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How to Use Humor with Serious Topics

How to Use Humor When Writing About Serious Topics

Humor is an inescapable part of human life … or at least it should be. We’ve all heard the phrases:

You laugh or you cry. 

Gallows humor.

We who think we are about to die will laugh at anything.

Well, actually, you probably haven’t heard that last one. But it’s the best, right? So dark and moody and true. Thanks, Terry Pratchett, for making our worst nightmares just a little bit better.Point being: humor is a necessary crutch. Especially when you’re covering rough topics or giving voice to people’s darkest fears, it’s necessary to both treat the issue with respect and lighten the mood so you don’t unintentionally cause more deaths than you were even discussing in the first place.

It’s … tricky.

The topic needn’t be do-or-die, either. Sometimes you’re just writing about something that’s drier than my knees in the summer.

TMI? Sorry.

At the end of the day, though, humor is one thing that connects all of us, and you can’t afford to lose out on its benefits. Nothing will get people on your side faster than making them laugh.

So how do you do it, while staying within the bounds of what’s normal and proprietary? Or at least … not too far outside them? Excellent point, fair sir or maiden. Let’s discuss.

Think About Your Own Personal Style of Humor

This may seem obvious, but often isn’t. (For a brief primer, you can check out the Free Resource Library, which has several great downloads treating just this subject, as well as a guide to finding your own voice the quick-and-dirty way. Sign up below.)

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When you’re interjecting humor into something serious, make sure you don’t try to make the subject itself funny. That can be insensitive and often just denigrates the subject matter. For instance, if you’re writing about colon cancer, don’t joke about the cancer, because cancer is devastating and on its own, not at all a laughing matter. However, you can tell a funny story about yourself or someone you know who had an experience with colon cancer. Anecdotes are a great way to make something funny without discounting the seriousness of it, and to get a point across at the same time.

Make Fun of Yourself

This is always my go-to humor when I can’t think of anything else that will work to lighten the mood of a piece. No one does this better than Conan O’Brien, so if you’re iffy about it, check out some YouTube clips of his. This kind of humor is also a great tool to make you relatable to your audience. Oftentimes your reader will see themselves in the jokes you make about yourself, and if not, they’ll get a good laugh at your expense.

Just like my mother-in-law, but that’s a whole other story.

Or therapy session.

Toss Off Those One-Liners!

Lastly, one-liners are a great way to distract from the seriousness of the topic, and I use them with reckless abandon. See the first 10 paragraphs of pretty much anything I’ve ever written in my entire life. (Don’t worry, I’m in One Liners Anonymous already.)

You need to make sure you don’t use them too often, though, and that they aren’t taking away from the real point of the piece. Use them too recklessly and suddenly the reader knows more about the time I accidently rode someone’s German Shepherd down the street than they know about canine dental hygiene. If the former was your point, well, great … but it usually isn’t.

Done well, though, one-liners can be the swift kick in the pants that your work needs to punch things up and keep readers from falling asleep or, worse, clicking onward to something new.

In the end, the name of the game is subtlety. When it comes to humor in a serious piece, less is often more.

And, as in all things, just don’t be a dick. That one goes a long way.

Want to know more about writing funny thingz? Check out the Free Resource Library, which has several great downloads to get you where you need to be, as well as a guide to finding your own voice the quick-and-dirty way. Not that dirty, though. Just kinda dirty. It all starts by clickin’ that there little image.

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