How I Became A Famous Humor Writer

You might as well start gagging now. Because as a fake humor expert, I am bound and determined to tell you how it is done.

(Oh no!  I already violated one of the principles of writing — “Show,” don’t “Tell!”  Rats!)

When I wrote my post Trifecta! the other day, many commenters were shocked to find out that I had studied humor writing.

I’m not quite sure how to take that.

I mean, can’t you tell that this has been a life-long pursuit of mine? That I have been through decades of intensive training and Dick Van Dyke show watching?  Doesn’t my brilliant technique shine through? You know, like shinola?

I will stop being an ass now. Although being an ass is fun – and funny (see Steve Martin, for example).  And it comes so easily to some of us …

On to the Public Service Announcement

 PUBLIC SERVICE ANNOUNCEMENT!

PSA2

Surprise is an excellent humor technique. Google Image, Natch.

 

When I said that I “studied humor writing” in Trifecta, I applied the first and most important rule of humor writing:

EXAGGERATION

So yeah, I “studied” humor writing. I took a course. One course. Online.

I’d been writing professionally — as a fake medical expert — for years; but it’s very dry. I am not. (Well, sometimes.)  But I wanted to have some fun, and so I started taking writing classes.

Humor Writing I was the second of three courses I took at Gotham Writers Workshop. (The first was Creative Writing 101 and the third was a Memoir course.) You can probably tell by the fact that I took THREE courses from them that I thought they were pretty good – or that I learned enough to justify the cost. Or that the courses coincided with baseball season. Or basketball season. Perhaps Lacrosse.

The first lesson of the class was the hardest, and most fundamental:   Written stories have to be structured differently than spoken ones or they are not funny.

Our first assignment was to tell a funny story you’d told a million times. This’ll be a breeze! I thought. I chose one that I’d been telling for 30 years to tears of laughter. After three days of trying, I posted a question on the online chat room:

“Has anybody else found that they are suddenly no longer funny?”

Everybody in the class felt they were no longer funny.

It was one of the hardest things I’ve ever tried to write.  My hilarious — time tested — story fell flat. Writing that story up made me realize just how different humor writing is from just plain ole writing. And it made me realize that I had a lot to learn. I still do.

Anyway, if you click on the link above, you will get the synopsis of the course. It mentions a few principles of humor writing – ones that I really do use a lot. And the course led me to start this blog – (because what the hell else would I do with the stuff I wrote there?).  I am not sure it would be appropriate to sue Gotham for that, though.

There are lots of techniques and skills that I learned. The ones I use most often are:

The Rule of Three. Things are inherently funnier in threes. The Three Stooges (who I don’t think are at all funny); the Three Little Pigs; the Three Musketeers. The course taught me to look for threes whenever I was trying to be funny. It is something I do consciously now. Because for some reason it really does work. Even when I don’t use threes, I find that looking for them focuses my thinking on the two or four or however many end up in my story.

Snowballing is another good technique. That one I’m pretty sure you can figure out for yourself. Especially after this winter.

It enabled me to find my “voice.” Showed me ways to look at stupid people and present them at their, ummm, most realistic. Dialog. Comparisons to normal life. 

Two of my early blog posts were assignments in the class. They are still some of my best.

Downsizing

Manitoba Bound

I am not promoting or being paid (alas) by Gotham. But I promised to write about my humor writing studies.  The teachers taught me a lot, but much depends on the level of participation in the class.  It was great in the first two, sadly lacking in the Memoir course.

I don’t have any pretenses to being the next Erma Bombeck or Dave Barry.  But if you want to start paying me the big bucks in exchange for some snark, feel free to contact me!

64 Comments

Filed under Bat-shit crazy, Bloggin' Buddies, Criminal Activity, History, Huh?, Humor, Hypocrisy, Taking Care of Each Other, Wild Beasts, Word Press, Writing

64 responses to “How I Became A Famous Humor Writer

  1. Gail Kaufman

    Erma Bombeck was great, wasn’t she? Such witty humor.

