Ha, Ha, Ha!

What makes people laugh?

There are all sorts of ways: Sarcasm, slapstick, irony, teasing. Puns. Visual gags.

Everyone’s funny bone is tickled in different ways. Here are ten ways to humor up your own writing:


  1. “That’s so true.” This is a technique used by cartoonists and many stand-up comedians. They take a typical situation and describe it exactly as it is—thus bringing to attention to its outrageousness or silliness. Jerry Seinfeld has his audience in stitches when he says: “Have you ever noticed that…” So, be observant—look around you—and notice things. Before long you’ll get used to seeing many situations in a humorous light.
  2. Ouch. What’s funnier: someone slipping on a banana peel or someone hugging a friend? Slapstick can hurt, but it works.
  3. Dissing someone. So strange to think that being disrespectful or mean to a friend is funny, but if you count the number of times you laugh at rude or sarcastic comments made in a typical sit-com, you’ll see that it’s the case.
  4. Exaggerated situation. Writing about something in your everyday life might not be very funny, but if it’s exaggerated it usually is. For example, maybe your character works in a factory. Yawn. But if that factory makes chocolate bonbons and the conveyor belt starts moving faster and faster as your character tries to keep up, and the chocolate starts going everywhere, including into her mouth, you’ll definitely inspire chuckles.
  5. Exaggerated language. Use words that are unusual or funny-sounding. Robert Beard recently published a book called The 100 Funniest Words in English. Here are some examples: abibliophobia (the fear of running out of reading material); batrachomyomachy (making a mountain out of a molehill); bloviate (to speak pompously or brag); borborygm (a rumbling of the stomach); collop (a slice of meat or fold of flab); formication (the sense of ants crawling on your skin); and my favorite of all: gastromancy (telling your fortune from the rumblings of your stomach).
  6. Use detail. Instead of writing “she held up the bracelet in front of him,” try writing “tantalizing diamonds dripped before his bugged-out eyes.”
  7. Timing and structure matters. In other words, don’t tell the punch line first.
  8. Puns: Personally, I laugh hardest at word slip-ups, puns, and those widely-circulated Engrish errors that crop up in various websites nowadays. The bear who goes into a bar and eats, shoots, and leaves makes me smile just because of a misplaced comma.
  9. Confuse. Juxtaposing imagery in a surreal way can be funny. Remember Monte Python’s Hell’s Grannies? The not-so-funny Hell’s Angels became dear little old ladies on loud motorcycles who beat up unfortunates with their umbrellas. Yes, we laughed. Turn a situation on its head.
  10. 10.  Surprise. Come up with an unexpected punchline. Imagine the possibilities and then surprise us with something we never thought of ourselves. Ask yourself:“What if…?”

Writing practice:

  • Get in the habit of writing at least one “Have you ever noticed how…” sentence a day.
  • Write at least one “What-if” each day. What if this was the situation, what if this was happening, what if something was this way.
  • Think in puns: Get into the habit of thinking “what else could this word mean?”
  • Notice what makes you laugh and write it down.
  • Set yourself the goal of making at least one person laugh every day.

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