Keep 'em Laughing
So you wanna be a humor writer and start making the big
fast. Is that what's bothering you, Bunky?
by D. J. Herda
Here's the deal. You have this once-in-a-lifetime chance to crack a
really big market. Or, better still, you know a book publisher just
dying for a big humor book--now!--and you think you can fill the
bill. Except that you don't know a damned thing about writing humor.
Is that what's bothering you? Your lack of humor? Or, umm, your
lack of confidence in being able to write humor? If so, step right up,
'cuz Uncle Deej is gonna show you how to be funny in two dimensions.
The first thing to do when writing humor is to relax. Humor isn't
humorous if it's forced or contrived. Take a deep breath. And
then move on to Step Two.
Pick a subject
For example: dogs. Now, if that's not a subject ripe with humorous
possibilities, what is? But when are dogs funniest? When they're
eating (or waiting to be fed)? When they're sleeping (or looking for a
place to curl up)? When they're running around outside (or begging to
go out)? When they're hunting?
Hunting! That's it. That triggered something in me. I
remembered suddenly an experience I had with my own two dogs in Steamboat,
Chaucer was an extraordinarily accommodating golden retriever. By the
time we had moved out of the country, he had attempted to befriend every
porcupine in the neighborhood. And succeeded. In his first
run-in, his barking at a cornered porker led our young Corgi down the steps
and out into the field, where both dogs jumped the animal before returning,
howling, to the house. A good pair of pliers did the trick.
On C's next encounter, the Corgi once again went barreling down into the
field to see what was happening. This time, she pulled up short and
started barking some three feet away from the animal as Chaucer, once again,
went charging in. Back at the house, he growled when I approached with
the pliers, so I ended up paying my local veterinarian fifty big ones to
play the heavy.
On Chaucer's third run-in with a porcupine, the Corgi lay shivering under
the bed. When I went down to grab the retriever and pull him back to
safety, he caught site of me and--recognizing the universal sign for
attack--leaped upon the cornered beast, only to go running, whimpering and
yelping, back to the house. That trip to the vet cost me a cool
hundred-and-a-half, what with the lateness of the hour and the anesthesia
required to knock the dog out so the vet could reach the quills farthest
down his throat.
Growing tired of spending all my discretionary income on my veterinarian's
burgeoning retirement fund, I finally asked him why one dog would continue
attacking porcupines while the other had apparently learned her lesson.
"Well," John said thoughtfully. John was a big, burly Irishman whom
you couldn't help but like no matter how much money he sucked from
your veins. "It's been my experience that some dogs get stuck by a
porcupine and say, 'Oh, no, I remember what happened the last time.
I'm not going through that again!'
"Other dogs see a porcupine and think, 'Oh, you're the son-of-a-bitch I
didn't nail last Tuesday. But you won't get away today!'"
Take your time
Don't race to your punch line. Sometimes, a humorous anecdote is
short; other times, not. The point is, let the story develop
naturally. If you force it in order to get to the punch line more
quickly, no one will find it amusing.
Once you've committed the image to paper, go back over it. Read it out
loud. Listen to its cadence, its literary "voice." When you're
convinced that it sounds natural, start analyzing it for injections.
Can you stick some humorous word or phrase in here? Can you shoot a
short quip in there?
Don't feel that every sentence has to be a thigh-slapper, though. If
you try to work too much funny stuff into a short anecdote, you'll simply
wind up confusing your reader to the point where nothing will seem
funny. Remember that the recipe for humor is simple: a straight line
followed by a punch line. Take the time to set your reader up before
bowling him over, and you just might end up laughing all the way to the