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December 2009
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Writing to Get Laughs

What is a humorist? A humorist writes humorous material for a magazine or newspaper. The humorist often uses the humour column to state his/her views and opinions on topics making news or of interest to readers. The humorist frequently goes against popular opinion or conventional wisdom. According to “Comedy Writing Secrets”, a popular book on writing comedy and humour, the two most popular editorial features are both humorous—the editorial cartoon and the humour column. Occasionally, the humoris writes a book. For instance, David Sedaris is a humorist who has written several bestselling books, including bestsellers “When You are Engulfed in Flames”, “Naked”, and “Dress Yourself in Corduroy and Denim.”

Often, the humorist writes humorous material about serious aspects of life, attempting to get laughs or amusement by pointing out the absurdities of everyday life. Some humour columns are advice columns, such as Anne Landers. Others write about their own lives and themselves. Many write about the important news or topics of interest. The humorist often writes about personal experiences, current events, or topics making news.

Unlike the comedy writer, the humorist is more subtle and cerebral. The humorist also refrains from using vulgarisms, profanity, and obscenity. Instead, the humorist relies on using humour devices that can be used in print, such as of irony, exaggeration, and satire, metaphor, simile, and wordplay.

According to “Comedy Writing Secrets”, the humorist relies on five techniques:

  1. The anecdote. A short, humorous story that reveals a truth.
  2. The one-line joke. A humorous, one-sentence statement, often a pithy aphorism.
  3. Overstatement. To use exaggeration or hyperbole to create a comic effect.
  4. Understatement. To use subtlety and restraint to create a comic effect
  5. Ironic truth. The opposite of what intended occurs; also known as situational irony

To write humour, the humorist must be a good writer.  The humorist cannot use props, slapstick, or screwball comedy to get laughs. Instead, he/she she must communicate humorous material by using pen and paper. So, the humorist must be to write clearly and concisely, have a good command of vocabulary, and know the rules of grammar, punctuation, and mechanics. The humorist must also be able to entertain readers. Otherwise, they will not read his/her material.

Some well-known humorists include Stephen Leacock, Mark Twain, Will Rogers, E.B. White, Steve Martin, and Woody Allen. These humorists were very good writers.

Currently, there are many popular humour writers, including Calvin Trillin, Garrison Keillor, Paul Rudnick, Simon Rich, S.J. Perelman, Christopher Buckley, and David Sedaris. Each has written plethora funny pieces for The New Yorker magazine.

Three well-written and popular books that use humour writing are the following:

  • “I Shudder” by Paul Rudnick
  • “Naked” by David Sedaris
  • “Disquiet, Please: More Humour Writing from The New Yorker”, edited by David Remnick and Henry Finder

If you want to write humour, read the books, “How to Write Funny” (a how-to-book), “Comedy Writing Secrets” (book that explains all you need to know to write comedy and humour), and “Disquiet, Please” (a collection of articles and essays on humour from The New Yorker). Also, master the techniques of anecdote, overstatement, understatement, ironic truth, and the one-liner.

If you have any questions, please send an email or make a post to my blog.

Next, I will write about “comedy writing.”


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