    Like

  2. Rule of Three? Oh man, I’m doing it all wrong!

    Like

  3. I envy you…taking all those classes. I just had to wing it when I wrote my memoir and hoped the funny stuff would work. Self-deprecating humor, exaggeration, and surprise all work wonderfully–when you can think of clever stuff to say! 😉

    Liked by 1 person

  4. I’ve never taken a writing class (insert obligatory comment that it shows,) I’m intrigued by the idea, while at same time I am repelled by the thought of all the work it must entail.

    I’ve also never heard the rule of 3 but it makes sense. That’s one of those things you often do instinctively because it SOUNDS right, you know?

    Anyone with pretenses to being the next Erma Bombeck or Dave Barry, or who may have written a blog post in the past with practically that same title, is a seriously disturbed egomaniac. Seriously.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Some of us need instruction, others find it naturally — you, Peg, are a natural.

      And you’re right — three sounds right — and sounds is another trick they taught. Reading aloud helps with the rhythm.

      I am a huge egomaniac. I just know that am the next William Shakespeare. Just as soon as I start wearing a ruffled collar and writing poetry. And being dead.

      Like

    • I just saw this comment again, Peg. The classes aren’t really all that time consuming. You can Mersey yourself in them, and I am sure some folks did. I read the lessons, tried some of the exercises, and did my homework (which includes critiquing other folks’ work). But it wasn’t too demanding. A friend from the memoir class took an online course at UCLA (I think). It was REALLY demanding and he had to drop out — and he’s retired!

      Like

  5. Hilarious in the class; hilarious now.

    Cheers from Canada (where we put the U in humour)

    Millar

    Liked by 1 person

  6. One person’s humour is another person’s…well, they just don’t get it. Someone who can universally make people laugh is definitely a rare find. Visual humour is a lot easier that way. Everyone laughs when someone trips over something and lands on their butt.The funny in the written word can sometimes get lost in interpretation. So it’s hard. You seem to have mastered it really well. You crack me up a lot.
    By the way, your plan Manitoba will not make He-Who very happy. He is a born and raised Winnipegian and I know he will tell you they are all full up with stupid people.

    Liked by 1 person

  7. I’ve never fully understood “show, don’t tell.” What the hell does that mean, anyway? I should’ve gone to college. All the secrets would have been revealed.

    Being an ass can also be tremendously lucrative (see Steve Martin, for example).

    I think the Rule of Three works in drama too, doesn’t it? Snowballing means something else, too.

    True story: About 20 years ago I took a humor writing class at the West Side YMCA just off of Central Park. One of my classmates was David Sedaris. You could tell he had it. He was light years ahead of us. About a year later I was walking through Santaland in Macy’s and felt a tap on my shoulder. Sedaris dressed as an elf. We chatted for a while. Afterwards, I was so depressed. If that guy, with his monster talent, can’t make a living by writing then what chance do *I* have? I gave up. Our instructor gave his name to her publisher. Some of the pieces he read in class wound up in his first collection Barrel Fever.

    Like

    • Oh no! You studied with David Sedaris???? He is brilliant. He’s my absolute hero. Why didn’t I mention him. And the elf costume, too? I remember a story/column about that. He is truly nuts.

      As for “show, don’t tell,” well, I don’t really get it either, most of the time. I think they should write that more clearly!

      I didn’t go to college either. Or not for very long (me and Bill Gates).

      Like

      • Well, “studied” is too strong of a word. It was a Tuesday night class. We’d all read our stuff to the sounds of crickets chirping and then he’d read and have the class in hysterics. I’m glad he made it. A genuinely nice guy. He deserves his success. He makes people laugh! What a great line of work!

        Liked by 1 person

        • Exaggeration is the first rule of humor — or any — writing! Not that I’m an expert. I was exaggerating about my own “studies” and folks wanted to know about it. It was really hard to write this post, actually. And impossible to be funny doing it!

