© 2009 James Watkins
The secret to writing humor is to look at life from a perspective of about 17 degrees off center.
So, I find myself asking “what if” questions:
What if it were bigger? smaller?
What if it were a different color? shape?
What if it were upside down? inside out?
What if it were younger? older?
What if it were faster? slower?
What if it were lighter? heavier?
What if it visible? invisible?
What if it were edible? inedible?
What if it were easy? hard?
What if it were animate? inanimate?
What if it were movable? immovable?
What if it could talk? were mute?
What if it were male? female? asexual?
What if it were evil? righteous?
What if it were the exact opposite?
What if it ran in reverse?
What if it were used for something other than its intended usage?
What if it came with instructions? without instructions?
What if it were high tech? low tech?
What if the government took it over?
What if it were regulated? unregulated?
What if it were free? sold?
What if it were taken to the extreme?
What if it were made into a TV show? a song?
What if it were combined with X?
What if it had never been invented?
What if it were in the future? in the past?
For instance, one of my favorite columns looks at the politically-correct “tolerance” mantra from the perspective of medicine (“I brake for bacteria!” “Save the salmonella!”) and brake repair (“I don’t like to use the words ‘safe’ or ‘unsafe’ when it comes to brake shoes. I prefer to think of them having mechanical diversity.”) I don’t even want to think of tolerant airline pilots or nuclear power plant operators! (http://www.jameswatkins.com/intolerance.htm)
Another favorite strategy is combing two dissimilar things. For instance, what if the government decided to “bail out” struggling churches? What if presidential primaries were conducted as a reality game show?
Finally, simply report the facts. Bill Cosby explains his success, first at stand-up and then with the phenomenal Cosby Show. “My one rule is to be true rather than funny.” George Bernard Shaw would have agreed: “My way of joking is to tell the truth. It is the funniest joke in the world.” And where did humorist Will Rogers find his material? “I don’t make jokes. I just watch the government and report the facts.”
An acquisitions editor for Wesleyan Publishing, James Watkins has authored 15 books and over 2000 articles. He is also a popular conference speaker, editorial advisor for ACW Press, and instructor at Taylor University. For more on writing humor, read Jim’s Writing with Banana Peels: Principles, Practices, and Pratfalls of Writing Humor.