Want to Write Funny?
If you want to write funny, you may have to let yourself indulge in wrongs…
1. The apple pie you made without sugar (You didn’t? I did. I assure you it was a terrible wrong on Thanksgiving day.)
2. The alarm clock you set for precisely one hour before you would secure your child’s stunning grade on the SAT.
(But then you stunningly slept through the wake-up call, jeopardizing your child’s very future. You didn’t? I did. And only time will tell just how wrong it was to sleep through the possibility of a sane morning, a sane arrival to the test, and the proper use of a hairbrush before leaving the house.)
3. The Facebook audience you built with hard work, time, and attention (and maybe some hard-earned money), only to see Facebook unethically hold your audience for ransom, just because they thought they could.
(You did. I know you did. If you have any social media history at all, you did. Now comes the waiting—to see who the joke is really on: you (and me) or them.)
How to Be Funny, According to McGraw and Warner
If you aren’t funny, it might be because nothing’s wrong with your joke. Maybe you were raised not to complain. Too bad. Because a good complaint is where you need to begin. You need to see the wrong, make it obvious, then get set to…
Mitigate The Wrong
I know. Mitigate is a big word. And one of the rules of good humor is to keep it simple. But I like the word mitigate, so I am going to break the rules (which is another rule of good humor. I mean, breaking the rules is another rule, so you see how it all works out in the end).
McGraw and Warner don’t use the word mitigate. They are more cooperative with the universe. (Pete even wears a sweater vest.) McGraw and Warner say that we must make the wrong benign. And when we do that, somebody somewhere laughs.
The Final (and Not So Final) Word on Funny
Here is the good news for your bad kitchen (and bad alarm clock) days: If you are a master of complaint, you are poised to be the next Colbert. All you need to learn is the art of mitigation. Not the maternal art of mitigation, “Oh, Honey, everything’s going to be all right.” But the amusing art of mitigation. “Oh, Honey, you need a faster hairbrush and a sexier clock alarm.”
Righting a wrong with a comic eye, McGraw and Warner discovered, is not as simple as it seems. There’s no solid science, after all, to making the pie go down with a late spoon of sugar. Still, you can read more about the art and science of comedic possibility (including the surprising power of Venn diagrams, red velvet curtains, and hiring the right people to laugh at your jokes) in The Humor Code.
Let us know if break it. The code, not the clock, that is.5