(AKA, The Ultimate Guide to Writing With Humor and Changing The World — Even If You Aren’t Naturally Hilarious)
In my recent Think Traffic article entitled “Write Funny Shit,” I made the case that humor is one of the most effective, most supercharged ways for writers (or content creators of any kind) to get an important message across.
“Humor is the greatest delivery mechanism for truth,” said Twitter Co-founder Biz Stone, and I couldn’t agree more.
Today I’ll be going one step further and showing you how to use humor to make your writing more effective, more powerful, and more — well, hilarious — even if you are not really all that funny, and even if you have the (almost surely delusional) idea that humor doesn’t lend well to your topic. (So you write about taxes? Financial planning? Spirituality? I’ve got you covered — read on.)
Because here’s the thing: Believe it or not (and I know this is hard to believe), I don’t consider myself a naturally funny person in “real life.”
I mean, just ask my friends — I have no idea why they hang out with me, but it’s decidedly not because I am hilarious. (Maybe it has something to do with the fact that I always pick up the tab?! I dunno.)
Anyhow, despite this fact, I’ve somehow managed to cause my blog visitors to consistently LOL in their cubicles, in the library, in the gym, and in other public places in which it’s considered mildly inappropriate (or at least highly entertaining) to laugh out loud.
And not only have I made people laugh, but more importantly, I truly believe that I am communicating important messages and helping change lives in the process.
So what’s the secret to writing funny shit, even if you aren’t totally convinced that you’re naturally all that funny?
Despite what the “gurus” out there may tell you, there’s no one secret to “doing it right.” As with losing weight, building a business, or… well, just about anything in life, each person is going to have his or her own process and different things will inevitably work for different people.
That said, today I’ll be sharing a list of seven foolproof, dead simple tactics that will magically morph you into the Dane Cook of the blog world – overnight!
1. Surround yourself with hilariousness
This is perhaps the easiest and also perhaps the most powerful of the tactics at hand: Consistently soak yourself in humor just like you’d soak yourself in a bathtub full of warm water.
Because, trust me: Be it love, hate, or funny-ass shit, the more you surround yourself with something, the more second nature it will become. (Plus, when your wife yells at you for watching another episode of Family Guy for the 32nd time, you’ll have an excuse: “It’s for work, honey! I’m absorbing comedic mastery!!!“)
You don’t really have to think about it or scheme or plan it out; it’s simply a fact of life: The more hilariousness you surround yourself with, the funnier you will automatically become.
Keep in mind, too, that this is not inclusive of just blogs or the written word — try mixing it up a bit and soaking in a variety of mediums. Listen to comedy skits or podcasts on your way to work. Watch the most shared, most laugh-out-loud Youtube videos. Bombard yourself with things that are funny and let your brain absorb them like a sponge.
Here are a few of my favorites to get you started — some of them are comedic geniuses; others are people who aren’t primarily known for their comedy, but who know how to do a damn good job at it when it’s called for:
- The Onion
- The Oatmeal
- Dexter (just kidding!)
- Don’t Even Reply
- The Daily Show
- Any movie starring Will Ferrel, Owen Wilson, Steve Carell or Vince Vaughn (except Four Christmases — that sh*t was horrible!)
- Chelsea Handler
- Conan O’Brian
- Dane Cook
- Ashley Ambirge
- Nicole Antoinette
- James Altucher
- Ramit Sethi
- Your local standup comedian :)
2. Keep a “swipe file”
The best writers and content creators are perpetually studying the world around them and actively taking in information and examples that can help them master their own work.
Taking after their example, whenever I see a great headline that catches my eye, I copy & paste it into a nerd-licious Word document I’ve created, which I then reference whenever I need ideas or inspiration for worthy headlines. After nearly three years of “studying,” this Word document is nearly 30 pages long.
And it works like magic!
Why not do the same thing when it comes to compelling or funny content? Whenever you come across something that makes you laugh, catches your attention, or causes an idea to “stick” in your head, record it!
Before you know it, you’ll have a master stash of material to refer to and study whenever you need the help or inspiration.
3. Copy the masters — literally
Ok, so to be honest, I’ve never actually tried this one, but I’ve heard it works.
Just like smiling when you don’t actually feel happy magically makes you feel happier, writing funny shit (even if it is not your own) makes you funnier.
Just to be clear, what I am asking you to do is to literally copy — and yes, I do mean reproduce word-for-word — a great work of comedy. (Don’t publish it, of course; this is just an exercise to build and strengthen your comedic muscle ;-).) There’s a great article on CopyBlogger Associate Editor Jon Morrow’s blog, Boost Blog Traffic, that outlines all the juicy details about why this tactic works. You should read it.
Copy the masters: As you act, so you shall become.
This one goes without saying, but for God’s sake, practice. You’re probably not going to be awesome right away, but as with most things in life — cooking, carving pumpkins, driving, sex — the more you put your nose to the grindstone and get to work, the better you’ll get.
(Actually, this is not entirely true. There are some people in this world who don’t actually get better at stuff regardless of how much they “practice” — don’t ask me how I know this or what it has to do with the aforementioned list. Anyhow, if you are one of those people… I’m sorry, but I can’t help you. Cal Newport, however, probably can.)
The point is, you’re probably going to suck at first. Accept this fact, push through it, get feedback, get awesome.
5. Realize that a little can go a long way
So here’s the thing: You don’t have to be LMFAO-over-the-top funny in order to be effective with humor — just a very small and subtle dose will often do. Paul Meyers of Talk Biz News says that one instance of humor per three minutes, or once per page of text, is a sufficient dose of hilariousness in order to keep people entertained and interested in what you have to say. (I have no idea where he got those statistics from, but I trust the guy ;-).)
Also keep in mind that if done right, a little bit of humor won’t overshadow or downplay serious topics, either — in fact, a touch of humor can actually be more effective in subject areas that are normally crowded with dry, detailed, or heavy information (like taxes or personal finance — Ramit Sethi is a great example of taking a “serious” subject matter and infusing it with just the right dose of personality and humor).
So a little humor can go a long way, and this works even (and sometimes especially) in the case of subject matter that is normally anything but funny.
6. Know that there is a time and a place
That said, remember that although humor can be amazingly effective, there is obviously a time and a place for it.
As big of a proponent as I am for humor, I use it more in some pieces than in others — and in some, I don’t use it at all.
When it comes to humor, use your own judgment as to where it may or may not be effective or appropriate.
7. Don’t try
Like most great things, the grandest and most world-changing humor often flows forth from your fingertips when you just aren’t trying all that hard. It’s sort of like finding Mr. Right — it often happens, they say, when you least expect it.
Like all great truths, the process is inherently paradoxical:
Practice hard, but don’t force it.
Work your ass off; work effortlessly.
Don’t give up, but give up your striving.
Work like a dog; play like a kitten.
Write with great intention, but don’t you dare try.
This just seems to be how the world works, my friend.
So lighten up a little, buckle down, and get to business — the world is waiting for your comedic genius to be unveiled.
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Did you like this? If so, it would mean the world to me if you shared it with all your Internet friends. Thank you! :-)
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