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Editorial Reviews. About the Author. Mark A Shatz is a professor of psychology at Ohio Comedy Writing Secrets: The Best-Selling Guide to Writing Funny and.
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I'd put this book on the list, with the works of Ring Lardner, SJ Perelman, comic biographies like Woody Allen and humor theory, and then I'd beat with a rubber chicken any writer who thinks they're funny but doesn't want to bother with the craft of humor. It's beyond corny, I know. Melvin wanted to emphazise that--if you ever consider being a humor writer--physical humor is underrated. An overabundance of physical humor is annoying. No doubt about it. But see any Rowan Atkinson's sketch and try to rewrite it without using physical humor. It's like sending an NBA player to score a triple-double after amputating his left leg.

What we should do, as a writer, is learn what make us laugh. And then use it to our Six words: And then use it to our advantage in writing. The rest is practice. And a helluva lot of rewrites.

Although intended for comedy writers, it rather gives off the impression of being a joke book with some thoughts as to how the jokes are constructed. Special attention is payed to the rule of threes and of course the Christian trinity and other biblical examples are brought out as proof of it's efficiacy. The introduction warns the reader that reading Although intended for comedy writers, it rather gives off the impression of being a joke book with some thoughts as to how the jokes are constructed.

The introduction warns the reader that reading this book may bring about a loss of "magic" in comedy, and indeed immediately afterward I did feel this effect. Oct 26, Truthcansuck Goring rated it really liked it Recommends it for: This is a great primer on the construction of humour. A little quote heavy, and yes it does read like a textbook at times, but it pays off with actual information which is rarer than you would think in most books on comedy on the process of using words to elicit laughs.

Jun 08, Jaime Buckley rated it really liked it. Thus far I'm enjoying the process--purchased to assist in developing some key characters in my writing, this has given me a new perspective and understanding of how comedy works. It's better to take a nihilistic attitude toward sensitive subjects than to pussyfoot around taboos.

The Hidden Sitcom Formula

When writing, write freely. Editing and self-censorship are second and third steps—never the first! Was it a joke? In many ways, humor satisfies this most basic of needs. The first is to accomplish exemplary work that receives public acclaim. The second and easiest way to feel superior is to publicly criticize the accomplishments of others. The what is the target, and the why is the hostility, realism, exaggeration, emotion, and surprise contained in the humor. You may be the fool, but you're the fool in charge. A long list of such topics includes fear of death; coping with deformity; deprivations; and neurotic symptoms such as paranoia, insecurity, narcissism, and kinky sexual urges.

When we all think alike, there will be a lot less humor. Hey, it's only a joke. Therefore, the audience laughs at The Recipe for Humor 53 exaggerated banana-peel acrobatics because the clown will certainly get up.


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If he doesn't get up, that's tragedy! The personality, the character—not the joke—is primary. The first and most common technique for building emotion is also the simplest—pausing just before the payoff word. This pause is called a pregnant pause because it promises to deliver.

Association is a more formal word for teaming, humor's variation on metaphor. You combine two simple elements that are logical alone but impossible together. The humor comes from the unexpected, offbeat relationship. This technique is the backbone of improvisation. I call Herb's salary a phallic symbol even though it only rises once a year.

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Make every word work. Create the last line—the punchline first. One key method of creating surprise is associat- ing two dissimilar things. Put down the pen and start talking out loud. Use a voice recorder to capture ideas, which may come faster than you can write. Albert Einstein recognized that the mind's visual powers greatly exceed its verbal abilities, and he used visu- alization to discover many of his famous theories. Whenever you need to kick-start your imagination, close your eyes and let your mind create a mental movie of you telling jokes to a receptive audience.

Remember that a good joke: To maintain the element of surprise, the writer must drop at least one prominent clue to mislead the audience, to push the audience in a false direction. You can start with a built- in antonym pairing: Your first effort might read something like this. A pessimist curses fate; an optimist looks for benefits from every decision. The challenge for comedy writers is to avoid general, abstract phrases and use concrete descriptions that stimulate the senses. Rewrite each of the following phrases using specificity.

Replace general words or phrases in your previous jokes with specific, graphic descriptions. When you record everyday events in your humor diary, use the most vivid, colorful, and graphic descriptions. To the trained ear, it's predictable because it's structured. Nowhere is this structure more evident than in the interaction of realism and exaggeration, two of the six ingredients in the THREES formula target, hostility, realism, exaggeration, emotion, surprise.

