In Episode 15 of Newbie Writers Podcast we discussed humor. Humor is hard.
You already know how fraught with danger the average joke is. The inability to tell a joke is a cliché in of itself. Did you hear the one about? It brings to mind the stereotype sales person, over dressed, over excited, and filled with exclamation points, trying too hard. Or worse, people like my lovely mother who cannot tell a joke without wandering off the subject in order to elaborate on unrelated points and descriptions only to return to the main story not only derailed but missing key points that would, in ordinary circumstances, help the punch line make sense.
I was the first woman to burn my bra — it took the fire department four days to put it out.
~ Dolly Parton
One rule I’ve learned about humor is that the harder you try, the less funny you will be. I tell my public speaking students that unless they are very, very funny, forget the joke. But if they have a recent amusing antidote, tell that, it won’t be hilarious, but mildly entertaining can accomplish the same end as humor – to bring people together, to make them laugh.
Mark Twain wrote: “The humorous story is American, the comic story is English, the witty story is French. The humorous story is strictly a work of art — high and delicate art — and only an artist can tell it; but no art is necessary in telling the comic and the witty story; anybody can do it.”
Aside of American boosterism, Twain’s advice is sound, if we stick with what we are good at, and Americans are good at stories, we will succeed.
“Humor is just another defense against the universe.”
~ Mel Brooks
Light humor, like adding a funny icon to your PowerPoint presentation, is just fine. Or you can make a cute, off-hand remark to liven up a presentation. Make an insider comment that only your audience members will understand, it can be humorous as well as a bond between you and your audience.
A topical comment within a report or an email can be effective, if the report or posting is not meant to last. A topical reference in an annual report won’t work in your favor. It will age out and look not only silly but irreverent. You do not want to write papers or reports or articles that quickly become irrelevant — that would be a waste of time.
“Well I thought it was funny”
~ Stephen Corbert
The essential element of humor is to not work too hard at it. If it is NOT your nature to write wittily or humorously, you may want to just pass on the whole humor thing in your correspondence. Be sincere, be clever, be yourself, but don’t work to be funny, the odds that the whole endeavor will backﬁre are very, very high.
Save yourself. If you really want to be funny, just quote other people.
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