We started off whole this humor-writing adventure with the basic technique of twisting an assumption. This week I'd like to show you a new trick for making comedy - exploiting common relationships. I personally like this technique over the other because it's a lot more versatile. Mind you, anyone who goes spelunking in the comedy mines will need every pickaxe they can get, but I usually find this tecnique gets better results.
Start with a basic setup line as normal. Lemme dig in my magic mystery Twitter bag and pull something out...all right, here we go. This is a statement I made up instead of plucking something from the news. Trickier to write punchlines for, as I've mentioned, but when you look for common relationships, you'll get more material to work with.
Here's the statement:
"I've thought long and hard about this decision. It's scary, but...I'm going to push ahead anyway."
I wouldn't keep the setup THAT long under normal circumstances, but this'll do. Now we're going to hunt for things related to every major word and phrase in the sentence. The major words are "decision" and "scary", with the major phrases being "thought long and hard" and "push ahead". The more specific your words and phrases, the easier it'll be to find relationships and the less chance your mind will freak from all the possibilities.
"Decision" is our target. Now we ask questions. What are things related to making decisions? Who makes big decisions? Where are big decisions made? What are considered important decisions? Just let your mind run crazy and ask whatever questions come to mind, though I often ask the journalistic questions (Who, What, Where, When, Why, and How) to get stuff flowing. Here are some of the answers you might come up with:
- Business leaders (make decisions)
- President (makes big decisions)
- City hall (big decisions are made here)
- Multiple choice (a kind of decision)
- Pros and cons (when making a decision)
- Deciding to move (a big personal decision)
- Deciding to get another job (another personal decision)
From there you could easily pick an idea and shape a punchline where you twist an assumption about decision making. Let me butt in with a suggestion - how about the assumption that the decision is important? What if the decision was so unimportant that it becomes unexpected?
Let's flip the coin for a minute. Now that we've focused on our new train of thought, let's think about stuff that ISN'T related to decisions. Well, "unrelated" isn't what I'd call it. They're related, but just not in the way you'd expect. Let's go with "unconsistent". What things are unconsistent with big decisions? Again, use the journalistic questions to get started.
- Janitor (don't normally expect one to make big decisions)
- Choosing to be a janitor (approaching this decision with some gravitas is absurd on its own)
- A babysitter chosen by a baby (definitely a decision that a baby normally can't handle)
- What you want on your sandwich order (a very common, low-impact decision)
- Out of boredom (an uncommon reason to make a big decision)
Inconsistent relationships are definitely ideas that twist the common assumption. See how everything ties back to that ultimate rule of humor? Now, that doesn't mean you can't use the consistent relationships for a punchline. This is all designed to get your mind truckin'. Any bit of brainstorming that secures a great joke is worth thinking about.
Anyway, with these ideas in mind, I'm gonna go with "what you want on your sandwich order". What's a common thing to say when fiddling with your sandwich? "Hold the mayo." Thus:
"I've thought long and hard about this decision. It's scary, but...I'm going to push ahead anyway. Yes. Go ahead and hold the mayo."
There we go. A good twist on a classic food saying. Plus, by making the writing super-serious, you twist another assumption that the whole sentence is full of doom and gloom. Double trouble all in three sentences.
But braining up a punchline is one thing. If it doesn't POP, it won't matter. Remember, it's not just about twisting the assumption - it's also about keeping it a secret until the punch hits. Next time we'll get the most funny we can out of our writing by learning how to conceal and imply punchlines.
YOUR ASSIGNMENT: Pick out a sentence from a piece of writing or make one up. Give the sentence some flair and personal influence, then make a joke out of it using relationships. Rewrite your setup to be more specific if need be - anything to help make the process easier.
- Make Your Writing Funny – More Comedy Writing Books - June 16, 2011
- Make Your Writing Funny – More on Relationships - June 2, 2011
- Make Your Writing Funny – When Is It "Good Enough"? - May 19, 2011