Musings of a Wannabe Humor Columnist: Not Quite There Yet
What makes something funny? Is it sarcasm? Irony? Unexpected understatement?
Probably some of everything. After all, pretty much anything can be funny if worded the right way. People joke about death, disease, people jumping off cliffs or getting hit by falling cows (actually happened). These things were probably not funny to the people when they happened, and for many are still not funny. But when a comedian or humor columnist comes across such incidents, they make a few ribald or subtle pronouncements, and send audiences into gales of laughter.
It’s harder to do this than it seems. Sitting down and thinking, “Okay, funny, I need something funny” and expecting pure humor to flow from your pen is not a realistic goal. The first couple drafts, you’re gonna get pure crap, I promise you. You can take ideas from the news (Iraqi Head Seeks Arms) or from the world around you. I like to read the fake tabloids at the grocery store, you know, “Elvis Ate My Baby.” Whoever writes that stuff has to be on something stronger than just printer ink.
As far as sarcasm, irony, and understatement go, you need something else. Some kind of hook. Dave Barry suggests the word “weasel” whenever you’re stuck. I like the word “bonobo” myself, but it would seem not many people outside of the primatologist crowd understand the subtle sexual humor to be found among these gentle apes. My roommates refer to them as “sex monkeys”, which I guess is a fairly accurate observation. Come to think of it, “monkey” is kind of a funny word.
A lot of words sound funny (though not necessarily funny ha-ha) when you say them enough. As an experiement, go ahead and say your own name to yourself twenty or thirty times. I’ll wait.
Now isn’t that interesting? I don’t know your name or I’d be making fun of you directly, but take my name, for example. Nelli. It rhymes with several things, none of which I particularily want to be associated with, but...it’s something.