The Best Jokes are Hardest to Recall

If you can't remember exactly how a joke goes, it is probably a winner. From the Sunday Times (UK):

Scientists have found that the most successful gags work by subverting the listener’s usual thought patterns, making them inherently less memorable. By contrast, clichéd jokes are easier to remember because their structure and punch line are so predictable.

Experts say this over and over: If you want to be funny, surprise the audience. The full article is good, as is a "related article" titled So a Gay, Blind Suicide Bomber Walks Into a Bar… in which the author says jokes about physical or mental disabilities "are the real howlers these days. And that’s because the disability lobby has become so preternaturally sensitive, so disposed towards pouncing on anything which might be construed as disablist."

A couple years ago I thought hard about humor in the business world — here are the notes from the Junto conversation we had on the topic. Everyone at the lunch agreed that the most effective executives deftly use humor to get ahead professionally. I am especially impressed when I see executives use humor to defuse tense situations.

Recently I've been contemplating how I can integrate more humor into my writing. In particular, on this blog.

My humor in-person tends to be kinesthetic, and strong on sarcasm, irony, feux-pretentiousness, storytelling, and exaggeration. These things are easier done when you have the advantage of body language and tone of voice. In writing, it's harder to do sarcasm effectively, for instance, because people can mis-interpret it or mis-understand your point.

A blog is especially hard because it can be read by anyone. Aren't you funnier when you're at a table with three other people rather than a dinner party with twenty? When audience grows, the chance you're going to offend someone or riffle some idiosyncratic feathers goes up. We're more risk averse.

This is why I'm especially envious when I read a blog that is consistently funny. So at the least, I'd like to make this blog more reflective of my in-person humor sensibilities, even if I am not a witty enough writer (a la Michael Kinsley or David Brooks) to pump out daily the subtle, wry humor that succeeds best in this medium.

Other random thoughts:

  • Recently a friend asked if I could send him my resume. To this point we were talking in serious tones. I replied, "Bitch, I ain't got no resume," in my best ghetto voice (AAU basketball will do it to you). It was funny because it was unexpected.
  • It's good to have a few go-to stories in your back pocket for in-person humor. I have a Chuck Norris story/joke that is a sure winner.
  • Think about your sources. So much of humor is taking other people's material and slightly iterating on it. My sources include my brothers (who send me stuff every day), Seinfeld, movies (Old School and Wedding Crashers, for example), The Onion, and talking to my funny friends as much as possible.
  • Here's my humor tag on delicious. It is my most popular tag with 280 items. Here are blog posts in the Humor category.

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