John Philipp continues with his series on writing humor and satire.
Someone who was not I said, "You have to kiss a lot of frogs before you find a prince." Humor is no different; you need polish a lot of rocks to uncover a gem. Professional comedians often generate 100 jokes to find ten they think have potential, then tweak those in front of several audiences before they end up with one or two to put in their next routine.
But generating bad jokes is fun, as long as you are the only one who sees them. When writing humor, you don't want to listen to your Inner Editor whose territory covers the gamut from typos and grammar to character development, POV, and thematic imagery.
Listen to your Inner Comic, who delights in anything unexpected and constantly marvels at how clever you are at making unexpected connections between two items.
The House of Humor is built on the foundation of surprise. When two items are put together that you would not expect to find together (what Arthur Koestler in "The Act of Creation" calls a bi-associative event), you have one of two reactions.
If the context is science, the reaction is AHA!
If the context is humor, the reaction is HAHA!
One way to generate surprises is by random association. Here are the steps:
- Pick a topic. I'll pick football as the Super Bowl is almost upon us.
- Create categories under your topic. In this case, you want categories under "Super Bowl." Put each category on the top of a separate piece of paper.(Example categories might be: player, coach, team, stadium, ads, cheerleaders, fans, band and Body Part Exposure ... OK, I'm getting ahead of myself.)
- List items under categories: Under each category make a list in the left-margin of items that might fit underneath the category. Three examples:Under "players" you might have: quarterback, running back, tackle, guard, water boy, etc.Under "stadium" you might have: dome, artificial turf, field, bleachers, name, hot dogs, etc.Under "ads" items might be: funny, expensive, beer, animals, etc.
- Generate adjectives for each item: list as many adjectives as you can think of that describe each item or a part of the item, such as:Tackle - big, no-neck, stubborn, rock, leg grabber, pushy, grunterField - lined, grassy, long, cleat markedName - past player, city official, corporation, big bucks.
- Play "mix 'n match" with the groups of words you have generated. Take a word and, in your mind, put it next to each other word looking for a humorous or unexpected connection. A+B? No. A+C? No. A+D? Wait a minute, something's there. Maybe something using corporate names not for stadiums, they already have them, but what about for Olympic events?
Now I have a concept that has a potentially humorous slant. What corporations would sponsor what events and ... exaggerating my paradigm even further, wouldn't corporations create events that suited their products?
This is what often happens with humor. We started with the Super Bowl and ended up with the Olympics but who cares if it's funny?
I said in the beginning that humor is built on the foundation of surprise. Here's one: I didn't end up going with the Olympics this round. I also played with "ads" and came up with: Super Bowl XLII AD Mania.
Sure humor takes time. I didn't say it was easy. Fun, yes. Easy, no.
John Philipp is a weekly humor columnist for four Marin County, California newspapers and has won numerous humor and memoir writing awards. His humor columns are posted at http://johnphilipphumor.gather.com/.
His wisdom (with Phil Prank's cartoons) is posted at Thought~Bytes http://thoughtbytes.gather.com/