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How do you make something funny?

Five humor writers (including Dave Barry!) share tips.

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make something funny with comedy/drama masks
Pinning the tail on the humor donkey is not easy when it comes to writing. Without a live audience to signal what works, our internal canned laughter can often be misleading. Maybe that detailed story about Grandma’s trip to the dentist isn’t as hilarious on paper as it is in your head.

With that in mind, we asked humor writers one simple question: How do you make something funny?

“You describe the thing in a way that is totally different from – even the opposite of – the way people expect you to describe it. Also, if possible, you use the term ‘weasel fart.’”
—Dave Barry, Live Right and Find Happiness (Although Beer Is Much Faster)

I never set out to make my work funny. If I did, it would flop. There is dark humor in my work, because in life, bitter humor is often the best salve for the worst misery. I refuse to censor what slides into my work from that coping process, even if it is uncouth, because that’s survival.”
—Elissa Washuta, My Body Is a Book of Rules

“Use jazz rhythms to distill the lunacy of life into a potent word martini.”
—Sandra Tsing Loh, The Madwoman in the Volvo

“I generally start with the mundane and the ordinary. Then, I try to make the mundane and ordinary relatable. It can’t be so specific that I’m the only one that has experienced it. Then I think about the absurd parts of the ordinary and find the humor in that absurdity – which I’ll generally pose as a question. I also try to add a self-depreciative element to make it funnier, because I always find humor in the acknowledgement of flaws.
—Issa Rae, The Misadventures of Awkward Black Girl

“Tragedy + a day + a deadline + a damaged frontal lobe + a bag of Funyons – three ounces of dignity = funny.”
—Laurie Notaro, The Potty Mouth at the Table 




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