I don’t know how to teach you how to be funny. I am sure there a lot of people who will argue I’m not even that funny, just obnoxious. I like to think of myself as obnoxiously funny. Honestly, I don’t have the hubris to say I can teach you how to be funny with your prose.
There are some people who are just not funny and may never ever be funny. I do feel that is a choice, though and an attitude when it comes to humor. While there is no pill to make you funny—and god help us if there is a “how to be funny for dummies” books—the best way to be able to write funny shit is to have principles and an outlook on life that is conducive to the crafting of funny pieces.
It’s more of an attitude than a craft.
Yes, there are joke beats you can follow just like how you use three acts to tell a good story, but if you have a certain outlook, no matter how many “How to be Funny Books” or craft articles you read, you’re still going be a lame-ass buzzkill.
In trying to write humor, especially in nonfiction, it is more psychology than craft. It is a mindset of not taking yourself so damn seriously. If you can’t laugh at yourself and find humor in all the dumb things you do or that the world does, well, then you’re pretty screwed. In order to write humor you have to be able to see the humor, and that is not something that can be taught.
Humor writing is very similar to throwing a sweet party. The thing you need to realize is that you are the whole party. We need the guy who is gonna make sure there is plenty of dip and beer, we need the girl who is either on or acts like she is high on cocaine so that there are no awkward silences. You need the clever, geeky, political science guy with a goatee to tell us about the world. He adds some depth to the party. And we need the comedian and fool who makes sure we don’t take things too seriously or just get really freaking bored.
If you want to be decent at writing humor in nonfiction, don’t be too serious, and don’t be boring. There is nothing more unexciting than meeting someone who is uber serious about everything without anything interesting or of value to say.
That’s the thing about nonfiction, for all the hoopla, we are just basically hanging out. The last thing you want is for people—a.k.a readers—to find an excuse to leave the party.
I practice what I’m preaching to you.
I have a how to Twitter/social media marketing book targeted at writers and musicians coming out. This is the equivalent to teaching a gratitude class to men and women on Death Row. Artists of all types hate social media, and the only thing they hate more than social media is marketing.
Yet, this book was not tedious to write. Though my main love is writing fiction and I hate anything self-help, I had a lot of fun writing this book. I knew if I didn’t, no one else would.
I just dropped the f-word of the literary community. Fun. We often try to be so serious that we forget that creativity and fun go hand-and-hand. We all love to romanticize the act of pouring our soul, sadness, and heartbreak into our work, but if you are not having any fun while doing it that’s going to be a major problem if you are writing anything involving humor.
I shared some personal and sad shit from rehab and military school in my first book, The Passion of the Christoph but I had fun writing every single second of it. We aren’t in the priesthood; we are artists who provide entertainment. Just like our audience needs to enjoy what they’re reading, we need to enjoy what we are writing.
Especially with humor writing!
Humor writing is a lot like sex. For it to be good, both you and your partner need to get off. I wish I could take credit for that brilliant metaphor but I heard that at a BizarroCon Panel. This metaphor nails good writing on the head…you know what I mean.
You need to be unselfish and think of others, which for writers means: don’t be so damn self-indulgent. You need that passion but you need to get over yourself.
Yeah, I know what you’re thinking—being funny is a lot of work—kind of like being good in bed.
I would answer that thought with: you’re absolutely correct.
It really is.
No one takes humor writing seriously, but I’d like to see them write about Twitter marketing for 25,000 words where the only entertaining thing is your sense of humor. That shit is hard, but it all goes back to attitude and having a certain frame of mind. Sometimes when writing humor it helps to worry less about seeing yourself as a ‘writer’ and more as ‘performer’ whose act is on the page.
Comedians and humorists do not have to be great writers. The same thing can be applied great storytellers. Here is an example. While I was attending the Wilkes University graduate creative writing program, I was managing a porn store in Washington, D.C. (which was full of comedy gold). I would have regulars—and these regulars not only liked to rent porn, but also loved to share personal stories.