The third line is the surprise twist—logically related to the first two lines, but unexpected and exaggerated. Realism is the setup, while exaggeration is the joke. The three factors form a memorable acronym, TEE. A solid premise will TEE-up a joke by containing the following elements. The most effective humor is reality-based, genuine, and true. If a setup is exaggerated, insincere, or untrue, then you lose the ability to bend reality to produce the surprise punchline. A solid setup includes a factual statement, opinion, or observation with a stated or implied emotion. The emotion is usually anger or hostility driven by the stupidity, absurdity, or weirdness of the premise.

An effective premise is specific and readily understood by others.

See a Problem?

In other circumstances, unmitigated exaggeration would be castigated as lying. In humor, clever exaggeration guarantees laughter. Research indicates that babies associate the sound with comfort and joy. The speaker should circulate quickly and not stay in any one place for too long.

The object is to make friends, since we laugh more easily with friends. Better fifty standers than fifty empty seats. Also, the smaller the room, the better laughter sounds. Humor is a powerful means of communication in advertising, speeches, newsletters, sales meetings, fund-raising efforts, business publications, Web sites, and even voice mail. And corporations are hungry to find people who have the ability to use humor as a persuasive tool. Form behind funny I learned different ways to look at life and how to perform it with maximum impact.


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Great education in writing comedy every day. Mar 15, Robert rated it it was amazing. It's so densely wonderful and useful. I use it in the online course I designed and teach for Antioch University: It covers all the bases and is marvelously thorough. It includes prompts and exercises.

How to be funny: the 6 essential ingredients to humor

If you're already a professional comedy writer it will make you better; if you're a novice you'll be cracking people up on a regular basis after studying this wonderful book--which, I might add, was originally written by the mighty Mel Helitzer and revised and updated by the very talented Mark Shatz. I can now say that I have officially finished reading this book and it was a pleasure Definitely can see myself picking it up again. Oct 18, Forest Tong rated it it was ok. I thought this book was decent until I got to the "Why We Laugh" chapter, and then it all unwound. The theory Helitzer presents is that we laugh either out of surprise or out of superiority.

I tried hard to give his theory a fair chance, but I simply disagreed with almost everything he said on the topic. Surprise, yes, is a big component of humor; but I don't think it's close to an adequate explanation, and I don't think superiority is related to humor at all.

Perhaps it's just me personally, but I thought this book was decent until I got to the "Why We Laugh" chapter, and then it all unwound. We are delighted by the solution to the puzzle sur-prise , and we want the world to know we're very smart superiority ," I utterly fail to relate.

Who laughs out loud after solving a crossword puzzle to let the world know they're smart? Instead, I believe absurdity is much more key to understanding humor, and Helitzer doesn't even mention it. What does it say is the best method for how to be funny? It's an acronym for the six essential elements that are found in everything from good one-liners to funny anecdotes to full comedy sets:. Humor is criticism cloaked as entertainment and directed at a specific target… A humor target can be almost anything or anybody, but you need to be sure you've focused on the right target for your particular audience… Humor is an attempt to challenge the status quo, but targeting must reaffirm the audience's hostilities and prejudices… Successful humorists select targets with universal appeal.

Humor is a powerful antidote to many of the hostile feelings in our daily lives. All of us have hostility toward some target… Comedy is cruel …some common sources of hostility and therefore humor: Lewis Black, the king of comic hostility, unleashes a torrent of anger regarding the milk section of the supermarket around 3 minutes, 16 seconds in:. Without some fundamental basis of truth, there's little with which the audience can associate. Louis CK is quite harsh — but hysterical — when talking about his daughter 1 minute, 29 seconds in.

Comedy Writing Secrets: Triple the Funny

How does realism relate to exaggeration? As we accept poetic license, let's accept a humor license that grants permission to expand on realistic themes with soaring imagination and unabashed metaphors… [ Comedy Writing Secrets ]. For many, history can be dry but he exaggerates and dramatizes key moments to lighten the subject matter:. There must be a buildup of anticipation in the audience. This is really nothing more than the writer's skill in using emotion to produce tension and anxiety.

Think of hostility as an inflated balloon. When you create tension in your audience, you are effectively adding more and more air to that balloon, building the audience's anticipation over when the balloon will burst. It's no wonder then that it's also one of the primary building blocks for a successful joke… " Comedy is mentally pulling the rug out from under each person in your audience ," wrote Gene Perret. You have to fool them , because if they see you preparing to tug on the rug, they'll move. Jerry Stahl tells the story of how he managed to break his addiction to heroin… by switching to crack:.

More on how humor works here. More on how humor can improve your life here. My friend Andrew Goldberg, a staff writer on Family Guy , gave a number of comedy tips in my interview with him.