Humor writing is a conundrum that baffles even the most prolific writer. A situation in real life that causes people to howl with laughter can and often does fall flat on the page. Why?
Apart from the highly subjective nature of humor, I’ve found writing that is universally perceived as humorous has three qualities: a distinct voice, honesty, and fearlessness.
It makes sense that a person whose writing is humorous is also funny in person. For example, Michael Perry, Anne Lamott, and David Sedaris are hilarious on the page as well as when they speak. The key is they write like they speak, capturing the cadence, timing, language, and sensibility that is uniquely their own. A writer with a distinct voice shows up fully as him- or herself on the page. This is a must in all good writing, but it is vital in humor writing.
Writing that causes readers to guffaw is honest. It tells the truth as the writer sees it, and is oftentimes factually true, yet is conveyed without judgment or bias. The fact just is, and this honesty adds vitality and integrity to the story. For example, Michael Perry writes about a cross-eyed butcher, a true fact about a real person. You laughed out loud just thinking about it, right? I do every time!
Humor writers bravely go where most people fear to tread, saying and admitting to things that most of us reveal only to our therapists who are paid and bound by law to keep our secrets. Yet humor writers bare all for all the world to see. Their vulnerability and integrity make them highly relatable, and their bold fearlessness makes us laugh from shock, recognition, and awe.
If you are one who leaves people in stitches, you can on the page as well. Learn how from the master, Michael Perry, who will be the keynote speaker at the Wisconsin Writers Association Fall Conference and will also participate in a panel discussion called “You Write Funny” on October 3.