Have you started your collection of humor?
Yesterday I suggested you get a file folder, and write “Makes Me Laugh” on the tab.
Whenever you read something funny, make a copy of it and toss it into the folder.
Whenever you hear something funny, jot it down and toss it into the folder.
1. You’ll begin to realize that your funny bone is susceptible to a particular kind of humor, this is your humor style.
2. The authors of these tidbits are going to become your mentors. They’re going to teach you how to hone your humor skills.
I once watched a documentary of the M*A*S*H television show. One of the younger writers was asked about her experience. She said the best piece of advice she’d ever received came from one a veteran writer. He said to her: “You don’t have a right to laugh until you know why you’re laughing.”
Read through your collection of humor. Do you know why you’re laughing? Once you do, you’re on the road to harnessing the power of humor.
In your quest to find your funny side, what do you look for?
THERE ARE FOUR BASIC ELEMENTS TO HUMOR
Benjamin Franklin — the Johnny Carson of his day — is our instructor. One of his witticisms incorporates all four elements:
Take two unrelated ideas and put them together. Here, fish and house guests.
This is not only good humor, it’s the essence of creativity. A woman won the Betty Crocker Cooking Contest one year simply by pouring a can of cherries into a brownie mix. These two unrelated items proved to be a winning combination.
I once read a hilarious rewrite of the Gettysburg Address, recast in the style of President Eisenhower (trust me, it goes over big with history majors). What if a Valley Girl were to rewrite it? A surfer? A rapper? A smurf?
This is the power of identification. Who among us has not had a guest stay long after their welcome had run out? Humor is funniest to those who can identify with the topic.
Have you ever noticed that…
…bills travel through the mail three times the speed of checks?
…the person in front of you in checkout line always has one item that requires a summit conference of store personnel?
…that young people who expect instant gratification in everything else are willing to stand in line all night for concert tickets?
FACILITY OF WORDS
In Franklin’s example, eight. Each word is necessary, not another is needed. Good humor is tight writing. Nothing kills a joke faster than unnecessary words.
Sometimes, too few words is the joke. A mother once sent an absentee note with her son to school: “Please excuse Wade for being. It was his father’s fault.”
If there is a king of humor elements, this is it. In Franklin's example, it's shock. “I can’t believe Ben said that!”
Surprise is humor’s slippery foundation. Everything from slapstick (the proverbial banana peel) to word play, hinges on the element of surprise.
Examples are legion. Too much for one blog, so we’ll continue this tomorrow.
(You won’t want to miss it. Come back tomorrow and I’ll show you what to do with all those clichés your editors excised from your manuscript. Hint: Don’t throw them away. They’re gold!)