Compare This!

Jay Cole image

Humor is our most enjoyable form of truth.


Let’s agree that comparisons are indeed a basic literary device, but that’s exactly why they are so often overlooked.

Humorist have, or certainly should develop, a knack for comparing things to… Well, damn near anything. And that’s the point. The average fiction writer strives for comparisons that are novel, emotionally evocative, or impressive to literary critics. (Although frankly, if a literary critic is nitpicking individual similes, he\she needs their dosage adjusted.)

The sunset used a palette that left mortal artists found wanting.

Comparisons for a humorist have no such limitations. Or, any limitations.

LSD invented: 1938. The Wizard of Oz flying monkeys: 1939.

To Compare or Not to Compare
It’s true, comparisons can be considered trite, and there are some fairly good arguments supporting that belief. However, comparisons can also be very effective, which is why they have survived as a literary device, and as jokes. If a comparison is trite, it’s not the fault of the device, but the writer.

Ooh, that hurts!

The problem with comparisons is that, although they offer a fabulous opportunity to stretch one’s imagination, many humorists—particularly beginners—bypass the opportunity or settle for the patently obvious. On the other hand, stretching one’s imagination—really pushing the envelope—when using a comparison offers your audience exactly what they’re looking for: a great laugh.

Ah yes, divorce, from the Latin word meaning to rip out a man’s genitals through his wallet. – Robin Williams

Simile Smiles
The simile is in its simplest, purest, and totally unadulterated form: this is like that.

She welcomed me like E. coli in the mayonnaise.

Or, one of my personal favorites from Judy Rose’s post, The 25 Funniest Analogies (Collected by High School English Teachers):

Her vocabulary was as bad as, like, whatever.

A true artiste that one!

The lowly simile is probably the first comparison that most us learned in grade school English class. Used well, it is also the most effective. With no exaggeration, millions of jokes are based on similes. The funniest, by far, are those where the writer refused to settle for his first idea and kept pushing until he had a great gag tickling hell out of his audience.

TOP SECRET Humor Formula #7826: Pushing your imagination is not time consuming after a modest bit of practice. It quite easily becomes second nature, and the speed with which you will be able to formulate a great gag regularly increases.

Metaphor, My Love
A metaphor is a hidden comparison not using like or as. However, it’s the same soup, just a different flavor.

All the world’s a stage and men and women merely players.
– William Shakespeare

Olde Will could certainly turn a phrase, and he was screaming funny at times, even in his tragedies. Of course, there’s still plenty of humor fodder in more modern views:

Obstetricians aren’t real doctors; not once did mine say, ‘This won’t hurt a bit.’

Oh, So Familiar Analogy
An analogy explains something unfamiliar by comparing it to something familiar, which is particularly useful in topical humor when something esoteric makes headlines.

Scientist have discovered that electrons are spherical. If an electron was the size of the solar system, any imperfection would be less than the width of a human hair or the dust that your mother-in-law can see on your countertop.

Welcome to George Orwell’s Animal Farm.

Cover image: "Sexual Evolution"Allegory uses symbols and symbolism to compare people, things or even all of society to abstract ideas or events. As allegories are generally longer works, I’ll skip posting an example, but you can find a list of popular allegorical books at Goodreads. Note, longer forms are not immune to humor. The theme, entire plots, and bits and pieces of any book can be both humorous and allegorical.

Comparative literary devices are practically straight-lines for humorists. And for those humorists with lots of imagination and no fear, one final comparison: Use them like you know what you’re doing.

Parting Funny: The best way to get most husbands to do something is to suggest that perhaps they’re too old to do it.Ann Bancroft
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Funny Insights

Jay Cole image

Humor is our most enjoyable form of truth.

One of the difficulties faced by novice humor writers is their relentless search for that magic How To that is going to make everything they write hilarious.

Comedy Secret #4961: That How To doesn’t exist.

Still, there is much to learn from the search.

Studying humorists is an excellent start. Most comedians are very generous with tips on technique. They generally respect other humorists and have a genuine interest in expanding the field. After all, the more people (audiences, readers) learn to love humor, the better it is for their career because demand increases.

I’ll be happy to do a show for The Grand Exalted Order of the Magenta Feltberry Lodge…Uh, who the hell are you?

Or, as Robin Williams once quipped:

When I started, I would have played the opening of an envelope.


While learning from other humorists is wholly worthwhile, there are many other sources of humor insights all around us—some quite normal and expected, and some rather strange. All it takes is a little awareness to find useful tips nearly everywhere.

Let’s consider a few not-so-obvious examples:

Billions of dollars are spend on scientific research to cure disease, explore the nature of our universe, and create new breathable synthetic fabrics for underwear that doesn’t bind.

It’s true, science has improved our lives, yet many discoveries can be attributed not to intent, but to one very simple, very human act: A scientist looks closely at some aspect of his world and says to himself, “That’s odd.”

What a fabulous observation! It can also be a fabulous insight leading to your next joke.

If stray cats follow you into a singles bar, reconsider your aftershave.

When I spotted a stray cat outside a noisy club, did I consider it odd? A bit. Is it funny?

My audience thought so.

It takes a very secure man to give a public lecture wearing a toga.

Pick any philosopher at random, and you’ll see he\she offers lessons useful for the construction of humor. Let’s try Jean-Paul Sartre, often one of the most confusing philosophers of modern times. His concept of living without freedom, which he called
Bad Faith can be described as telling ourselves that we MUST live a certain way, and as a result, we close ourselves off from other options.

