After How to Add Humor, Part One you’re probably thinking, “Yeah, yeah, humor helps us cope, humor is rooted in truth…very nice, Professor T, but show me the funny!” Last time we focused on the what. Now we’ll talk about the how!
Start with conflict, or at least the potential for conflict. It can be an awkward situation (blind date, first ballet class, first football practice); a difficult one (going on a diet, having to use your opposite hand due to an injury); a tense one (job review, therapy session), or even a dangerous one. For example:
My friend Barry took a skydiving class. During his first solo jump, both chutes failed to open! Fortunately, this potential tragedy turned into a comedy. Barry’s story about bargaining with God, then shouting for the people on the ground to “catch” him, and about his chute finally opening within the last few hundred feet, is hilarious.
Now decide how you want to tell your story. Use the DRIP method to brew up something funny (hey, I worked hard on this stupid acronym, so just go with it):
- Different Perspective – Look for a skewed or unexpected way of seeing things. Much of comedian Demetri Martin’s best material comes from this approach. He tells us that all vests are for “protection.” Then he starts naming types of vests: bullet proof—well, yeah, those are for protection; life vests—well, yeah, those are too; sweater vests. Wait, how are those for protection? “They protect us against girls,” he explains.
- Relatability – Make sure your audience or readers can relate. At my first big gig as a humorous speaker, I did philosophical material I thought was hilarious. And it was–for college professors. But for 3,500 teenagers at a youth conference? Nope. I was fired because I “wasn’t funny.” Ow. So all the next day I got busy…weeping. Then I wrote all new material for an upcoming youth retreat in Wisconsin. This time I talked about growing up…about pets…parents…and got a standing ovation. Make it relateable!
- Incongruity – Look for mismatches: Roommate (or Date) from Hell stories; Redneck Meets Sophisticate (O. Henry’s classic “The Ransom of Red Chief”). More TV sit-coms are built around incongruity than anything else: The Odd Couple, Will and Grace, Two and a Half Men. Many classic comedies are based on men playing women–badly: Some Like it Hot, Tootsie, Mrs. Doubtfire. Key & Peele’s hilarious gay marriage sketch is about a gay man who’s against gay marriage because he doesn’t want to have to marry his obnoxiously flamboyant boyfriend.
- Play with the meanings of words – Misconstrue words or concepts. There’s a scene in Notzilla, my monster movie screenplay, in which an obtuse American scientist thinks haiku is a form of martial arts—and then goes on to have a full-blown poetry battle with an 85 year old Japanese scientist. Puns are also based on word-play. So are groaners–and who doesn’t love a good groaner? (Don’t answer that.)
In How to Add Humor, Part Three, our orgy of acronyms continues as we discover 4 Ways to Get a R.I.S.E. Out of Your Audience.