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How to Write Funny Jokes

Why Funny?

Comedy is hard to write and hard to perform. There are people who are naturally gifted at making jokes, and most of us have blessed times when our timing is perfect and everything that comes out of our mouths just zings. But for most of us, funny is hard work!

So why bother? Simply put: funny sells. It gets people’s attention and keeps it. It makes you more likeable. something like 90% of all women say they’re attracted to a partner who makes them laugh– more than those attracted to a partner who provides for them or is capable of earth-shaking sex.

Think about the people you most like to be around– chances are, you’re attracted to people who make you smile. Beauty and sex appeal eventually fade, but if you have a knack for humor, or you develop your own comedic style, you’ll find it easier to form friendships and close business deals.

Types of Comedy

Humor is a funny thing. No, really. There’s an entire industry dedicated to making us laugh, but no one knows precisely why one joke works and why another fails, or why the same joke told by different comedians make us laugh or don’t.

In general, though, most humor revolves around misunderstanding. You set up a situation and put people into it who don’t entirely understand each other or the situation.

A pun, the lowest and most basic form of humor, is funny because it centers on misunderstanding that there are two meanings for the same word. “That’s a funny goat joke. But I know you were just kidding!”

Slapstick humor, or physical comedy, is focused on a misunderstanding of (and often a blatant disregard for) the laws of physics. Nobody slips and falls on a banana peel– banana peels aren’t even all that slippery. And when the comedian jumps back up, that’s the funny part. He fell down, but because his body doesn’t understand that he’s supposed to be hurt, he hops right back up again.

“Potty” humor centers on a misunderstanding about what is appropriate for “polite” society. It’s somewhat funny to watch a fart joke on Blue Collar TV– TV is a make-believe land where potty humor isn’t supposed to be appropriate. But it’s hilarious if the farter is the Queen of England.

Stereotyping and all the “ist” types of jokes (racist, sexist, blonde-ist) are put-down humor, and they revolve around the object of the humor not understanding that the joke is on them. Although it can be hilarious to tell a joke showing how dumb other people are, it’s also very easy to fall into the trap of telling jokes that are both offensive and unfair. So mix it up, and let the blonde outwit the brunette once in a while.

Situational humor and other more sophisticated jokes come from setting up situations with characters who interact in interesting ways, and who, again, misunderstand the world around them because of the lens of their experience. The TV show Monk is a good example of this: Monk’s funniest moments are when he’s forced to touch something dirty, walk through a sewer, drink a glass of milk– his internal experience is a fundamental misunderstanding of the world as the rest of us see it.

A Joke-Building Example

Start with a basic idea. It’s good to draw this from the real world– jokes grounded in reality give the audience something to latch onto. For our example, I’ll use the fact that, as a child, I sold Girl Scout cookies. Pretty ordinary example, I know.

Now, I have a lot of memories about selling Girl Scout cookies, but one that sticks out in my mind was how hard it was to sell when I became an awkward teenager. Nobody wanted to buy cookies from a geeky kid who wasn’t cute and probably should have outgrown Girl Scouts.

However, I found that in high school, it was easier to sell to my classmates, because they had cash in their wallets and they were always hungry in the afternoons. After school clubs like band and theater were good markets for my cookies.

This story is a little funny, but nobody will laugh if I don’t tell it right. If I want to make it really hilarious, though, I can add two things to the story. First is a persona– the comedian telling the story adopts a persona. In this case, imagine our naive Girl Scout all grown up. She’s still a Girl Scout at heart, though.

Finally, we focus on the misunderstanding. Now imagine the Girl Scout selling her cookies to her classmates…. but the class mates in question are in a perpetual, pungent cloud of smoke and she’s running into them at 4:20 in the afternoon. Bam– now we have a joke in the making:

When I was a kid, I had to sell Girl Scout cookies, and some times it was easier and sometimes it was hard. Especially when I was older, and I wasn’t cute anymore– nobody buys cookies from girls old enough for braces and bras. I was still selling them when I was in high school, but all of a sudden, it was a lot easier to sell them. I don’t know what club let out at 4:20 every day, but I always sold every box!


Further Reading

Blog Carnival: Carnival of Tickled Elbows!

