Making your readers laugh can be a great way to capture attention, create word of mouth, and develop a terrific relationship with your audience.
A lot of writers may think you can’t teach people how to write humor, but I don’t buy it. In fact, here’s a simple technique you can use to get a few laughs of your own.
It won’t turn you into Mitch Hedberg overnight, but it can go a long way to putting a smile on the face of your readers.
First, you write a capital L on a piece of paper. Make it a big L, with long lines. Now, turn that piece of paper on its side, so it looks like the L is asleep or dead.
This is the Sideways L, and it’s a model you can tap into when you want to write something your readers will laugh at.
A joke relies on a setup and a punchline
Both the setup and punchline are their own separate trains of thought. Now look at the Sideways L.
The horizontal line is the setup, and it can be about any topic — any train of thought. Now, imagine that little train chugging along that line like it’s on a track. Suddenly, when it reaches the vertical line, it springs up on the new track and flies to the moon.
The train ride has suddenly become a lot different, hasn’t it? That’s how jokes work. By directing one idea into another in an unexpected way, you create surprise. In turn, that creates laughter.
Don’t worry, you don’t have to be a professional comedian to use misdirection in your blog post. There are a few shortcuts you can take to create that surprise.
1. Compare your topic to a current event
Late-night talk show hosts are always referencing current events. For example, Jimmy Fallon used this line to talk about David Letterman’s recent sex scandal:
There’s a new book out called ‘Why Women Have Sex’ that says there are 237 reasons why women have sex. And folks, Letterman knows the top 10.
See how Fallon mentioned a book about sex, then used it to lead into a remark about the scandal? That’s a prime example of misdirection at work. With the right lead-in topic, poking fun at current events is an easy way to create surprise.
Blowing something WAY out of proportion is a technique comedians have been using for years. In a joke about her overweight mother-in-law, Phyllis Diller says:
She’s a nice woman, though. Nicest three acres of flesh I’ve ever met.
Everyone knows how to exaggerate. Think bigger and more creative. Bend the rules of logic — compare your topic to the most ludicrous mental image you can imagine.
3. Act subtle
Take another look at that last joke. Notice how Diller didn’t come right out and say, “my mother-in-law is as huge as a plot of land.” Instead, Diller implied it by saying her mother-in-law was “three acres of flesh”. With just a little detail, the audience had to figure out the comparison, but once they did, the surprise was far more powerful.
Let’s use a joke I wrote a while back in response to Facebook deleting a poll with inappropriate content. (Naturally, I posted my joke on Facebook.) I wrote:
Facebook recently pulled a poll asking whether or not President Obama should be killed, and is working with the Secret Service to find out who set it up. Now if only the Secret Service had a problem with Farmville.
I didn’t say that the Secret Service should get Facebook to remove the annoying Farmville application from their site. I suggested it, but you can still understand my meaning, and get an idea on how I feel about the app.
The trick with acting subtle is that you need to give just enough information for people to make the connection. Too much, and the joke is direct. Too little, and no one will understand it. Either way, no one laughs.
4. Get sarcastic
We all know what sarcasm is, so I won’t go into a lot of detail. While sarcasm works better with a voice and attitude, written sarcasm can still be effective. Exaggeration and subtlety can help make a sarcastic remark really burn the readers.
If you’re sarcastic to begin with, then this is easy — just write like you speak. If you’re not sarcastic, then listen to a sarcastic guy and focus on what words he uses. Since print can’t convey the sound of sarcasm, you’ll have to rely on how it’s structured.
5. Get vulgar
You ever hear someone fire an F-bomb out of left field and you can’t help but snicker? No doubt about it — cussing is funny, especially when you don’t see it coming. The humor is in the shock value.
Just remember . . . one, two, or three swears can be funny. Loads of them are not.
Like all punchlines, constant swearing stops being funny after a while. For maximum effectiveness, save the really big, creative curse words for the right moment. I like seeing them at the end of a long rant, myself — after all the buildup, a wild cuss streak is a huge payoff.
(Of course, use your judgment before dropping profanities. If you’re writing for a squeaky clean blog, keep it that way and use another shortcut. Otherwise, go ahead and open your pottymouth.)
The next time you want to add some unexpected humor to your blog post, try one of these shortcuts. It may take a bit of practice at first, but when you land a great one-liner, your readers will love it . . . and they’ll love you, too. Happy snarking!