How to Write Funny

A couple years ago Scott Adams laid out the keys to writing funny. It's excellent advice. A few up-front points about humor:

  • A company's or an executive's ability to deploy humor is an undervalued asset in the business world.
  • It is rare to find someone who is very funny and not smart.
  • My two main filters on whether I want to spend time with someone: interestingness and sense of humor.
  • Writing funny is harder than in-person humor. I discussed this a bit in my post The Best Jokes Are Hardest to Recall.

So, read Scott's advice on writing funny quoted below:

Picking a Topic

The topic does half of your work. I look for topics that have at least one of the essential elements of humor:


In order for something to be funny, it has to have at least two of the six elements of humor….

Simple Sentences

Keep your writing simple, as if you were sending a witty e-mail to a friend. Be smart, but not academic. Prune words that don’t make a difference.

Write About People

It’s impossible to find humor in inanimate things. If you must write about an object or a concept, focus on how someone (usually you) thinks or feels or experiences those things. Humor is about people, period.

Write Visually

Paint a funny picture with your words, but leave out any details that don’t serve the humor…

Leave Room for Imagination

…Leaving out details allows readers to fill them in with whatever image strikes them as funniest. In effect, you let readers direct their own funny movie.

Funny Words

Use “funny” words when you can. Here are some I used:

Shish Kabob
Storm drain

You can read that list of funny words totally out of context and it almost makes you laugh. Funny words are the ones that are familiar yet rarely used in conversation. It’s a bonus when those words have funny sounds to them, as do most of the ones in my list.

Pop Culture References

References to popular culture often add humor. It’s funny that the world’s tallest man is retrieving a lost iPod, and not something generic such as a wallet. And it’s funny that his manhood is compared to Ryan Seacrest as opposed to something generic, such as an oak tree. Someone could write a thesis on why pop culture references are funny, but just accept it.

Animal analogies

Animal references are funny. If you can’t think of anything funny, make some sort of animal/creature analogy. It’s easy, and it almost always works. I made these creature analogies in my post…

King salmon

Exaggerate, then Exaggerate Some More

Figure out what’s the worst that could happen with your topic, then multiple it by ten or more. Don’t say a mole is as big as a grapefruit. Say that mole is opening its own Starbucks. (Notice the pop culture reference of Starbucks.) The bigger the exaggeration, the funnier it is.

Near Logic

Humor is about creating logic that a-a-a-lmost makes sense but doesn’t. No one in the real world could put gum on his penis and retrieve an iPod from a storm drain. But your brain allows you to imagine that working, while simultaneously knowing it can’t. That incongruity launches the laugh reflex.

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