One guy was an intelligent psychiatrist who had been a musician back in the day, and he loved to share stories about gigs. The other was unemployed (though he did say he was pimp, but that probably just meant he did well with the ladies), and he would talk about his love life and hanging out with his friends. When you are selling porn, the last thing you want to hear about is anyone sex’s life, but this guy was just so funny. He told good stories, he was always entertaining—he could have been talking about what he had had for breakfast, and I would have listened. The other man was smarter and spoke with correct grammar, but without the humor of ‘the pimp’ he was the lesser storyteller.
Humor is the ace up the sleeve of any word slinger.
We go back to the existential question: can you teach a non-funny person to be funny? I don’t think so, but I do believe you can create new habits and drop old ones that will help you become more humorous-minded.
Once again, like anything in life, it takes work. What can you do? What is the being funny 101 attitude? I got five key attributes for you, let’s finish this—Buzzfeed style.
1) Laugh at Yourself.
That is the first step. If you take yourself too seriously and try to hide all your flaws and only point out those of other people, you’re not going to be funny you’re just going to be an asshole. When you have the willingness to shine the flashlight on yourself and reveal your flaws that leaves you vulnerable. If you think humor is about looking cool and having your shit together, you are way off. And I hate to break it to you, but you’re not cool, no one probably cares about your story, but if you make it funny and show some vulnerability then people will care and they will connect with you.
Some people say making an inappropriate joke shows poor character; that could be true, but it also shows balls or clitoral cojones (I’m trying to make that a thing—equality and shit). To look foolish, to be vulnerable, and upset others—that takes courage. If you are writing scared, you’re writing half-assed. Humor can never be half-assed, you need to go in balls deep.
3) One Foot in the Classroom, One Foot in the Comedy Club.
I am from two different worlds. I have done my time in academia and I have also performed at comedy clubs/open mics. These are both very different worlds that want to get to same point—understanding and alleviating the pain of the unfairness in the world. The classroom wants to educate and find a way to make it better, the comedy club wants to laugh and find some peace with it. I think the best humor writers use the foundations of both.
4) Loosen the Fuck up.
I add ‘the fuck’ because ‘loosen up’ doesn’t have the same vavoom when ‘the fuck’ is not in the middle. If the term loosen the fuck up bothers or offends you, then you are definitely not loosening the fuck up. When doing this comedy thing you can’t be tight or not flowing. You can’t be a prude or feel ashamed, you got to not only loosen the fuck up but also not give a fuck.
5) When they Laugh, they Listen.
Some personal information, that probably sounds false: I’m a moralist, I’m a humanist, an intellectual (in my heart, I don’t speak like one), and hell deep down even though I’m not very PC I’m very much a Social Justice Warrior, but if you write something with the mentality—I gotta prove I’m right—you’re just going to get a lot of closed books and unfinished pieces. I trust my subconscious and heart to get the message across in the piece, but my job is to be entertaining and/or funny so the reader wants to read it and pay attention. My conscious mind is the entertainer, my subconscious is the artist. I see so many writers go the opposite way worrying to prove their point instead of being entertaining or interesting. This is why their work just comes off as boring and preachy, which is a massive turn off for most readers, especially the ones who are just looking for a good laugh.
I can’t teach you how to write jokes but I can say if you can practice those 5 principles and take on the attitudes I talked about earlier— you still won’t be funny, but your humor writing will be better and your audience will definitely grow.
For fun he likes to read YA and bizarro, get angry in a bar while watching the Miami Dolphins lose, live Tweeting The Bachelor while watching it with girlfriend, and gardening with his cats. For fun and money he writes bizarro erotica under the pen name Mandy De Sandra who was covered in VICE, Huffington Post, Jezebel, and AV Club.
Sometimes, he dresses up like a famous serial killer and interviews literary types on YouTube.