
- It’s unfamiliar, as in something unimaginable that happened.
Humor can also contain an element of surprise or an over-the-top representation of the event – creative non-fiction. However, if you are writing to tell a funny life story, then you’ll want to remain truthful in your account. Otherwise, you’re just creating fiction.
Humor Can Sometimes Fall Flat
Have you ever been to a comedy show and the comedian tells a joke that barely rouses the audience? There’s an uncomfortable silence. And the comedian will quickly try to recover. Even though you won’t be performing your comedic writing, you’ll want to be sure that you don’t insult your readers.
Humor will fall flat when you don’t consider your audience. Who are they? What do they find funny? What would they find to be insulting or hurtful? As a writer, you want to consider all of these things when writing about funny events in your life. After all, this is a form or entertaining writing. Whether you are writing as a keepsake or as part of a memorial speech or eulogy, you’ll need to consider what your audience would find humorous—not just yourself.
You’ll also want to consider the current events going on locally or in the world. A story that would have been funny yesterday may no longer be funny today.
Seasoned comedians know that there’s a sweet spot to comedy, and there are several things that can derail a good joke, such as timing and proximity.
- Too soon after a tragedy occurs
- Too late, when something is no longer joke-worthy
- Hit too close to home
- You had to be there.
Some things are just not funny or far too tragic and should never be laughed at. However, there are some events that can be slightly tragic and Okay to laugh it with the right approach. The trick is finding a balance in the approach and the timing.
Another thing that can make humor fall flat is over analyzation. When you first write something, you may think it is hilarious. Then each successive time your read through your story, it becomes more familiar and you lose the element of surprise in your own mind. This is when some people tend to over-edit their work. Be careful not to pick your writing apart too much. As you edit, think about simply refining what’s already there while keeping the originality.
Common Tricks Used by Comedy Writers
Some people have a knack for comedy. While for others, it is a practiced or learned art. Either way, there’s also a science behind comedy as well as some frequent tricks used by comedians to serve up their punch line. Here are a few tricks you may never have noticed.
Comedic Timing/Pace: Depending on the story, you may need to pick up the pace at certain points or slow way down when telling it. When you speed up the storytelling, you put the listener or reader right in the action, as if it is happening to them. And when you slow the story down, you’re giving the audience time to absorb something that’s not so obvious. When you are writing, you can speed up by using shorter sentences, and you can slow down and add suspense by being more descriptive.
Funny/Not Funny: Think about riding a roller coaster. There’s the slow climb to the top, an exhilarating or terrifying drop, and moments in between that are pure speed or a crescendo that’s building up to the next high-intensity experience. The same thing works for comedy. Moving from funny to sad and back to funny keeps your audience on that exciting rollercoaster.
Write What You Know: You can’t harvest funny from something you’ve never experienced yourself. So, stick with what you know firsthand.
The Whacky Sidekick: You’ve seen this trick used in comedy time and time again. No doubt, you can name an array of whacky neighbors: Cosmo Kramer (Seinfeld), Mr. Furley (Three’s Company), and Maxwell Klinger (MASH) are a few that come to mind.
Use Emotion: A good comedian will use the audience’s emotions and predispositions to their benefit.
- Target – Choose your target carefully for your audience.
- Hostility – about something unexpected
- Realism – just being truthful
- Exaggeration – over the top
- Emotion – the rollercoaster
- Surprise – more unexpected
So, How Can I Get Funnier in My Writing?
Maybe you’re not a born comedian. Few of us are. When crafting a memoir or a personal essay, you may want to incorporate humor into your writing.
So, what can you do to make your writing more comedic when writing about funny events in your life or the life of a loved one? Here are a few options to consider.
- Watch a comedy series or two
- Read a few comedic books
- Attend an acting/improvisational class
- Attend a comedy show
In addition, there are a few more comedic tricks you can easily add to your writing.
Mind Your K’s and G’s: Did you know that a lot of comedians employ the use of the ‘K’ sound and the hard ‘G’ sound to select their word choice as part of their acts? It’s true! This tactic dates to the Yiddish ancestry of comedy. And for whatever reason, it still works today.
Rule of Three: All good stories have a beginning, a middle, and an end. And they also have the element of something bad that happens, which gets worse, and yet even worse. Three is the magical number. And it’s also the number of things that people can easily remember. Start adding more elements into your story and your audience is likely to forget how it even started. So, try to keep the elements of your funny story to the three most important related events.
