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