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    Home Articles

    Top Ten Tools for Writing Humor

    Ever want to write a funny book or a humor column? Or add spice to your newsletter editor or web page so that people read beyond the typical drivel that sends otherwise eager-to-spend customers into a boredom-induced coma?

    Here are my top ten favorite humor tools for you, along with real live examples from my own humor column.

    1. Threading a theme through the text.

    Are you into practical jokes? Try sewing a single thread of bright red wool across Uncle Henry's new green golf shirt. Or sew a thread through your text.

    My Parenting Pumpkin Cheesecake Recipe is actually a delicious recipe. But I assumed there is a little helper around, and I threaded her through the text, making for sort of a running gag.

    OK, time to up-tempo the laughs. Mid-way through, I run a second thread, renaming the cake with each mistake. The thread within a thread multiplies the humor.

    See http://thehappyguy.com/pumpkin-cheesecake-recipe.html


    2. Contrast what should be with the obviously deficient reality.

    I use this technique in Home Of The Year. Most people will agree that a home is more than just a house.

    I contrast the reality of my I-survived-the-hurricane home with the Martha Stewart image of how a home should look -- the old little-miss-perfect Martha Stewart image, not the new-and-not-improved, scandal-defying, corporate shark image.

    Notice I also use the threading tool in this piece - the drawings on the wall -- and bring it together at the end to reinforce the main point.

    See http://www.thehappyguy.com/home-of-the-year.html.


    3. Build on a ridiculous notion.

    Consultants call this thinking outside the box and charge you for it. I call it humor and give it to you for free.

    I had a bad hairdresser day. I held my hairdresser accountable for my thinning hair, a ludicrous idea that works.

    Let's up-tempo the laughs. Mid-way through, I compound the humor with another ludicrous notion: growth formula making my scalp taller rather than my hair thinner.

    See http://www.thehappyguy.com/hairdresser.html.


    4. Mock a public figure.

    This is possibly the easiest humor tool to use. Public figures are just so mockable. They naturally rise to their own level of mockability. I wrote a column mocking Michael Jackson - and the media's over-fascination with his arrest. That was one of my worst columns, so I won't show it to you. Hey, I said it was easy, not funny.

    Don't see.


    5. Act like a clown.

    I start off my Vulture column, based on a true news story, by playing the fool, saying silly things and displaying a general ignorance. This gives my uncle the opportunity to set me straight. In classic Laurel and Hardy style, the straight man makes the comedian funny.

    See http://www.thehappyguy.com/humor-vulture-value.html.


    By the way, this also allows a humorist to be funny on touchy subjects, without offending.


    6. The heckler

    I love to inject a heckler into an already silly situation. I applied a news story about a law suit over cow hormones to my "New York Times best seller". It was actually a bit like mocking a public figure, but what made this column exceptional is how Ruby Red kept interjecting her own slightly out-of-context comments into what was already a silly situation.

    See http://www.thehappyguy.com/best-seller.html.


    7. Give human characteristics to non-humans.

    This is a great tool for laughing at human foibles. It is at the very heart of Gary Larson's Far Side cartoons. I offered leadership lessons from six penguins who were helping the other penguins live up to their full "penguinhood". This is also based on a news story, although some of the penguin dialogue had to be contrived.

    See http://www.thehappyguy.com/penguin-leadership.html.


    8. Build laughs upon laugh.

    My favorite column is where I try so hard to be a giver, but everybody makes me out to be a taker. I start with the simple premise that givers sleep better at night.

    The whole column is a play on words, but what makes it one of my best is how I react to people calling me a taker. You can feel the desperation, and almost picture me running away in horror. This is the same tool every stand-up comedian uses; as your laughter subsides, a new punch line builds on the previous one.

    See http://www.thehappyguy.com/give-sleep.html.


    9. Give funny names to things.

    I itemized a whole series of customer service styles. One of them was "do-it-yourself extortion". Need I say more?

    See http://www.thehappyguy.com/customer-service.html.


    10. Funny faces and weird sounds.

    "Oh no, waa-aah ... boom ... ouch! ... bump ... yikes! ... crash." "Bhrhrthrpt." Those are just two of the sound effects I use to describe extreme fatigue. Words or not-quite-in-the-dictionary sounds can paint a pretty funny picture.

    See http://www.thehappyguy.com/extreme-fatigue.html.


    There are many other well-known humor tools available, such as exaggeration, playing deaf, reversing roles and throwing cream pies. If you figure out how to do that last classic in a humor column, please let me know how.

    Copyright © David Leonhardt

    David Leonhardt is the Happy Guy, author. No, make that writer. No, wait. Yes, he's an author. But he's also a writer. And a book reviewer. And a speaker. This article is an excerpt from the popular ebook Musings, written by a dozen prominent authors. Pick up your free copy at http://www.TheHappyGuy.com/happiness-self-actualization-products.html. Or sign up for your free "Daily Dose of Happiness" at http://www.TheHappyGuy.com/daily-happiness-free-ezine.html.

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