To Write Funny, Read Funny

Jay Cole image

Humor is our most enjoyable form of truth.

Humorists read a lot of humor.

Okay, I admit it, humorists enjoy laughter more than Christmas dinner with mom hiring someone who can cook. More than having their teenage son begin the Superfund cleanup of his room. And more than, dare I say it, free Ghirardelli chocolate!

I know. You’re waiting for me to say that they enjoy laughter more than sex, but I don’t know any comedy writers who are that stupid.

Step Two: Analysis
Humorists also read to analyze.

This is where you likely expect to learn my Top Secret, magical analysis formula—steps, 1, 2, 3, and a nice How To that is similar to How To Rebuild a Carburetor or How To Make A Bundle Selling Your Ex’s Internal Organs.

However, we’re not going to start a crash course on the linguistics of humor, or some such nonsense. There are so many variations in what we perceive as funny that one has to expect nearly anything. Ergo, analysis has to be very flexible, i.e. simply get a feel for what made you laugh, and what makes other people laugh.

Exposure To Variety
I know, it’s difficult to believe, but your sense of humor is not the only one causing the world to laugh. Exposing yourself to humor in all its myriad forms is critical. Not critical like a heart attack, but critical in the sense of gaining understanding.

Is this funny?—How would I know, it’s your mirror.

The tremendous variety of humor available on today’s market allows readers to always find something to their taste. Writers needs exposure for an entirely different reason, to appeal to taste—any taste—on demand, whenever they desire.

Analogy #353
Picture yourself as a successful standup comedian. You have a vault filled with killer jokes, and most of them are committed to memory. Now, you get a last minute gig, and decide to take it, working on the fly. To prep while en route, you buff up your material on marriage, raising kids and paying taxes.


When you arrive at the gig, you look out at the audience and the club is packed with college kids, who likely aren’t married, don’t have kids, and their parents are still paying the taxes. It’s unlikely that this audience will identify with your prepared jokes. What do you do?

Panic? Sure, why not. Apoplexy has its uses.

Then again, you can be professional and dig into your repertoire of jokes on drinking, dating, and social media, and give your audience a great show.

Read To Write for Everybody, Or Cheap Analysis Works Just Fine
Analysis doesn’t have to be the equivalent of measuring every molecule in a chem lab. You simply need to look at what the writer did to realize, “I can do that.”

With a little understanding, you can appeal to any demographic or sense of humor. If you think about it, this is no different from analyzing other writing. Plot, character, and sentence structure are no great mystery if you just take a moment to break it down. Humor is no different. How someone made you (or not you) laugh is not a magic show; it’s craft. Ergo, you can examine it just like you would any other aspect of the craft of writing.

I’ve studied all the great inspirational works of mankind.
My favorite is still, “The Little Engine That Could”.

Read Everything
I highly recommend regularly reading books by great humorists. They’re enjoyable, insightful, and they expand our view of reality. When a talented author makes you or those around you laugh, stop for just a moment… Ask, how did he\she do that?

You’ll be truly amazed at what you can teach yourself.

Parting Funny: How many of you ever started dating someone because you were too lazy to commit suicide?Judy Tenuta

Next Up: My Mentor: All the World’s Clowns


One thought on “To Write Funny, Read Funny

  1. Good post. I think that’s good advice for whatever genre you write, humor or otherwise. Reading can only improve writing, I think. Humor especially, though, now that I think about it. It’s not something that comes naturally to everyone. You’re absolutely right; it’s a craft!


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