Humor, in my opinion, is the hardest genre to write.
Why? Humor is totally subjective. What I find funny might be offensive to one person and boring to the next. But there are some tricks long used by comedians and skilled humor writers to jab at our collective funny bones.
Let’s break down one of my favorite pieces of humor writing. No, it’s not from a major magazine.
It’s an Amazon review.
You might have seen the Kleenex multi pack review floating around Facebook or elsewhere. I thought it was real at first, and after I finished laughing so hard I was crying, I was a bit sad to find out the whole thing was written by James O. Thach. I found it so stinking funny I wanted to believe. Now that’s some talent.
Let’s start with the title. From start to finish, James O. Thach has crafted a true gem, a little piece of structural brilliance.
The title is “A mother’s struggle.”
Immediately, I know who the author is (even though it’s not). But I’m ready to believe it’s mom.
And there’s her conflict. Right there in the title. A mother’s struggle.
Dang, this thing is brilliant.
And the solution is the product she’s reviewing. The 36 pack of Kleenex. It’s the marketing formula.
36 pack of Kleenex.
Now we have to stick around to know why this mom is so glad to have Kleenex in her life.
Mom has three reasons, and she names her three boys.
Did you catch that? She even gives them names. Names make a reader care.
We totally relate to this family. And you know Hank is the worst. Any boy named Hank is just jerking off non-stop. But they’re the All American Family and now we feel like we know them.
Humor uses a little trick called the rule of three.
Basically, the third time something is mentioned, humor goes sideways into the unexpected. We are hardwired to find this little surprise amusing. It’s like our inner toddler sits up, claps his chubby, spaghetti covered hands and flips the whole high chair over backward. We can’t help it. We laugh our little patooties off.
Here’s the rule of three:
First the Kleenex. Then the toilet paper. Then they go for the fabrics.
On the third one, she goes sideways with it. The first two are expected. But on “fabric,” we sit up and pay attention again.
The third paragraph ups the stakes. Mom’s in survival mode.
Humor uses hyperbole and then follows with understatement.
The difference in the two makes us laugh again. Theater of the absurd.
Hyperbole and then understatement here: She nearly cut her hand on a sock but … a woman has to be practical.
We’re laughing again.
Rule of three again. 45-minute showers. The sudden need for privacy and then … journalling?
Then the hyperbole and understatement again.
She’s knocking on walls. Just trying to get through this.
The ending is perfection. It circles right back around to the beginning. Hits “mother’s struggle” again. The husband is watching her unload the car. She’s beleaguered.
A little product placement tossed in for good measure as mom unloads her 36 pack of Kleenex.
And a zippy little finish as she gets finally gets the satisfaction of nearly knocking dad out of his chair for being so clueless.