The Psychology of Using Humor in Your Writing: A Subtle and Delicate Persuasion Technique

The Psychology of Using Humor in Your Writing: A Subtle and Delicate Persuasion Technique

You already know that humor writing is a powerful persuasive technique, but the question is: Why is it so persuasive, and how can you put it to work for you?

Good question, self! Lets talk about that!

My best friend and I have used a particular expression to describe tough situations ever since we were 14: You laugh or you cry.

Usually, this is itself said with a trace of humor, although sometimes (more often than Id like to admit), it is said through tears.

* Pause while you send heartfelt tele-hug to Younger Sarah *

* Hug received *

Okay, we may continue.

This well-known human tendency to respond to incredibly sucky, confusing or embarrassing situations with a laugh is proof enough of what Im about to spend this post talking about: One of the main reasons humor is such a good persuasive technique is that it helps us deal with all the lame, negative crap in everyday life.

Why Is Humor a Good Persuasive Technique?

Negative situations surround us. Someone is always getting hurt, hurting someone, losing a beloved, watching a dream shatter, getting diagnosed with something horrible, going hungry, suffering from bad self-esteem, watching their child self-destruct, etc. etc.

It sucks. Even a good day can turn sucky if someone slings one wrong word your way or you discover those favorite pants arent quite buttoning like they used to. Because lets be honest, the human mind is a cesspool of self-doubt just waiting to be wronged.

That injects a lot of strife into life. Humor helps to salve the wound.

And studies show that humor does indeed make a message more effective. Cartoons are a little bit funny, wisecracks are pretty funny, and self-deprecating humor is funniest of all.

To me, it speaks volumes that the most effective type of humor is the one that relies on acknowledging the suck that is inherent in you as a person. Caution, though: You have to know your audience.

Know What Counts as Funny for Your Audience

Lets use the heavily polarizing example of dead baby jokes, on which I dont take a stand.

Heres the thing: Dead baby jokes are sad. Incredibly sad, because, dead babies. However, they also carry an absurdist appeal to a lot of people, because they generally involve dead babies being put in situations that dont actually happen (Google if you need examples), subverting our expectations and making people laugh. Morbidly.

I know a lot of people are flat-out against dead baby jokes. That movement is particularly strong in the miscarriage community, and I see why.

However, I also have a close friend who underwent a medically necessary abortion in her fifth month of pregnancy, and she makes dead baby jokes all the time. Because thats how she chooses to cope.

You laugh or you cry.

Again, not everyone likes dead baby jokes. But it makes some people – even the most deeply, deeply wounded – feel better to laugh at what hurts most. Now, Im not advocating that you throw peoples deepest hurts around, because you will soon lose your audience. However, putting a cheeky spin on things that suck pretty badly is a good way to draw an audience to you as well.

The point here is that you need to know what counts as funny for your audience and use that to make them feel better about what isnt funny. If you can figure that out, your message will be heard.

Making Someone Feel Better Is a Powerful Persuasive Technique

Direct marketing is all about getting someone to think of you as the answer. Its predicated on a pretty simple question, really: I have something I want, I dont know how to get it and its making me feel bad can you help me?

You want to answer that with an unequivocal YES. Obviously, you need to know a lot about that persons situation, thats key. But you also need to know how to make them feel better.

Fo reelz.

So I like to think of humor as a persuasive technique that says Hey, were all in this together. I kind of suck, you kind of suck, we all kind of suck in a really good way! Like, mostly were great but sometimes were not! And thats kind of cool, right? RIGHT?

To wit, some types of humor rely more strongly on people, such as:

  • Self-deprecating humor: Im lame and its funny.
  • Gentle poking humor: Youre lame and its funny.
  • Connection-building humor: Those people are lame and its funny.
  • Community-building humor: Were all lame and its funny.
  • Pop culture humor: Our president is lame and its funny (although getting WAY less funny all the time, to be frank).

Oher types of humor dont rely on people, per se, but on the ways in which we perceive the world around us. Examples include:

  • Word play humor: Were/theyre using words wrong and its funny.
  • Subverted expectations humor: Im pretending a cat is going to the opera and its funny.
  • Gallows humor: Shit sucks for them/us and its funny.
  • Sex humor: People, like, totally do it and its funny.

I dont want to give the impression that all humor is making fun of someone because it isnt. But at the end of the day, there is a butt of all jokes, even if the butt is just a fancypants opera-going cat; the trick is finding and exploiting the butt without hurting anyones feelings.

No matter what type of humor you use, though, its an excellent technique to band people together under the banner of We choose to laugh about this if we can.

Why Should You Use Humor as a Persuasive Technique Today?

Bottom line: Humor works. It works better than non-humor. It works on people who like to think, and it works on people who dont (i.e. it works whether you have a low or high need for cognition). It is unifying. Its possibly That Thing Einstein Was Looking For.

but probably not.

The point is, if you want to rock as a copywriter, humor is key. Luckily for you, the Free Resource Library is absolutely crammed with funny-fying resources, so go ahead and sign up by clicking that pretty image below. Its time to become the writer of your dreams, and it could be just one joke away, so dont wait!

And if that little pitch didnt work, well, what can I say. I guess I just kind of suck. (See what I did there?)

Click here to subscribe

looking for something else?

Here are some of our most popular pages and resources

digital marketing & content creation


join the tribe
& start writing!

read the latest
on the blog

want to write well, connect on insta,
and build an amazing audience for life?

get the 30-day email course for expert writing and blogging tips!