Monday, August 15, 2005

How to be funny

Some wiseacre named "Toad Triumphant" wrote me an e-mail from aliased e-mail address suggesting my advice on writing was "all right." However, he wants to know how to be funny. He says:
You have a marginal ability at humor. I would prefer to read more about your opinions about how to be funny.
Well, TT, I find it hard to believe anyone named "Toad Triumphant" needs a lesson in humor. Furthermore, it's not funny to send an e-mail from an alias. But let's look at this and see if we can find some timeless truths.

First, humor is about timing, whether spoken or written. Writing humor can be more difficult. You have to understand how people read -- they actually hear a voice in their head, and it's how they imagine you sound. It's different from the voice they hear in their head compelling them to listen to Howard Stern or read John Grisham, you know, stuff that sane people just wouldn't do. (That evil voice, by the way, sounds exactly like Casey Kasem). If you have a long set-up, best to keep it all to one paragraph and deliver the killer punchline in a graph all by itself. This is what we call, in the comedy business, delivery. Assuming your punchline is actually good, and not written by Jay Leno's comedy writers, real people (not push-button audience automatons) will laugh at the surprise of it all.

It's also good to study things like irony. My personal technique is to go right for the absurd. For example, when retelling of my baptism, the church organist plays the theme to Jaws. When commenting on my father's experience as a preacher in rural Arizona, baptizing people in the Agua Fria River, the deacons always show up in waders and fishing gear in tow. In either story, the Coast Guard will be needed at some point.

Absurdity is the best form of humor because it's hard to be offended by it. This is not to say people won't be offended by absurdity, but those are the kind of people who are working overtime to be offended, anyway. I suppose it's because it's almost impossible to be absurd these days without highlighting an element of truth. For example, if I write about a woman who thinks she has the anointing, but she really has the annoying, some woman is going to think I'm writing about her. She is probably correct, but in the interest of not being bothered, I wish to play dumb.

In conclusion, I don't really know much about being funny. My suggestion is to study the master and mimic everything he does. If that doesn't work, there's an entire career to be had by smashing melons and using other lame props.

It also helps to have a really big chin.

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