Comparison/Cliché: When writing about funny events in your life, you can use comparisons and clichés to highlight your comedic point. For example, brainstorm similes and metaphors that when taken a step further can illustrate the absurdity or humor behind your story. In the same vein, you can use a cliché or a play on words to further convey your comedic point.
Incorporating Humor into a Eulogy or Memorial Speech
How can you integrate measured humor into a piece of writing that is not supposed to all be funny? Integrating humor at a dark time is not easy. But including humor in a eulogy, obituary or memorial speech is a great way to add personality and welcome comic relief to an otherwise sad and stressful time. Funerals and memorial services are typically somber events. However, the physical relief of laughter can be a welcome feeling to those in attendance. And it’s also a perfect way to help people remember the happy and funny times in another person’s life.
Modern obituaries and eulogies can take a different approach than a traditional dry account of another person’s life by incorporating the following elements.
Take some time to reflect on the life of your loved one. How would they want to be remembered? What can you do to turn a sad time into an occasion of celebration? If your loved one had a sense of humor, you’ll want to illustrate that in your story telling. Did they have any habits, idiosyncrasies or colorful phrases or sayings? If so, be sure to mention them.
Providing comedic relief during a mournful time can be a welcome experience. Likely, those in attendance may not have laughed for days or weeks. You’ll want to be careful not to turn the eulogy or memorial speech into a show. Simply add a balanced amount of humour that is both compassionate and respectful to the deceased as well as to those in attendance.
Decide What Your Story Is About
It’s best to have a focus when you are writing about the funny events in your life. Stick to a theme when incorporating funny stories into your writing. You could focus on growing up years or pick a funny story from each era: childhood, teen years, adulthood, parenting, grandparenting, etc.
Decide on a theme for your funny stories. Then decide what you want to say about it. Theme itself is an idea that connects the stories. However, you can take it a step further by determining the overarching concept or lesson that is learned from the stories that surround your theme. How did each story affect the person? How were they motivated? How were they changed as a result?
Try not to haphazardly choose what you write about. Think about how each funny story may be related or grow upon the previous story—even if they happened decades apart.
What Events Are Funny?
Honestly, the truth is funny. And honest stories are funny. Real-life stories, the mundane, and day-to-day events can also be entertaining. When people can find identity with the familiar, they are also likely to find humor in a situation. Funny stories can come from anywhere. Here’s a funny Mother’s Day story to get your creativity flowing.
And here are a few more writing prompts of when funny stories happen to get you started.
- Things kids say
- Embarrassing moments
- When two people met
- Arriving late or early
- Favorite jokes
- Freudian slips
- A scary event
- A mishap
- A misunderstanding
As you can see, the options can be unlimited. Your memory is the most valuable tool you have. Look into your own past or the past of your loved one. What events can you recall that were funny when they happened. Or perhaps they weren’t so funny when they happened, but you can laugh about it now.
Finding Humor in Tragedy
Mark Twain famously said, “Humor is tragedy plus time.” And Erma Bombeck once said, “There is a thin line that separates laughter and pain, comedy and tragedy, humor and hurt.”
If a tragedy happened to you or a close friend, family member or loved one, the situation may be too personal. So, it may be best to avoid finding humor in such tragedies.
Typically, after the passage of some time, you may be able to find humor in a tragedy that happened to someone else or even yourself. Perhaps you or someone you know were a bystander to an event. Or maybe you had a car accident five years ago. It wasn’t so funny at the time, but with the distance of five years you may be able to find some humor today.
Avoiding Writer’s Block
Okay. So, what if you’re writing and you can’t think of anything more to say? What if you get writer’s block? It happens to every writer—even the best of them. Many authors have put a novel down for weeks, months, even years before they finished it. And most authors have a collection of never-published works. So, what do you do if you get writer’s block?
Techniques of overcoming writer’s block are as varied as people themselves. Here are a few tips to get you started. Find out what works for you.
- Walk away. Get some fresh air. Take a drive or a walk or run.
- Sleep on it. Get a good night’s sleep and go back to it tomorrow.
- Listen to music.
- Read about a different topic.
- Get social. Go out with friends and get your mind off of it.
- Free write. Write about anything else that comes to mind.
- Try writing at a different time of day.
- Change your scenery.
- Eliminate distractions.
- Play a game.
- Call a friend.
- Use a writing prompt.
- Read some inspiring quotes.
- Create a writing routine to get you in the mood.
- Brew some coffee or tea.
Now, it’s time to get writing! What funny stories do you have to tell?