The Art of Humor

A lot of people these days are trying their hand at writing "humorous" stories or poems. These people, for the most part, are failing miserably. As a seasoned veteran of allegedly funny material it makes me sad to see such tripe littering the site like so many discarded pieces of debris. It seems to me that these would-be writers are a bit confused about what's "funny" and what's merely "inane, pointless, absurd, and blatantly stupid." So here we go.

Humor is by definition a subjective matter. What isn't funny to some people (prudes), such as homeless people fighting to the death for scraps of beef, might be extremely hilarious to others (me). So instead of telling you how to write humor in a way that's actually, you know, humorous, I thought it'd be easier if I told you what NOT to do. If you successfully avoid these common missteps, then your story will assuredly not be as crappy as it could've been. And you just might not get flamed (by me, most likely).

The worst thing you can do with humor is be random. And as far as I know, it's the most prevalent problem on this website. If randomness were a person in a coma, I'd pull the plug in a heartbeat. If randomness were a member of your family he'd be crazy uncle Lou with the cat fetish and the lazy eye. If randomness were a conservative he'd be Rick Santorum and any number of those militant uber-evangelists rolled into one loud, unpleasant package. Randomness should have a goddamn surgeon general's warning. Randomness is bad. Randomness is contagious. Stay away from Randomness, because it's got cooties and there ain't no shot for it.

But what is randomness, you ask? Well, here's a handy list of symptoms to help diagnose your story for this potentially fatal illness.

Does it consist entirely of in-jokes and obscure references to people, places and things that the rest of us don't know or don't care about?

One thing that people often forget is that NO ONE KNOWS YOU. If you want to write a funny story or a collection of anecdotes to share with your friends, then that's perfectly fine. Why? Because they were there. Because they might know what the hell you're talking about. All this stuff becomes moot when you post it on the Internet for complete strangers to read and evaluate. Why? Because we weren't there. Because we won't know what the hell you're talking about. Any humor value which might be derived from "you had to be there" jokes and references is lost. In order to correct this, consider writing a real story, with proper context and background and character development. Of course, since this is humor we're talking about, this rarely, if ever, happens, and most of the time I find stories to be reduced to a series of inane, irrelevant events and an incoherent punchline. Funny. Projectile-vomitingly funny.

Of course, it wouldn't feel right if I didn't include any shining examples of whatever I'm trying to make fun of. I'm probably not allowed to do this, but it's for a good cause.


Ok then. Mini-story #1. Ok, this didn't happen to me, but whatever…

Ok, one of my best friends (Cassity) is awesome. However, she is also a complete klutz.

Ok, so Cass is in art class, minding her own business. She walks near the fire extinguisher, and whaddya know, she trips, falls and grabs onto it… Needless to say, it broke and the foam went all over the classroom. It had to be evacuated, the janitor was MAD and the art teacher started yelling at her. I still will never let her live this down, it's just way too funny.

-Excerpt from "The Real Life Chronicles Of ME!"

Oh look, an anecdote. Problem is, we don't have any background information on the characters. Who exactly is Cassity? How big of a klutz is she? Was she one of those Down's Syndrome babies or did she have to work at it? Why was she walking near the fire extinguisher? Don't you know those things are dangerous? Stories like these need to be adequately developed to generate real humor value. Otherwise, kindly leave them to your AIM conversations or back-of-the-classroom gossip.

Is it just a series of non-sequiturs?

No matter what anyone might tell you, any kind of writing, whether it's a story or a poem or a Maddox-style, expletive-filled rant, needs structure. A theme. The paragraphs need to be connected. The ideas need to be related. There need to be transitions. It's exactly like writing a piece of fiction or nonfiction in any other genre. Unfortunately, many people, in a vain attempt to be "funny", eschew these essential elements to writing anything, and instead shit out a few unrelated, nonsensical sentences and quotes, hoping that the sheer absurdity might elicit a laugh or two. A string of haphazard quotes and random words does not a funny story make. What, you think your goddamn fairy godmother flicks her wand and coats that Grade-A turd with a brand-new layer of funny?! Sorry kid, doesn't work that way.

"Hey- look at me I'm a birdie!" yelled Karei as she tried to jump out of a two story building.

