I frequently teach writers how to think and write funny at conferences, such as the Erma Bombeck Writers’ Workshop and the Writer’s Digest Annual Conference. It’s a given that at some point during my presentations that an attendee will proclaim:
I’m a writer. I don’t do jokes.
I want to say, “Good luck being funny without jokes.” Instead, I offer a courtroom-like dissection of their delusion.
The rebut begins with a question. “Was Mark Twain a humorist or comedian?” After I get the predictable answer of “humorist,” I fire up PowerPoint slides with lines like the following.
Be careful about reading health books. You may die of a misprint.
Politicians and diapers must be changed often, and for the same reason.
All generalizations are false, including this one.
It only takes a handful of classic Twain quotes to convince the jury of writers that America’s greatest humorist wrote jokes. And like every successful humorist, Twain knew that the secret building block of humor was a joke.
To become a hilarious writer, you must raise your joke IQ. The first step is becoming a connoisseur of gags. Fortunately, the Internet makes it easy to search for jokes via topic or author.
As you explore jokes, I suggest creating a joke bank. When I wrote Comedy Writing Secrets, I relied on an Excel spreadsheet I created with thousands of jokes. A joke bank allows you to closely examine joke styles and develop a sense and knack for gag writing.
Over time, you will develop a preference for joke structures and writers. Eventually, you will be able to proclaim, without any literary guilt, the following:
I’m a writer. I do jokes.