Popular Is Not Enough

Jay Cole image

Humor is our most enjoyable form of truth.


Last week, I posted a humorous commentary on a news article from The Wall Street Journal which questioned the relationship between doctors and pharmaceutical companies. The article noted a study linking gifts and free meals for doctors to an increase in the number of prescriptions for new drugs.

Now, topical humor is generally a good bit of fun, however, a study relating a free lunch to prescription medication is a fairly esoteric topic. ‘Esoteric’ is Latin for No one cares.

Still, the question remains, Why did I pick this particular topic?

Two reasons:

  • The Wall Street Journal was not alone. The story appeared in the health sections of multiple major metropolitan newspapers (online).
  • I had a point of view worth exploring humorously.

It’s good that health is a popular topic, but point of view is equally important.

Point of View In General
First, let’s dispel the rumor that merely having a point of view is interesting or funny. That’s simply not true.

Second, the belief that every point of view can be made humorous is actually unprovable. While everything has a funny side, whether a writer can find it and utilize it well is problematic. Add to this audience acceptance…

Only one in four jokes ever works, and I still can’t predict what people will laugh at. – Steven Wright

I think Steven Wright is one of the funniest men on the planet, and while I question the validity of his “one in four” calculation, he is correct that predicting audience response is often complicated (AKA a Crap Shoot?). However, you can improve your odds.

Pro vs. Con Is Just The Beginning
Referring to my previous column once again, do you think it’s probable that one can cure everything by taking a pill?

Not likely.

Are doctors really making decisions about your health based on the quality of
a free Chicken Tetrazzini?

Amusing, but even less likely.

Are the directors of most pharmaceutical companies a bunch of sociopathic, price-gouging bastards?

Okay, that one is arguable.

Still, as the above statements demonstrate, a humorous point of view is not simply choosing a pro or con stance. It’s an exploration of multiple viewpoints, and may even be an ad hoc mixture of pro and con. You’re searching for funny, not a personal manifesto.

Topic Exploration
Naturally, each writer has his own opinion on nearly all topics. That’s fair. Writers form opinions just like everyone still breathing, and a fair number of dead people who happen to be oft quoted.

The wisdom of the wise, and the experience of ages, may be preserved by quotation. – Isaac D’Israeli

I have never killed a man, but I have read many obituaries with great pleasure.
– Clarence Darrow

That pretty much covers quoting or ignoring the dead. And of course, it’s entirely fair to quote the living as well. In fact, many journalists spend huge amounts of time looking for interesting quotations to take out of context.

However, in addition to reading articles on the same topic from multiple news outlets, looking for appropriate quotations, and formulating your own opinion(s), there is one blatantly obvious and very helpful tool that many writers overlook.

CLUE: You’re not the only one with an opinion.

Broaden Your Views
No writer alone can think of every possible angle. There is just too much flexibility in our significantly-less than black and white world. Ergo, searching for opinion (non-news) articles is just common sense, and very often useful when writing humorous commentary.

Granted, newspaper opinion pieces are more prevalent on political topics. And fortunately, a good many of us live in countries that offer legal protections whereby political commentators will not have their giblets roasted over charcoal briquettes for doing their job.

[answering phone] Amnesty International, Putin Division, may I help you?

However, many MUCH, MUCH more mundane topics have been editorialized.

Bottom Line: Yes, you have a point of view worth exploring, but so does everyone else. The Editorial Page is just as valuable a resource as the front page for topical humor.

When exploring viewpoints, always google: “Editorials on __________.”

You don’t have to agree with the views that you find, and you’re certainly entitled to laugh at them. …Damn! Isn’t that useful for humorous commentary!

Parting Funny: My mother buried three husbands, and two of them were just napping.
Rita Rudner
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