"Cool! Look! There's the pizza I had in the microwave!" Setsuna does a little jig around the pile of exploded cheese, singing a song about how she was a good cook and spaghetti.

"Lookie here I found a powerful leader of a foreign country!" Usagi throws George Bush on the table (this is in Japan, by the way, as you can tell from the anime rip off names).

"Omigosh! Guys! I'M A LEPRECHAUN!" Sakura copies Setsuna's little jig and sings in Spanish.

"Heh heh! Lookie lookie looooooookie! I'm the king of the world! Hear me roar!" Setsuna slaps the back of the chair, thinking it's a horse and her name is Tsukino Usagi, or Joe.

Usagi does a dance in her Barbie PJ's with pony underwear on the top. "Guys! Boo bahs is on!"

"Boo bahs!" yells Setsuna. "BOO BAHS!" echoes the world, except Usagi. She's is busy eating cheese.

Sakura licks the arm of her power ranger outfit. "I'm a cat! Call me Zoe Hanson!" she yells.

"No! Zoe Hanson! The accursed words! Why did they change it to Mew Mew Power?" sobs Karei.

Just then the cheap cereal box material cutout Zoe Hanson paper doll jumps up, grabs the president, and says, "Hey, babe. Wanna go get some…" licks cardboard lips. "Ice cream?"

"I want my mommy!" whimpered the powerful foreign leader, sucking on his thumb, which spread president spit to Karei's elbows and made her sneeze like my mom. Or…

Then the world watched Tarzan till the screen got blurry from all the pudding. Then it was naptime.

Man, what a wild party it was. There were pizza and monkey brains for everyone, except Sakura. Sakura was eating the cheese that she stole from Usagi.

Setsuna was now covered in cheese, and she got hauled away by the fashion police, but then she ate the pizza.

Then the cat girl came and licked her butt and said, "I'm Zoe Hanson! I'm a- oops! Hairball!"

"SHE SAID ZOE HANSON!" screams Karei. "Run for the hills!"

-Excerpt from "Sugar High!"

And here we have the common, yet enigmatic specimen Randomus retardicus. It's really quite a treat when we can observe it in its natural habitat, the intellectually-barren wastelands of Fictionpress' humor section. Notice the lack of a plot or a single idea to unite all those one sentence paragraphs, which may be a key reason to why these organisms have retreated to this one area of FP. Also notice an interesting adaptation, the seemingly nonsensical dialogue such as "I'm a cat! Call me Zoe Hanson!" and "Omigosh! Guys! I'M A LEPRECHAUN!" Scientists have posited that it may be a way to attract potential readers during the annual mating period, similar to a male peacock's tail feathers. However, studies have shown that the success rate is quite low, and that many readers tend to ignore or skip over the specimen in favor of more robust, fit individuals. Perhaps that is why their population is relatively isolated in one spot, and why they tend to mingle with their own kind. Researchers have predicted that their less-than-adequate adaptations to their harsh Interweb environment and their inability to attract suitable readers will lead to an early extinction.

-Does it remind you of things a four year-old might say?

Santa Claus was on live TV. He was speaking about a charity drive. It was simple, heart-warming, and casual. Then suddenly, without warning, Santa Claus took off his red suit jacket. He then began to unbutton his shirt. He took off his shirt. Then he took off his long john top. Then he took off his red pants, revealing his long john bottom. "Look at my long john bottom!" Santa Claus cried.

Santa Claus was forced to take off his clothes on live TV. People stuck guns to his head before he was onstage and told him that he had to take off his clothes.

-The entirety of "Santa Claus' public strip" (I kid you not)

'Nuff said.

The fundamental problem is laziness. Anything can be funny. Your boring, mundane life can be made to seem funny. Injuries can be funny. Suicide can be funny. Insensitive, racist comments can be funny. The Pope with a brain tumor can be funny (though that isn't recommended). Writing humor is exactly the same as writing anything else. It's your creativity and use of language that makes it enjoyable to read. Problems occur when people don't take it seriously and merely crank out the first three half-assed brain farts that manage to pop into their consciousness. No one expects quality on the level of Kurt Vonnegut. Just, you know, write like you give a damn.