Welcome to the August 1827 (late), 2008 edition of tickled elbows. This blog carnival is dedicated to posts that made me chuckle. This one is unusual in that there is a political joke about the politician I plan to vote for…. and it made me chuckle. Out loud. Now, that’s pretty funny.

Fred Lucas presents How to make fun of Barack Obama posted at Barack Obama, saying, “Author gives tips on how to make fun of Barack Obama.”

Rickey Henderson presents Farewell, Whiskers of Glory posted at Riding with Rickey.

Manoj Thulasidas presents Sophistication posted at Unreal Blog, saying, “How to market sophistication, a la francaise! Newspaper column in Today on 5 Jan 2008.”

P.L. Frederick presents Taking A Stand On Lemonade Stands posted at Small and Big, saying, “Learning to be polite from children. A quick read!”

Anna Farmery presents There is always a positive, if you look hard enough! posted at The Engaging Brand.

Ms. Smarty Pants presents Best Western New Englander Signs posted at Ms. Smarty Pants Know It All, saying, “Management corrected “apologize” but mangled “inconvenience” in a creative new way. And that’s not even the end of the problems.”

Tom Parnell presents A crushingly embarrassing memory posted at The Intellectual Hooligan, saying, “My memory of a crushingly embarrassing experience …”

banquet manager thatsme presents Lesson on How Consultants Can Make a Difference in an Organization… posted at So You Want To Be a Banquet Manager….

Keith Wick presents Walmart: The Descent of Man posted at Weith Kick.

Dereck presents Dear Cubicle posted at I Will Not Die.

Bill Love presents Almost ?Exactly? the Same posted at Stupid Things People Say, saying, “great blog – pointing out the stupid things people say”

Fred Black presents When Good CSS Goes Bad posted at Fred Black: Internet Business Blog.. Note: I almost dropped this one because, although funny, it has a really irritating popup! Fred: Get rid of your popups– nobody trusts the privacy policy of someone with an irritating popup on their blog! Readers: use your blockers if you visit this one.

Azelma Petit presents The Chuck Norris Guide to Self Motivation posted at Biz.Edu, saying, “Gives solid advice on motivating yourself in all walks of life, including entrepreneurship, using the humor of Chuck Norris references.”

Shirley presents Answers to the Energy Crisis. posted at Fun Spirit, saying, “In these stressful days when gas prices keep us home more often, and the TV is full of nonsense and hype, we all need a little comedy relief. It seems everyone and their mother has an idea to offer to solve our energy problems. Here are just a few more ideas. . .”

That concludes this edition of the tickled elbows blog carnival. If you submitted and didn’t make it in, don’t be discouraged. It just means your humorous post didn’t tickle my funny bone, or else it wasn’t available when I checked it, or it was spam (spam does not, usually, make me chuckle). Try again next month! Submit your blog article to the next edition of tickled elbowsusing our carnival submission form. Past posts and future hosts can be found on our blog carnival index page.

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Tickled Elbows Blog Carnival #1

Welcome to the July 25, 2008 edition of tickled elbows. The criteria for this blog carnival are simple; your blog post must make me chuckle. If it doesn’t tickle my funny bone, it doesn’t get into the carnival. But if your post didn’t make it in, please do keep trying!

Leanne Magraith presents Blogging Experiment Aftermath posted at Forever Change, saying, “A follow up to a serious post I wrote two days earlier about distractions and multitasking. I was trying to convey how stressed out I felt the day after the experiment.”

Barbara Diamond presents OH SHIT, RUN posted at AMERICAN SCOFFLAW.

GrrlScientist presents Speaking of Peeps, Have You Heard About AstroPeep? posted at Living the Scientific Life, saying, “This essay tells the amazing true story about a special marshmallow peeponaut who was the first of her kind to travel into space.”

G. Savant presents Penguin Feet, Nature Walks, and Accepting Animal Parts. posted at The Gentleman Savant, saying, “A humorous article about a trip to the zoo.”

That concludes this edition of “tickled elbows,” the blog carnival of posts that made me chuckle. Submit your blog article to the next edition of tickled elbows using our carnival submission form. Past posts and future hosts can be found on our blog carnival index page. If you’d like to host this carnival on your blog, drop me a comment with your blog address!

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