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I am a crap at telling jokes face-to-face. My timing is off, I rush the punch line, and I laugh out of turn. I possess only two good go-to jokes, one for kids and one for adults (cover your eyes on the second one):
Where do generals hide their armies?
(this is where I start laughing every time)
In their sleevies!
What's the last thing you want to hear when you're giving Willie Nelson a blowjob?
"Um, I'm not Willie Nelson."
Oral joke telling is a hard art, and I admire those who can do it. I have zero skill in that area. Writing funny, though? That's my jam. I write magical realism, YA adventure, and nail-biting thrillers, and they all transport me, but when I'm writing funny? My wings are strapped on and I'm FLYING. While walking my goofy dog Juni this morning (and to whoever let their fiber-eating brontasaurus poop outside my front gate, karma doesn't forget), I realized that I hadn't written funny in over a year. That explained why I'd been feeling unbalanced, carrying a low-level anxiety like maybe I'd forgot my keys somewhere. I immediately began outlining Maniac Monday, a Murder-by-Month novella. Stress I'd been carrying for weeks began to melt off. Or, at least it didn't get so much space on my shoulders.
If maybe writing funny can work its magic on you like it does me, balancing the heavy with its light, I'm going to share the methods I use. In the spirit of keeping these Writing Whip-Its short (you're busy, man), I'm splitting this into a ten-part series. Today is an overview of Writing Funniness, the next eight installments are the tools of writing funny, and the tenth post will show you how to bring it all together in your own writing.
Writing Funniness Overview
Because my Murder-by-Month Mysteries are funny (five-time Lefty-nominated for best humorous mystery), every conference I go to, I'm put on the Writing Funny panel. I love it because I know I'm going to laugh. A lot. But the same question comes up from the audience every time: "I'm not a good joke teller, and nobody really thinks I'm funny. Can I write funny?"
Yep. And you should. My friend, screenwriter, novelist, and the fricking funniest story teller you'll ever meet, Johnny Shaw, tells a story of one of his screenwriting professors reading an early draft of Johnny's work, nodding approvingly, and saying, "Funny is money." It is. Funny sells. Besides being lucrative, laughter makes the world a better place. It just feels good to make someone laugh. And the beauty of writing funny, unlike being live-action funny, is that you have time to perfect and revise it. So yeah. You can write funny.
The second question that comes up on these panels: "Different things are funny to different people. How do you make something funny for everyone?"
You don't. You tickle yourself, and I guarantee you'll tickle others. They might be weirdos like you or me, but the weirdos (especially the weirdos) need to laugh, too. There is an audience for your humor. Over the next eight installments, we'll figure out what humor tool(s) fit best in your hands so you can refine your funny voice and subsequently find your people. If you're not interested in writing funny, you're welcome to hang out here anyways. I promise laughs.
Jessica (Jess) Lourey is best known for her critically-acclaimed Murder-by-Month mysteries, which have earned multiple starred reviews from Library Journal and Booklist, the latter calling her writing "a splendid mix of humor and suspense." She is a tenured professor of creative writing and sociology, a recipient of The Loft's 2014 Excellence in Teaching fellowship, and leads interactive writing workshops (including "Writing Funny") all over the world. Salem’s Cipher, the first in her thrilling Witch Hunt Series, hits stores September 2016 and her agent is currently shopping Better than Gin: Rewrite Your Life, a guide to transforming life experiences into compelling fiction.
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