It’s difficult to not enjoy something if it can at least make you laugh. Well, maybe not sex. You can probably add Jay Leno to that list, too. But you get the idea. Movies, books, video games, they’re all improved by humor. A so-so novel can get the thumbs up if it can make the reader laugh out loud on the train to work like a crazy person. But how do you do it? What’s the secret ingredient to comedy? I probably don’t have a clue, but I didn’t let credibility stand in my way for the previous blog posts. And it’s too late to start now.
I’ve written quite a bit of comedy. Four novels’ worth (two of which are published at the time of writing this) and a shit-ton of jokes on social media. To learn the ropes, I read a lot of comedy. I noticed one common element among all the jokes that made me laugh so hard I thought I might have to change my underwear: surprise. Writing a joke is about luring the reader into a false sense of familiarity, and then pulling the rug out from under their feet.
“So that’s the answer, Dan? Surprise them? Sheesh. Thanks for nothing.”
Now hold on a minute. I’m not done yet. I have three main ways of doing this. They just so happen to be the easiest ways I use, and if I can use them effectively to make readers laugh, there’s more than hope for you.
Here we go:
- The List Joke
The setup is simple: a list of items that are a set and that lure the reader into thinking they can predict the next one. The punch line is the final item on the list, which should come right out of left field. I use this joke structure often in my Jake Hancock P.I. novels. In the example below, the titular character expresses his thoughts on children in general and his fondness for his nephew.
Below is a joke I posted on my Facebook page.
Next time you’re listing a character’s attributes, or writing a series of events, or listing pretty much anything in your writing, try to make the last item comical.
2. The Cliché Turned on Its Head
Writers are supposed to stay away from cliches like small children should unshaven men who carry around unusually large bags of candy. But not comedy writers. Cliches work really well at luring the reader into that ‘false sense of familiarity’, making it easier to pull the rug out from underneath their feet. Take this example I posted on my Facebook page.
You thought you had it all worked out until the last couple of words, and then bam! Admit it. Okay, if you’re not going to say it, at least nod your head. That’s right.
3. The Ridiculous Simile
I start licking my lips when I know I’m going to write a simile. Why? This is a golden opportunity to flex my comedy writing muscles. Instead of writing a plain, old simile, turn the silliness up until you pull the knob off. Like I did before writing these examples from Hancock P.I.:
Next you time you go to write that something is like something else, make that something else comical, like the way you’d talk to the clown you hired to perform at your kid’s birthday party who turned up drunk.
So there you have it. Did I just dupe you into reading my jokes by offering dubious comedy writing advice? You can bet your last Jolly Rancher I did.
Come back next week when I share the results of my KDP Select free promo days. Depending on the results, the post will either be called ‘How I Gave Away a Shit-ton of Ebooks’ or ‘My Evening with a Loaded Gun and a Bottle of Whisky.’
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My novel Hancock P.I.,which I coincidentally chose to extract examples from, can be found here.
Feel free to leave a comment either on my blog or on my Facebook page.