on being funny


Are you having an AWESOME week? Golly, I sure hope so.

I had a tough run last night that’s not worth mentioning, and I also didn’t drink a beer, which means I have very little in the way of captivating, engaging content today.

Usually when this sort of tragedy happens, I tackle it in one of several ways:

  • I write a scathing post intended to belittle or disparage certain people.
  • I write about how I have nothing to write about.
  • I do a questionnaire.
  • I pander to my readership and do a nice, agreeable post for which I know everyone will praise me. (“I HATE THINGS MOST PEOPLE HATE! DON’T YOU HATE THOSE THINGS TOO?”)

Today, I want to talk about comedy.

And now having said that, I suddenly feel like I am under immense pressure to give you something funny.

Here you go:

Okay then.

When I first started blogging, I had this vague idea that I’d use my talents as a writer to get some attention and just, well, be on the internet. I’d read some really funny blogs and thought, “hell, I could do that.”

My first stint at blogging was back in 2007 and I got a marginal amount of attention for making observations and commentary of the “I say all the horrible things you’re thinking” variety.

I liked the warm fuzzy feeling I got when people commented, but I didn’t like the idea of just rehashing the news and commenting on it. I didn’t want to get too political and I didn’t want to make fun of celebrities.

It’s taken a couple of years and some failed attempts for me to finally find what I feel is truly my comfort zone in comedy: being passive aggressive and shitty.

Here are some things I’ve learned along the way:

  • It is really hard to be funny, even if you’re good at it. Comics write down funny things they say so they can make them into jokes later on. They spend hours writing, agonizing over bits, working and reworking material and often bombing for the sake of the craft.
  • I’ll probably never be a proper comic. You generally have to be really ambitious and willing to be poor and make an ass out of yourself for years and years before it finally (maybe) pays off.
  • I’d like to be thoughtful and prolific, poignant and genuine. Failing that, I will resort to being offensive and shocking.

I’ve also learned a lot about comedy simply by being subjected to things that are NOT funny:

  • Weird faces without context are not funny.
  • Cutesy is not funny.
  • Vaguely sexist remarks aren’t funny. (If you’re going to be sexist, do it overtly.)
  • Forced funny isn’t funny. Paint a subtle picture, and don’t ruin it by beating that picture to death with 37 more pictures.

So what is funny?

Hyperbole is funny.

“I really hate my boss.”

“You should set him on fire.”

Also, funny mental images are funny.

“I ate a Burrito Supreme before running 12 miles and I was clenching the entire way.”

Dirty words are funny, if they’re used appropriately. A series of gratuitous F-bombs is not funny. But earnestly calling someone a dildo during a serious discussion is WAY funny. Inventive, curse-hybrids are also funny. My favorite right now is douchecopter.

Things that are disturbing are funny. For instance, you can make a joke about AIDS if you execute it in way that demonstrates how stupid and wrong you are for making jokes about AIDS.

And generally, you have to come up with things no one has ever said before. (Read here about why comics hate Carlos Mencia.)

You have to be quick. You can’t take several minutes to build the foundation of a joke. You have to get the point in as few words as possible.

You have to identify truths. The key to being funny is not contriving or forcing something you think might make people laugh, it’s that small bit of reality inherent in even the grossest exaggerations. (The exception to that of course is Charlie the Unicorn.)

A great example of a truth is Sarah Silverman’s video about how we should sell the Vatican to feed the hungry. It underlines the hypocrisy of an obscenely rich entity preaching the virtues of humility and poverty. It’s absurd and sensible at the same time.

Last, and most importantly, for the love of vodka, don’t ever take yourself seriously. The sooner you recognize how absurd you are and quit acting like you’re on some heroic mission to save the world, the better off you’ll be.

“I will say anything to be funny, often in the most horrible situations.”
– Kurt Vonnegut

“Absurdity is the only reality.” – Frank Zappa

“You can’t just yell jokes at people.” – David Cross

“You have to be able to laugh at yourself. That’s what I tell Asian people all the time.” – Sarah Silverman


20 thoughts on “on being funny

  1. Q: What is the difference between Carlos Mencia/OR/Dane Cook/OR/Russell Brand and a pile of dead babies?
    A: Carlos Mencia/OR/Dane Cook/OR/Russell Brand don’t make me laugh.


    But seriously, you’re right. You’re also an asstwat, which is why I LOVE YOU.

  2. ‘Douchecopter’ just made me choke on my water- I think I alarmed the yummy mummies around me feeding their kids kale chips in Whole Foods.

  3. “You have to identify truths. The key to being funny is not contriving or forcing something you think might make people laugh, it’s that small bit of reality inherent in even the grossest exaggerations.”

    Very well said. I think this highlights why making fun of people is, well….funny. This holds true whether you’re making fun of yourself or someone else. (And let’s face it…usually it’s both. If I’ve gone out of my way to identify a behavior that’s mock-worthy in someone else, there’s a good chance I see a sliver of the same thing inside myself.)

    Which then goes back to not taking yourself too seriously.

    The world would be a happier place if people stopped taking themselves so damn seriously.

    And now you’ve got me rambling, too.

  4. I used a seriously made up word in my post today to describe how awesome a beer was, and I even attributed it to you.

    Also, I’ve heard quoting Sarah Silverman is the single largest identifier of blogs in the midst of failing. I’m not saying that’s you though, of course.

    OK, I have nothing else and I know that wasn’t really even worth typing, but I don’t feel like deleting now.

  5. Thank you for pointing out weird faces without context are not funny.

    Or cute. I cleaned out my google reader of blogs that have 5 pics in a row of someone making a weird or cute face eating a carrot stick. I don’t have time for that. Sure, somedays I really suck at writing. I’m well aware. But come on. If that’s what you have to do every single day to get readership, you should probably not be blogging… just a thought.

    Rant over.

    But yes, being funny is hard. I stopped trying and have accepted my fate as someone who may occasionally spark some general amusement. That’s ok with me. Even if I make fun of myself to do it.

    I even enjoy laughing at myself.

    My camera is done charging, so I’m gonna end this and go make my oatmeal now…

    • “I cleaned out my google reader of blogs that have 5 pics in a row of someone making a weird or cute face eating a carrot stick.”


  6. Well said!

    (I am not funny enough to have an ironic or clever response to the post content — and making the attempt might be classified as “trying too hard” — so let’s leave it at that.)

  7. Dude, I try to be funny, but I think that’s the first step to failing at it. I crack myself up though. And I am easily amused. I have to remember that doesn’t apply to everyone. Oh well!

  8. The whole time I was reading this, and fascinated by the way, I was thinking that this must be the Sarah Silverman school of comedy (that’s a good thing — She is hands down my favorite comedian). So I was tickled that you used one of her bits as an example at the end.

    You’re giving her a run for her money! but you’ve still got your own unique thing goin on. Anyway, love this post

  9. SPOT ON. Especially the Carlos Mencia (and I’ll throw in Dane Cook) bit. Or George Lopez. Or Jay Leno. All super lame. I love the kind of jokes that are horrific to laugh at, but you can’t help yourself. But you feel guilty. But so good. Like Comedy Central’s roasts; the Trump one was the best. And it introduced me to my new favorite comedian….enjoy. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=l8wHmpP33s0

  10. This is why I don’t try to be funny. It inevitably fails. Something middle school taught me well is that if I just live my life, other people will find it hilarious and laugh at me. And if I start laughing too, then they’re laughing with me.

    My mom wants to make sweet love to Sarah Silverman. She refers to her as “our Maraget Cho.”

  11. Pingback: how to deal with an asshat « Cheaper Than Therapy

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