Humor is a life-giving stress reliever and ice breaker. I often sprinkle my talks, articles and books with funny word pictures and phrases, because laughter opens a reader/listener’s heart to the serious points I want to make. Thankfully, my home is full of crazy guys (including my husband, who’s the most hilarious person I’ve ever met) and I’m a ditzy, accident-prone bundle of midlife hormones. Thus, I’m never short on material.
It’s true that humor, like writing, is an innate gift, and some people have it in abundance. Others…well, not so much. However, certain aspects of both crafts can be taught. As a follow-up to this popular post, here are a few ways to humorously pump up your prose:
Mae West said, “I used to be Snow White, but I drifted.” Classic!
Cultivate your LOL quotient by reading children’s books, which are full of marvelous wordplay. Humor writers and comedians are childlike spirits–playing constantly with sounds, alliteration, and rhyme. Let loose a little, and see what happens.
Never stop at one when fourteen will do. In humor, less is not more and more is better. Erma Bombeck, one of my all-time favorites, was a master at exaggeration: “I’ve exercised with women so thin that buzzards followed them to their cars.”
Remember George Burns? He often exaggerated about his age: “When I was a boy the Dead Sea was alive.”
When my nine-year-old saw that our local drive-in was up for sale, he said, “Mom, I’m sad about that. It’s such an iconic part of our town.” I laughed because I was surprised that he knew the word at all, let alone used it correctly.
Want your reader to laugh? Take a phrase and change the ending to something unexpected, like Jim Carrey did: “Behind every great man is a woman rolling her eyes.” Stephen Wright makes a living by crafting surprise endings to one-liners: “A lot of people are afraid of heights. Not me, I’m afraid of widths.”
“Weird” Al Yankovich has been doing parody songs for years. More recently, Christian comedians Tim Hawkins (“Cletus, Take the Reel,” etc.) and Anita Renfroe (“All the Wrinkled Ladies”) have gotten into the act. There’s even a clever parody of the infamous song “Blurred Lines” called “Church Signs.” The writers make fun of Christians’ tendency to preach mini-sermons with little plastic letters.
A word of caution (especially for Christian writers): let’s be careful when poking fun at other people. Sarcasm can be soul-crushing, as can insult humor. Remember the Golden Rule.
5. Learn from the best.
Read funny writers, watch comedy videos on Netflix, take courses in humor writing, or read books about the craft. You can also hire professional humor writers to spice up your work (I did this with the first book proposal I sold, and learned a ton from the experience.)
While you’re learning, though, remember to be yourself and not a copy of someone else. Readers can tell when you’re trying to force a joke, and it will make them uncomfortable. Find a style of humor you like, and try it on for size. Ask for opinions from people you trust–if it doesn’t fit, simply try another.
Most of all, have fun!
How have you used humor in your writing?