Are Facts Funny?


Jay Cole image

Humor is our most enjoyable form of truth.

Remember television’s police drama, Dragnet? (What a dinosaur!) Sgt. Joe Friday kept his witness from drifting off topic with the simple admonition, “Just the facts, ma’am.” While facts are certainly important to a police investigation, they have a multitude of other uses, including tickling ye olde funny bone.

Some facts are standalone funny.
Facts can be amusing without any effort from the writer to enhance their humor. Their truth is inherently funny, such as:

Hippopotomonstrosesquipedaliophobia is the fear of long words.

If facts relevant to your story or novel are amusing in their own right, including them at an appropriate spot is so incredibly easy that it should almost be considered an oversight not to do so.

There are no topics without facts.
Finding relevant facts is easy. Thanks to our wonderful friends at Google (or other search engine), finding information on just about anything is easier today than at any previous time in human history. The trip to the library is usually replaced with the trip to the keyboard, or for those more mobile, with a reach into one’s pocket or purse.

STRONG CAVEAT: Don’t automatically dismiss that trip to the library. A good reference librarian is a writer’s best friend! Even better, many are available by phone or will answer questions online. Even if the topic of your writing is obscure, there is information available somewhere.

Reference librarians answer nearly 6 million questions a week.

Note also that having a library card gives you access to many online resources on the library’s website. These can be invaluable, and it’s sincerely unfortunate that about one-third of our population is unfamiliar with the services that their local library provides.

Where’s the funny?
Okay, you’ve got the facts, so where’s the humor.

Genuine facts are funny in two basic forms:

  • Inherently funny – standalone as mentioned above
  • Easily distorted – twisted for humorous purpose

Distorting the Facts
It’s very easy to distort facts into a great gag, and you should have no fear that your reader will accept your gag fact as literal truth. Very few writers are targeting their prose at the village idiot, and there really is no way to save an idiot from themselves. So, distort away entirely guilt free.

It is a scientific fact that your body will not absorb cholesterol if you take it from someone else’s plate. – Dave Barry

Being left-handed is the mildest form of retardation known.

There is an obvious note of silliness in most distorted facts, which is just plain fun! This is an opportunity for the writer to unleash his class clown persona and lampoon, mock and tease the universe at large. Sacred cows now need to run for the barn because the pen really is sillier than the sword.

We’ll discuss mixed and botched metaphors in a later post…maybe.

Lies, Damned Lies and Statistics
No one likes a liar, unless that liar makes you laugh.

There is nothing wrong with creating your own un-genuine fact out of thin air. Yes, it’s a lie, but just pretend you’re a politician and you’ll have absolutely no shame about lying your ass off!

For example, feel free to custom design your own “authoritative” statistics:

Studies show that your odds of winning the lottery exactly equal the odds of your teenager volunteering to wash dishes.

Or, rewrite history:

The Republican National Committee was founded in 1856 by South Dakota Congressman Ebenezer Beelzebub.

Does it matter that South Dakota did not become a state until 1889, and therefore had no congressmen in 1856? No more than the supposed accuracy of calculating the odds of a teenager washing dishes.

Facts, distorted facts, and outright lies are simply additional tools in the humorist’s toolbox. And they can be great fun. Just ask Ebenezer Beelzebub!

Parting Funny: Why is it called tourist season if we can’t shoot them?George Carlin

Next Up: The Comic View

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