So You Want to Write Funny? Don’t We All? by Violet Nesdoly

Admit it, you’d like to write funnier. So would I. After all, who do we love most, next to the computer repairman, but the person who can make us laugh?

My confession to you at the outset of this humour writing theme is, I’m not very funny. I did win a contest for a humorous poem once, but I suspect it was a fluke. Be that as it may, I love to read certain writers because they tickle my funny bone. (And I’m still over-the-moon when, the odd time at readings, something I’ve written gets a titter from the audience.)

Any genre can be the vessel for humour. Poetry, though, has a distinct advantage for several reasons. Poems are generally short, word-sensitive, and by definition, need to end with a punch. It’s not that big a stretch, then, from punch to punch line.

Years ago, when I still ordered books from the Writers Digest Book club (and reading those books left me with euphoric feelings of accomplishment almost as strong as actually writing something) I bought a book called How to Write Funny. To write this post, I’ve dusted it off, reviewed some of my early highlights, and made a few more. Here are some of my observations about what makes something funny, buttressed with the know-how of actual humourists.

Humour in general contains:

– Surprise—and misfortune. Often these two are combined.egg-100808_640

– Unusual juxtapositions, unintentional or intentional (in which case, we have irony).

– You as the butt of your own jokes.

– Exaggeration.

– Word play. Funny poems often use rhymes, clichés, malapropisms, puns, nonsense phrases, made-up words, etc.

– Timing. Humour often comes in threes. An action repeats three times with the third one the funny conclusion. Another aspect of timing is that little pause seasoned comedians make before delivering the punch line. The white space gives the audience a chance to process what’s been said.

Humour in poetry:

Some poetry forms like the limerick and clerihew were designed to communicate humour.

Another humorous form is the parody. (In fact I wrote one just a few weeks ago—a “Sonnet to a Potato” patterned on Elizabeth Barrett Browning’s “How do I love thee? Let me count the ways.” See, I keep trying!)

Of course rhymes in any light poem can enhance its humour. My prize-winner was a list poem of exaggerations and rhymes.

Word play poems (like Ken Nesbitt often writes) are very popular too, especially with children.

Maybe these tips will help you write funnier:

pug-801826_6401. Pay special attention to humour. Look for and make note of something funny every day.

(It’s a Monday as I’m writing this and following my own advice has me thinking back to yesterday’s sermon when the preacher told on himself. In one of his first jobs, he was in charge of making sure there was anointing oil for the guest evangelist. The evangelist liked to use lots of oil so a bowl of it had been requested. However, our speaker forgot his one responsibility until the service was well underway. Then he realized—no oil! He found the secretary and told her to search for oil. She finally located some oil and vinegar dressing, siphoned off the oil and the visiting evangelist—all oblivious—anointed the seekers and the sick with oil that reeked of garlic and left little white flecks on their foreheads.)

2. Read or listen to funny poems. Some of my favorite funny poets are:

Billy Collins (HERE is a video of him reading “The Trouble with Poetry.”)

Wendy Cope

David Waltner Toews (His “Tante Tina” impression HERE will give Mennonite readers a chuckle.)

3. Trust your own sense of humour. One bit of advice from David Evans (who wrote for The Cosby Show and others) is fundamental:

“You need to have fun with your own comedy because your own true sense of humor is the single greatest asset any comedy writer can ever have … You must laugh. I have always been my own best audience” – How to Write Funny, p. 128.

Maybe that’s why you and I should keep trying to write funny. Because then at least one person will love us for what we write!

Resource cited: How to Write Funny—Add humor to every kind of writing, edited by John B. Kachuba, Writers Digest Books, 2001.

Violet Nesdoly (small)Violet Nesdoly uses fiction, nonfiction, meditations, and poetry to do what she is passionate about—bringing the Bible to life. Her debut novel Destiny’s Hands, a Bible fiction, was a finalist in the 2013 Word Awards. She blogs book reviews at Violet and poetry at Violet Nesdoly / Poems.


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  1. Pam Mytroen says:

    Good tips, Violet! And I think we need humour more now than ever!

  2. Violet Nesdoly says:

    Thanks, Pam! And I’d say you do your share of funny. Some people are just naturals. 😉

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