Novice humor writers often struggle with the most important foundational principle of humor writing: Anything goes!
People don’t like to see themselves as inhibited. Modest – perhaps. Rational – of course. Socially acceptable – that, too, if you haven’t posed for a mugshot lately. Most of all, we want to be normal.
Get over it!
Humor writers are not normal while writing.
I should have written that last sentence in all caps, screaming it from the rooftops, because it’s an absolute truth: humor writers are not normal. Not now. Not ever! Writing successful humor requires a temporary resignation from the politically correct and socially acceptable human race, and an enlistment in the Love My Insanity Army. The alternative 12-step program is Wackos Anonymous. Either one or the other is the minimum requirement.
Letting go of normal.
Did you ever wonder why comedy writers are never invited en masse to Hollywood parties? Well, gathering a large group of people accustomed to routinely ignoring their inhibitions is the equivalent of replacing the party favors at a five year-old’s birthday party with Bic lighters. It can’t end well. The police reports agree.
However, since people all over the world do write humor successfully, it is entirely possible for you to temporarily suspend your inhibitions when required and still get invited to parties. Think of your inhibitions as a nice, comfy, virgin wool sweater that you take off your brain when necessary, and then, you can put it back on in just a few seconds. Think of it as a light switch: inhibitions on – inhibitions off. Think of yourself as Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde if that helps. In fact, think of momentarily shedding your inhibitions in any way, shape or form that works for you, but force yourself to find an easily employable method.
This is easier for women since most of them have dated Jekyll and Hyde.
A Few Suggestions
There are many exercises (the more absurd, the better) that comedy writers use for training the brain to think outside of the box, the crate, the container ship, the ocean, and the planet. Here are a few you might try:
- Take an inanimate object and find as many uses for it as you can. For example, a staple gun could be artillery for an ant colony.
- Fill out a poll or other questionnaire as a famous person from history. For example: As Attila the Hun, fill out the latest Cosmo questionnaire.
- Rewrite something mundane from an absurd angle. For example: Rewrite the Bill of Rights to include dogs. “You have the right to beg at the table. You have the right to water trees. You have the right to embarrass your owner by humping his\her friends’ legs.”
- Find a collection of pictures on the web that show people and\or animals involved in some activity. Take each scene completely out of context. Re-caption the pictures. For example: A family barbecue: “The Acme Home Crematorium, fun for the whole family.”
Okay, that last one is a bit disturbing. That’s fine. We’re not editing yet.
The humor-writing lobe of your brain needs exercises that stretch your imagination beyond the limits of time, space, and way, way, way beyond propriety.
By becoming proficient with such exercises, when you desire or really need to inject a bit of humor into your writing, you’ll have 100 ideas instead of none.
When churning ideas for humor, inhibiting your imagination inhibits success.
Next Topic: To Write Funny, Read Funny
Parting Funny: Those are my principles, if you don’t like them I have others. – Groucho Marx