8 Tips for Writing Humor from a Full-Time Funny Gal
So, you like to write—maybe a little, maybe a lot. And you think that just maybe you could write something funny. I’m here to tell you: yes! You most certainly can! Here’s how.
Now. I’ve been writing humor professionally for more than a decade, and I’ve learned that while you can’t just teach someone how to be funny, there are several tricks out there to get the juices flowing. As with most scaryish things in life — like raw oysters, or flying with children — you just have to try.
Before I share a few tricks of the trade, a little more about me! I’ve been a humor writer for Hallmark since 2001. What exactly does that entail? Well a whole lot of dedication, confidence and effort. (Just kidding, I spend most of my time hard at work watching cat videos.) For more about me and what it’s like to be a professional humor writer, check out my posts on Hallmark’s Think Make Share blog. You can also follow me on Instagram @tina.neidlein. And for more about the quirky funny goodness that makes up Hallmark’s Studio Ink, head here!
Here are a few ways you can dive into humor writing:
1. Pick a favorite friend and write like it’s just for them. I have a friend, Debbie, who is the easiest laugher ever. (Hey, Deb: boobies!) Sometimes I pretend I’m writing to make her laugh, which seems a whole lot easier than, y’know, everyone.
2. Start with a memory. Pick one of your elementary-school years. Or think back to a family vacation. Write down a simple sentence or two describing something that happened. Now go back and add another detail. Continue doing so until a story starts to unfold. Extra points if it’s embarrassing. That’s just comedy gold.
3. Grab a photo. Write the story of that scene. What happened just before it was taken? Just after? Who took the photo? What’s going on out of frame? Photos are one of the easiest ways to get a story started.
4. Pretend it’s an email. Or a text, if you’re one of those young’uns wondering, “what’s an email?” This will force you to write as casually as possible, which is always a good thing when it comes to writing humor.
5. Play with clichés. Find a few common ones, then write a follow-up sentence that challenges the cliché, or takes it somewhere nonsensical. This is one of my favorite things to try. One of my fellow Hallmark writers, Dan, is a genius at it and wrote: “Where there’s smoke, there’s a smoky thing.” Gets me every time.
6. Write a lot. About anything at all. And whatever you do, don’t stop to fuss. Fussy isn’t funny. So just keep on going and tell yourself: I’ll shape this up later. Take some time away and when you come back, find a thought or two you especially like and build on that. Then, just go again. Eventually you’ll see things start to take shape. Without agonizing over every little word.
7. When you have something you’re feeling good about, stop to read it aloud. Or have someone read it to you. Pay attention to the rhythm. Does it sound clunky? Or does it sound natural, like a story being told over cocktails? Take out any phrases that lean too proper or formal. Humor ain’t got no time for that.
8. My final tip, and the most important one of all: Be as honest as you possibly can. Like, I-hope-my-parents-don’t-ever-see-this honest. When you put yourself out there, it helps others to identify with you. Like right now, for instance. I’m wearing granny panties so big, they’re almost touching my bra. SEE? Honesty. Go for it.
I hope these tricks work for you—but if all else fails, remember: coffee. (And if it’s after 5 o’clock: booze.) (Okay, 4:15.) Good luck to you, and happy writing!
Got questions for a professional humor writer? Hit us up in the comments below.
This post is a collaboration with Hallmark’s Studio Ink.