In an age where content mills churn out keyword-stuffed drivel, and anyone with a computer and half the HTML-coding skills of a chimp can call themselves a copywriter, it’s tough to stand out.
Now, you’d think it would be easy to rise above the half-chimps and the mad hordes cranking out blog posts with nine instances of the phrase “fresh beet juice Atlanta.” Surprisingly, though, it isn’t. The sheer amount of chaff on the interwebz makes the wheat hard to find, even when it’s well written.
One thing most people don’t miss, though, is humor. Learning to use it well isn’t a cinch, but it’s not hard, either. Like everything else in life, “funny” is simply a formula that plays on our brainboxes in a certain way. Even if you consider yourself the Unfunniest of All, you can turn that around today with a few tricks. To wit:
Man’s car swerves off the road in front of his home. Wife runs to man with arms outstretched, shouting, “Oh my goodness, I was so worried!” Man opens his arms in relief, ready to embrace his wife. Woman throws herself on car fender and sobs. “It’s a classic!” she says. “How could you?”
This story, while kind of depressing and reminiscent of a 60s sitcom, illustrates one of the classic tropes of humor: If we don’t see it coming, we think it’s funny. Set up an obvious expectation and subvert it, and people are bound to be entertained. Period.
When you read an email, you want to know it’s not written by a robot. Unless you really like robots, which I do. Because they’re amazing and if we befriend them, then at least some of them will be on our side when the evil robots rise up. Anyway … email.
See what happened there? The start and stop is an effective conversational (and converting) technique because it’s what friends do. They talk. They go down rabbit trails. They come back to the starting point. You can now continue your real point, which is presumably about email (or robots), with reasonable assurance that you have your reader’s attention.
I trade on having a quirky sense of humor, so it’s important that my well never run dry. That’s why I cultivate a humor library of resources to which I can turn when I feel uninspired. I love, for instance, The Onion’s Instagram feed, and turn to it often. If you don’t know where to start, try this list of Twitter accounts.
I! Love! Zombies! I love them so much! Also they really scare me! But because I am so enthusiastic about zombies on any level, I can always find a way to work them into conversation. Need a minute? Grab a zombie! Whether you’re using literary zombies to make a point about copywriting, reflect on the current state of the union or just scare some peeps into reading beyond your email’s subject line, it works, and it’s random enough to be funny.
I’m not saying shock value is the way to go. What I am saying is that when you talk about things that fire you up, your passion and humor shine through. If you love something enough, anything can be cool.
Even LARPing. Ur welcome.
Cats don’t have hairdos. Robots don’t fall in love with toasters. Savage aliens don’t have a soft spot for ratatouille. Unless they do and it’s hilarious. Your randomness should have at least something to do with what you’re writing, but honestly, not much. We’re just people, and we like to laugh about weird schtuffs. Every once in a while, throw in a one-of-these-things-is-not-like-the-others joke and you’ll win both affection and readership.
Can’t come up with anything? Oh, you haven’t tried the local community center, my friend. If you want to beat writer’s block and generate a joke journal a mile long, try signing up for a random class somewhere. Anywhere. Right now. Run, don’t walk.
Your teacher didn’t tell you not to use double negatives in school because she thought you wouldn’t be unable to fail to make people laugh with them.
… she told you not to use them because they’re confusing as all get-out. Nevertheless, the occasional double negative is surprisingly funny, and it offers more room for comedy. Try writing out your point, then flipping it around by turning the positive statement into two contrasting negatives with a cherry on top. Case in point: I genuinely think writing is hard, but that’s more humorously stated as I won’t bother to tell you writing isn’t hard, because that would make me a big, fat, Chairman Mao-sized liar.
(P.S. Just so we’re clear … writing really is hard.)
… especially when they’re doing human things. And just like that, we’re back to cats with hairdos. It is never not amusing (see what I did there?) to talk about llamas, sloths, dodo birds and those jungly animals with the enormous eyes. Tarsiers? Possibly tarsiers.
Also: pufferfish. Oh, pufferfish, you poisonous little jerks. You’re hilarious.
It’s always smart to look for material in your own life. Truth is stranger than fiction, and real is funnier than invented. That one time I shaved my cat in high school (true) is bound to be funnier than the time an iguana swashbuckled in my backyard (not true, although now I’m not sure this isn’t the funnier scenario).
Also, the mundanities of everyday life tend to speak to your audience better than high-falutin’ inspirational hooey. Although the occasional visionary-ness can be nice, it’s better to keep your feet on the ground. Or in the hot garbage juice, as my feet were that one time I accidentally tossed my iPod into a dumpster.
Don’t expect to be Louis CK-funny all at once. (Side note: It took him forever, too.) Instead, diligently work to lighten your tone, insert a gag or two, and – most importantly – talk to your readers like they’re people. Because people? People like jokes.
… Also cake. We looooove cake.
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