Pop Culture

How to Become a Better Humor Writer

I’m not that funny.

I wish I was.

I spent a lot of time meticulously watching the Marx Brothers, Steve Martin, Gene Wilder, Woody Allen, Kids in the Hall and SNL as a kid, but I’m about as funny as a Senate hearing.

I think standout humor is something you can learn, but a lot of people are just naturally gifted (or had a terrible childhood filled with alcoholic fathers and pill-popping mothers that drove them into comedy as a way to mask the pain).

This is why I’m so excited to be taking one of Skillshare’s hybrid classes “Humor Writing: Become the Next David Sedaris” taught by writer Grace Bello (The Atlantic, The Awl, McSweeney’s). The 5-week class starts tonight, but there is still time to enroll. Only $12 to become the literary world’s next former elf-portraying and drug-using 55 year-old neurotic writer who hates Chinese food and has an adorable lisp.

I decided to list some of my own tips on how to write humorously, but it’s up to you if you want to take humor writing advice from a self-admitting humorless writer.

1.) Read Humor Writers (duh): If I read David (and Amy!) Sedaris or Sloane Crosley right before I sit down to write, it’s as if their funny powers have magically seeped through the page, in through my fingertips and up into my soft and impressionable brain. I find that reading something funny right before I write is like an instant junkie fix to writing better. Trust me. You’ll be surprised how much the numero uno rule to writing- READ A SHIT TON, SON!- really does help. Other contemporary writers to check out include: David Rakoff, Steve Martin, Sarah Vowell and Chelsea Handler (she’s not a great writer, but she’s really good at the punchline).

2.) Study Your Favorite Comedians: As I mentioned above, I spent a lot of my childhood watching comedians of various senses of humor. Though I didn’t become funny by watching them, I did learn a thing or two about striving to be unique. For example, comedians such as The Marx Brothers (oddball slapstick and wisecracks), Woody Allen (self-deprecation and narcissism) and Steve Martin (oddball standup) came onto the scene with their own brand of humor; their humor was fresh at the time and has remained timeless and replicated by legions of admirers. Comedians to check out to help your writing are: Woody Allen (both films and books), Steve Martin (both films and books), Mel Brooks, Christopher Guest, Monty Python and Peter Sellers.

3.) Don’t Force Funny: A very funny friend of mine said to me, “You shouldn’t have to think about being funny, it will just come to you.” Well, NOT ALL OF US ARE THAT LUCKY, MR. FUNNYPANTS, but it is true that if it’s taking you all day to come up with something funny, then you’re doing something wrong. He suggests trying to find the humor in all things. This will be new to me, but maybe I’ll try looking at the world with funny glasses from now on.

4.) Hang Out with Funny People: I discover that when I’m hanging out with people who are substantially funnier than me, they get my creative juices flowing and sometimes funny, but mostly weird, things will magically exit my mouth. Being around other creative types is the best thing for your creativity. They challenge your brain to work harder as you feel the competitive urge to out-wit them.


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  • Reply Leigh Ann September 17, 2012 at 12:11 pm

    These are all so true, and now I want to register for that class! I totally agree with #4. i have posts that I worked really hard on to make funny, but were still me, and i have ones that I was clearly trying too hard, and I still think about taking them down. But the thing is, a lot of my readers don’t see that it’s forced — just me.

    I went to a conference this past weekend and attended a writing session with a humor parenting blogger I’ve admired for years. I mentioned that I have trouble embracing calling myself a humor blogger, because I’m afraid for the expectations it sets up. But they were all, “If you poke fun of something in a humorous way, you’re a humor blogger. Own it!”

    • Reply hipstercrite September 17, 2012 at 12:32 pm

      Did you go to the Blogathon?! You should register for the class. They encourage people in the same cities to meet up for workshops too!

      • Reply Leigh Ann September 17, 2012 at 4:58 pm

        Not Blogathin this time. Would have loved to, but I had already registered for a conference in Dallas. I’ve been to one though, and I’m itching to go back!

  • Reply Jackie D September 17, 2012 at 12:11 pm

    Girl please, you’re hilarious. Also I don’t think I’ve ever said “Girl please” and I’m not sure I’m sassy enough to pull it off. I agree with you about reading a shit ton in general but especially right before trying to write something (or I listen to stand up. But this is dangerous because then 3 hours pass and I’m still just listening to stand up and usually eating something). This class looks awesome and I just signed up so perhaps we will cross paths in the discussions?

    • Reply hipstercrite September 17, 2012 at 3:02 pm

      Awwww….thanks, Jackie! You’re up in Chicago, right? Too bad, because we could all do an Austin workshop with the class!

  • Reply B. September 17, 2012 at 2:07 pm

    All really good advice, I think. Esp. #3. I think that’s where people go wrong a lot of the time (myself included).

    That class sounds awesome! You have to include any tips you pick up. I’m not sure I could pull them off though. I’m not really a laugh out loud funny…I have a very dry sense of humor and appreciate wit more than slapstick. But I definitely love to be around funny people and my blog feed is only filled with funny interesting people (like you) ^_^

    • Reply hipstercrite September 17, 2012 at 3:02 pm

      Hey, B! You should totally join the class. It looks like a lot of fun and it’s not a lot of work.

  • Reply Lauren L. September 19, 2012 at 3:44 pm

    Absurdity is my favorite kind of humor as well as repetition. Chris Rock will use a hook that really catches you and repeats it a least 3 times to really drive home the point, all the while the audience is roaring. I am not sure how many people use this, but I have noticed from him.

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