          Like

    • The other thing I thought as I hit send, is that it is so easy to get discouraged. The world really doesn’t need two David Sedarises. That would be wayyyyy too much. But we DO need other writers. The world needs us, Mark!!! It also needs me to keep my day job. Sigh.

      Like

  8. I’ve never taken a class in writing humor, but I’ve been in a writing group, and I took a single Creative Writing course when I was feverish and delusional and considering an MFA. I think both those experiences taught me more about people than about writing, but that probably improved my writing anyway.

    There’s a great quote from EB White on this topic that I try to remember when I succumb to overthinking w/r/t writing humor: “Analyzing humor is like dissecting a frog. Few people are interested and the frog dies of it.”

    Liked by 1 person

  9. I’ve never taken any kind of writing class, or been in any kind of writing group but I would like to in a way, just for the camaraderie and the tips. I don’t even know what the term “Snowballing” means in writer-speak but I’m to chat with Mr Google because he seems to be able to answer any question I can think of

    Liked by 1 person

  10. I just thought that you were naturally funny. I just thought that you were naturally funny. I just thought that you were naturally funny.

    Liked by 1 person

  11. Paul

    Ahhh, formally trained in the art of humor, eh? Well done.

    Like

  12. Thank you Professor Queen. Of course we subjects know you could be the next Erma Bombeck or Dave Berry, but we also know your modest nature.

    Liked by 1 person

  13. I’m glad that you’re a credentialed comedienne. It gives me more credibility when I laugh while reading your posts.

    Liked by 1 person

  14. 1jaded1

    I always thought you were funny…except when you were serious. LJ.

    Liked by 1 person

  15. I’ve had enough snowballing for this year, thank you very much.

    Oh wait, you meant something else ….

    My bad.

    Liked by 1 person

  16. There are classes you can take for this stuff? Oh my, now I feel like I need to do more study. I’ve been winging it on my blog. For all I know, I’m the only one laughing at my posts.

    By the way, I shared your last post with my husband. We both had a good laugh (see? your class paid off!). He, too, is thrilled to learn cancer is merely a fungus.

    Like

    • Perhaps some of your medical school classes would qualify!

      Some fungi are pretty damn ghastly — my nephew had a horrible case of Coccidioidomycosis, so I have a healthy respect for fungi. But cancer a fungi treatable by saline? Ummmmmmm, (perhaps SHE took humor writing. Or humor speaking …)

      Like

      • Oh yes, fungal infections can be deadly for sure. No laughing matter there. And people who have cancer and poor immune systems from chemo can get fatal fungal infections. But to say cancer is caused by a fungus and can be treated with saline? You’re right–perhaps she took humor writing.

        Liked by 1 person

  17. I tried snowballing once, but I nearly froze my %#@& off… HA!!! Now send me my humor degree.

    Liked by 1 person

  18. I took a lot of classes at Gotham. Write me if you want the long version, but in general they are good though you can get a stinker.

    Liked by 1 person

  19. I love Dave Barry and want to be Dave Barry when I grow up. Erma Bombeck, not so much. My only problem with being Dave Barry is that I’m not that funny. Maybe in my next life….

    Liked by 1 person

  20. Using your rule of three (2/3 in Latin): Veni, vidi, lol.

    Liked by 1 person

  21. I’ve taken courses at Gotham, and for the most part, liked them very much. Right in the middle, though, I had a teacher who obviously read nothing we wrote. i’d write a piece and her response was: “Find a voice.” Okay, legit, but how about commenting on what I actually really wrote? She never once in the whole class mentioned a character or a piece of my plots. Just a tag line that could have meant anything to anyone. I am pretty sure that she posted the same comments on every student’s work. However, now that I’ve got that off my soul… all the other classes were REALLY very good. One in particular – started my novel!

    Liked by 1 person

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