Does everything in life have to be a certain way?


Deviating from the expected norm may lead you to a more comfortable life, but it could also lead you to a great gag.

I don’t think I’ll marry again. I’ll just find a woman that hates me and buy her a house. – Attributed to Lewis Grizzard and others.

Out of the Mouths of Babes
I firmly believe that the most wonderful thing about children is that most of them aren’t mine.

Book Cover image


Still, children have a unique way of looking at the world. Some call this innocence, but whatever you call it, children often go right to the heart of a matter with their own wonderfully skewed view of the world.

One day, when my son was three years-old, his grandfather brought him home and announced, somewhat red-faced, that he wasn’t taking my son to a restaurant again until he was older.

They had simply gone out for ice cream! What happened?

Answer: They had gone to a local family restaurant which was known for its many flavors of ice cream. While waiting to be served, my son had stood up in their booth, pointed to a nearby table with an obviously overweight customer and shouted:

Poppy, look at how much food that man is eating!

Everyone in the restaurant looked and laughed, and mortally embarrassed ‘Poppy’ wanted to crawl under the table.

Intentionally looking at the world from the view of innocence, or imagining everything as if it were a new experience, is a great insight, and quite often, just plain funny.

Certainly, comedians can teach us how to add a touch of humor to life, but the truth, often a bit harder to grasp, is that everyone and everything we know teaches humor. That is, if we’re listening.

Parting Funny: Just because nobody complains doesn’t mean all parachutes are perfect.
Benny Hill
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Humor Myths – Another One Bites The Dust

Jay Cole image

Humor is our most enjoyable form of truth.

We’re all familiar with myths. Some are adventurous tales, some teach valuable lessons, and some are simply ridiculous.

There are Greek, Roman and Norse myths that have made their way into story, song, television and film.

Archeologists finally admitted that a mistranslated typo on the original 4000 year-old stone tablet, if corrected, simply states that Thor was hammered.

There are also urban myths (AKA urban legends), humorous or horrific, that make a viral splash and then never seem to die. The evidence for most is as weighty as pocket lint.

New York City’s mayor again announced that there are no alligators living in the sewers. In a seemingly unrelated story, he awarded Meritorious Service Medals to the city’s shawarma vendors.

And of course, there are many myths about humor. Most are more pocket lint!

Myths about humor reside in that netherworld between pure bull and personal opinion. Generally, it’s an attempt to classify humor according to an individual’s personal taste, or an attempt to claim some special knowledge or understanding that somehow miraculously escaped the notice of the rest of humanity.

NOTE: Most people acquire this special knowledge and understanding in a bar shortly before failing a breathalyzer.

Here are some of the more common myths about humor:

  • British humor is too dry.
  • Slapstick is not funny.
  • There are no universal forms of humor.
  • Germans have no sense of humor.
  • __________ is not funny. [Fill in any popular comedian’s name.]
  • Women are not funny.

PARDON! What was that last one?!

People who say…

Okay, MEN who say that women are not funny must be talking about some other planet’s women, because this certainly has nothing to do with the females on planet Earth! Such statements bring the speaker’s IQ into question, and it’s also possible that he will never again have a date during his lifetime.

Now, I’ll grant that there are some generalizations about women and humor that have a tinge of truth to them, but for every generalization, there are a ton of exceptions. Consider:

Women don’t get slapstick.
While it’s true that there are many women who will never be fans of The Three Stooges or Gilligan’s Island, there are a ton of female comedians and actresses whose skill at physical comedy is Absolutely Fabulous – Joanna Lumley, Jennifer Saunders, and Julia Sawalha.

Many pioneering female comedians broke new ground in physical comedy and their performances continue to play on classic television stations, including:

I Love Lucy – Lucille Ball and Vivian Vance

The Carol Burnett Show – Carol Burnett and Vicki Lawrence

Rowan and Martin’s Laugh-In – Ruth Buzzi, Lili Tomlin, Jo Anne Worley and Goldie Hawn

And today, there are plenty of actresses in Hollywood who are not afraid to get physical. That is, funny physical. Just to name a few:

The Heat – Sandra Bullock and Melissa McCarthy

A League of Their Own – Geena Davis, Madonna, Lori Petty and Rosie O’Donnell.
Directed by: Penny Marshall

Juno – Ellen Page

Little Miss Sunshine – Toni Collette and Abigail Breslin

Women and other areas of comedy?

XXX-rated – Among many others, try challenging Sarah Silverman, Whoopi Goldberg, or Kathy Griffin to go to the dark side. You’ll get your ears scorched!

Headliners in Vegas – Phyllis Diller, Lili Tomlin, Rita Rudner, Lisa Lampanelli, Joy Behar, Heather McDonald and many, many more — past and present.

Sitcom Actresses – Please! Just turn on your television any night of the week and you’ll be laughing at talented comedic actresses.

Female Humorists and Comedy Writers – Scripts for film and television, articles, columns and blogs, romantic comedies and other humorous novels, standup comedy – every available format has been produced by many, many talented women.

Some myths really are simply ridiculous! The truth: Women are not funny is not so much a myth as a blatant lie!

Parting Funny: The first purpose of alcohol is to make English your second language.Robin Williams

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Next Up: The Writer IS a Performer