Author and stand-up comedienne Pat Dennis believes the ability to make someone laugh, whether on stage or in print, is not only a gift but quite possibly a genetic defect. She writes “It’s as if we were shot into this world, straight from our mommas’ wombs, wearing 3-D glasses perched atop rubber noses.”
Dennis should know. She is the author of, among other things, Hotdish To Die For, a collection of six culinary mystery short stories in which hotdish is the weapon of choice.
But of course, there are some people out there who would LOVE to be funny, and so far haven’t had much luck.
Not to worry: in a recent essay for The Loft, Dennis writes even the smallest sense of humor can be nourished over time.
I have read novice comedy scribblers who managed to write an entire 200-page manuscript without once bringing a smile to my face. Years later, I’d read their newly published and highly remunerated humor pieces and be green with envy, while doubling over in laughter. What happened?
Butt time, as in sitting on your butt, that’s what happened.
In the stand-up world, we call it stage time. Give a struggling comic wannabe enough stage time, and she or he will eventually turn into a pro. The same thing is true with writing. If you want to be a writer, then you have to stay in that chair, putting words on the page, over and over again, until you get it right. Getting it right in humor writing, means tweaking and twisting your work until it makes you laugh, and then someone else.
If you’re writing humor, you need an audience, the same as a stand-up comic. You can be the funniest comedian in the world, but if no one ever sees you, then you’re just considered a crazy postmenopausal woman talking to herself in the Lane Bryant fitting-room mirror. For a writer, if no one reads your work, what’s the point? That’s why I strongly believe in both writing classes and writers’ groups. Nothing will bring out your inner funny and motivate you more than making someone laugh.
There’s something else about time you need to know. As in stand-up, timing is one of the most important elements in humor writing. You need to allow just enough words to get your funny across, but too many, and your punch line will be lost in the onslaught. As that laugh-a-day Polonius once quipped, “Brevity is the soul of wit.” (Or am I the only one who finds Hamlet funny?)
What is the most important thing you need to know about writing humor? You need to write it well. Comedic writing needs the same editing, tightening, punctuation, and grammatical finesse as any piece of literature. Don’t think you can get away with bad grammar because you’re going for laughs. Trust me, there ain’t no way that will work. See what I mean?
You can read Dennis’ full essay here.