a guest post by Dorothy Rosby
Humor is subjective. I know this because some people don’t laugh at my hilarious jokes. Dorothy Rosby is a professional humorist (I’ll bet she’d find my jokes funny), and she’s generous enough to share some tricks of the comedic trade. But wait! There’s more. She’s also offering a free copy of her new book ‘Tis the Season to Feel Inadequate. Read about it now. Operators are standing by.
I’ve been writing a humor column for more than twenty years and one of the things I like best about writing humor is that anything goes. You can use devices that are frowned upon in other forms of writing and readers don’t even mind.
I could exaggerate and tell you that one year my over-enthusiastic husband bought a 30-pound turkey and we ate leftovers for a week after Thanksgiving, which is true. Or I could tell you he bought a turkey the size Plymouth Rock and we ate leftovers until the Fourth of July.
I could also understate the situation by saying one year I bought the smallest turkey I could find because I didn’t want leftovers—also true. Or I could say I bought a turkey the size of a Cornish game hen and wound up having to serve hot dogs too.
Readers don’t even mind it when the writer flat out misleads them which is exactly what happens every time they set up a joke. Even when we aren’t writing standard jokes, we frequently set the reader up to expect something then give them something else.
In a column about how we now drink coffee and soda out of containers as big anything our ancestors would have used to carry water from the well, I wrote “Ginormous jugs of caffeine are so portable. Only milk drinkers have it so easy. They can carry a cow.” After the set up, you were probably thinking I’d say jug—unless you live on a dairy farm.
Related to the notion of setting it up, is the fact that the power position in a sentence is at the end of the sentence and the power position in a paragraph is at the end of the paragraph. Whatever is at the end automatically has added emphasis. So when you write humor, you exploit that power spot by placing funniest or strangest part of what you’ve written at the end of the sentence and the funniest sentence at the end of the paragraph.
In a column about marriage. I wrote, “My husband and I do a lot of different activities together. We dance, we camp, we look for his glasses.” If I were to say, “We look for his glasses, we dance, we camp,” it wouldn’t have the same effect.
That example illustrates another humor writing device: the rule of three. We dance and look for his glasses,” isn’t as strong. Neither is “we dance, hike, camp, garden, travel, play badminton and look for his glasses.” Three is magical.
Similes and metaphors are two of my favorite devices. I’d go so far as to say metaphors and similes are like restrooms when you’re traveling. You should never pass up an opportunity to use one.
In a column about planning family reunions, I said, “families are like cockleburs—they stick together, but they poke each other a little bit too. In a technology column, I said, “I type like I live my life; very fast and with lots of errors.”
Those last few techniques are used in other writing, but here’s one that generally isn’t. As writers, we’re told to avoid clichés and it’s good advice. But clichés can be very funny if you rough them up a bit. Sometimes I expand on them as in the following:
Too many chefs spoil the broth. If you have too many would you send one to my house.
The best thing to wear to work is a smile, but you should wear your pants too.
Laughter is the best medicine, but don’t give up your antibiotics.
Other times I remodel them. For example, in a column about politics, I took the cliché “a few bricks short of a full load,” and changed it to “few chads short of a full ballot.” You couldn’t get away with that in a serious column about politics. But to misuse another cliché, all is fair in love and humor writing.
Christmas comes but once a year; chaos never ends! Happy Halloween, merry Christmas and joyful Lumpy Rug Day. We didn’t make that up. Lumpy Rug Day is celebrated every May 3, though “celebrated” might be too strong a word. It’s the American way to create a celebration for everything, then turn it into a chore or worse, a nightmare. ’Tis the Season to Feel Inadequate is a collection of humorous essays about holidays, special occasions and other times our celebrations make us feel not-so-celebratory. It’s understanding for those who think Christmas form letters can be honest—or they can be interesting. And it’s empathy for anyone who’s ever gotten poison ivy during Nude Recreation Week or eaten all their Halloween candy and had to hand out instant oatmeal packets to their trick-or-treaters.
About the Author
Dorothy Rosby is a syndicated humor columnist and the author of four books of humorous essays. She’s the 2022 global winner of the Erma Bombeck Writers Competition, sponsored in part by the Erma Bombeck Writers Workshop. She lives in the Black Hills of South Dakota, 20 miles from Mount Rushmore, something she’s very proud of though she’s not on it—yet.TIS THE SEASON TO FEEL INADEQUATE Book Tour Giveaway
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