A Short Lesson in Comedy Writing

More than short – brilliant! No matter how dark and serious your writing may be, you still need to know this if you want it to work:

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“Beating” Jokes
by Ken Levine

When is something funny enough? That’s a little hard to say since every example is different and every case is subjective. But as a general rule, whenever I write a joke I ask myself two questions.

Is it funny?

What would be funnier?

Just getting a yes on the first question is no easy task. And by funny I mean FUNNY. Not wry, not amusing, not lol, not smiley face, but something that will make people actually laugh. And not just people – strangers. It’s hard. It’s why they used to pay the big money.

So when you feel your joke has passed the rigorous mirth test it’s tempting to take a moment, pat yourself on the back for being a comic genius, and move on to the next triumph That’s what most comedy writers do.

Don’t be one of them. Ask the second question. How can you make the joke funnier? What’s a more offbeat reference that achieves the same result? What’s fresher? Is there a better set up? Is the wording just perfect? Or is there just a better line altogether?

Small example of a joke just to give you a sense of my thought process. When Manny Ramirez was suspended for violating baseball’s drug policy I was asked if I was surprised. My first thought was, “At this point I wouldn’t be surprised if Mother Teresa was a dope dealer.” The incongruity of Mother Teresa selling drugs seemed funny. But “is there something better than dope dealer? What I came up with is this: “I wouldn’t be surprised if Mother Teresa was a gun runner.” That seemed to suggest a funnier image, Mother Teresa haggling with terrorists over AK-47’s.

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