Eight Ways You Can Make Your Writing Funnier

Martin Luther, auditioning for the part of Tzeitel in this year’s feline-only version of Fiddler on the Roof.

A lot of people tell me that my Facebook posts or personal emails or videos are hilarious, and they want to know how to write funny. Or these people already have a funny story to tell, but when they write it out it doesn’t really capture the humor of the thing. I hear you. Writing funny is hard. It’s actually a lot harder to write funny than it is to be funny. When you’re just talking to someone, you have so many more resources. You can be slapstick, you can imitate an accent, you can convey something hysterical wordlessly, with just an expression. 

But when you’re writing funny, words on the page are all you got. Somehow, you have to be visual and slapstick or write with an accent on the printed page, and that can be daunting. So how to do that? Here are eight easy ways you can make your writing funnier. 

1. You need to have a funny story to tell. 

I can’t tell you how many people tell me that they have the funniest story in the world to tell me, and halfway through I feel like I want to kill myself. Isn’t that funny, Amy? my mother will say, after she tells me an incredibly long and boring story about how the grains in her homemade kefir weren’t fresh enough and she should have asked the man at the health-food store. Try out your story on a few people before you begin writing it. Make sure the story is actually funny. Kefir is just not that funny. 

2. Don’t try to be funny. 

If you have a funny story to tell, tell it straight. If the story is funny, the humor of it will come out anyway, without your working hard to make it funnier. Don’t layer what’s already funny by telling us how funny the story is. Just tell it. Write it out as seriously as possible. Almost like reportage. You’ll get a good first draft that way for sure. 

3. Write about horrible experiences. 

Horrible experiences, particularly experiences we have all gone through, are almost funny by definition. Especially if they’re relatable. Trips to the dentist, bad airplane rides, failed camping trips, bad purchases — any terrible experience is almost always funny. In fact, don’t be afraid of feeling uncomfortable or miserable as you rehash the experience. Embrace it! You’ll certainly have a funny story later. I remember driving all the way from New York to the Florida keys with three little kids. It was a camping trip, and we thought it was going to be the trip of our lives. But when we got there, the mosquitoes were horrible and it was broiling out and I’m not sure anyone at the campsite had actually ever seen a live homosexual, let alone two female homosexuals raising their children. I remember lying in the tent, wondering if the wetness beneath my backside was sweat or if one of the twins’ pull-ups had leaked onto the sleeping bag. “It’s pee,” Lynn said, and she went back to sleep. I went to the car to sit in the air-conditioning and write out all the reasons I hated Lynn for making us take this trip, but on my way to the car I almost tripped over an iguana the size of a Volkswagen. I cried a lot on that trip, but when I look over my journal today, it’s pretty funny. And believe me, I was not trying to be funny when I wrote about that trip.  

4. Be honest. 

Do not, under any circumstances, at least in early drafts, edit yourself or adorn the truth. If you got a glass of wine thrown in your face for being an ass, tell what you did. If you were rude or inappropriate, tell why. Chances are someone else has been in your shoes.  

5. Trust absurdity.

I love absurd humor. Right now I’m working hard on a series of pieces in which I dress up my cat for Broadway auditions. I think it’s a brilliant idea and I’m sure it’s going to hurl me (and my cat, Martin Luther) into superstardom. Everyone I share it with begs me not to post the video. It’s really stupid, Amy, they say, don’t embarrass yourself. I don’t care. I just know someone else will find the video funny, even if you don’t (and be sure to let me know in the comments if you think I’ve failed with this one). Somewhere out there is a tribe of readers who think that posting videos of your cat pretending to audition for Broadway shows is valuable, important work. 

6. Trust yourself. 

Unless you have never been called funny in your life, if you think it’s funny, someone else will, too. 

7. Take risks.

There’s no way you’re going to know if something is really funny unless you write it out and show it to someone. Show it to your friends. Your cousins. Your best friends. Anyone but your mother. Show your stuff to people who will tell you the truth, and be brave. What’s the worst that will happen? Here’s what will happen: You will look like a complete idiot. Which is funny. Maybe not in the moment, but certainly later, when you write about your experience of feeling idiotic, it will make people laugh. Which brings me to the next point:

8. Be self-deprecating.

It’s not mean to make fun of yourself. It’s a coping mechanism. It brings levity to an aspect of your existence that would otherwise depress you. So go ahead, tell your spouse to take a video of your first ballroom dancing class. Or write about how you felt during your first ballroom dancing class. If anything, it will help you cope with the pain and shame of trying something new, something you’ve secretly wanted to do all your life, but were afraid to tell anyone. 

There’s a guy on the internet that teaches an online course to people who want to dance like Michael Jackson. I know this because I bought the course. With enough practice, I’m going to fulfill my dream of being able to dance like Michael Jackson. Think of the possibilities! I could impress my friends at my fiftieth birthday party with a recreation of Smooth Criminal or Billie Jean. We all need a special dream, and this is mine. 

Lynn watched me practice not too long ago. “That is really something special, honey,” she said, when I showed her what I can do. “You should take that on the road.” 

Maybe I will. So what if I’m forty-eight with a lumpy body that would make any writer proud? I just know I could be great at dancing like Michael Jackson. I’m going to be good. I’m going to be great. 

Just you wait. 

Comments

  1. the purring. LOL

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