7 Simple Tricks to Add Humor to Your Writing (without offending anyone)

image courtesy: meetmrholland.wordpress.com

You know that feeling when you’ve read a funny piece of writing — you smile and perhaps even laugh. You might share what you’ve read with someone else or refer to it in conversations with others.

Recently I read Scott Adam’s book How to Fail at Almost Everything and Still Win Big. Scott Adams is the creator of the uber popular Dilbert comic strip. The book is packed with Scott’s philosophies on how to succeed despite many failures. And while it’s not intended as a humor book, it has its funny moments. One paragraph in particular had me laugh so hard, my millennial daughter looked up from her cell phone.

I want to write like Scott. And you?

So, I’ve been studying humor in various capacities for half a dozen years (more if you count years of sitcom, romantic comedy, and Pixar animated film watching). I wanted to know what the tricks are to make writing funny.

One of my mentors, travel humor writer Dave Fox, says “Humor isn’t a gift handed down by the gods. It’s a skill anyone can learn.” I trust Dave. He makes me laugh. Dave taught me about storytelling and the importance of editing to get to the punch fast. Dave has a set of twelve humor writing techniques he teaches. A few of those techniques I call simple tricks. Simple tricks #1 and #2 are literary devices I’ve picked up from reading and analyzing what’s funny.

But before we get into the tricks, it’s important to review a few humor rules.

Better safe than sued

Using humor can feel risky. You don’t want to offend anyone, lose your audience, or be charged with humor harassment. So, here are some points to keep in mind:

Do use

  • Good taste. (If your taste is questionable, get another opinion.)
  • Self-deprecation. You are a safe topic to joke about. Just don’t overdo it or readers might find you pathetic. Poke fun at situations, stereotypes, and relatable habits.
  • A touch of humor. A little goes a long way.
  • Your own brand of humor. Be yourself. Use what makes you laugh. Be original.

Don’t use

  • Sarcasm, putdowns or GROSS* (gender-bashing, racist, obscene, sexual, or swearing) humor. *from CleanComedians.com
  • Too much humor. We’re talking blog posts and articles, not standup routines. Like adding garlic to pasta sauce without a recipe, finding the right humor dose takes practice. (Better to err on the low side while you adjust to your readers’ taste buds.)
  • Humor aimed at other people, your competition, or disadvantages (unless you can speak from experience about the disadvantage, but even then be careful).
  • Forced humor. Don’t try too hard to be funny. And never use other people’s jokes.

Now you have the humor rules, let’s get down to the seven simple tricks.

Trick #1 — Psst

Have you noticed writers who use short messages in parentheses as if they are sharing a secret? Sometimes the writer uses an ellipsis (…) or several dashes (- -) instead of parentheses.

This writing device of sharing a quasi secret with readers is known as an aside. The device is similar to the technique actors use on stage to speak in private with the audience.

Humor writers use asides to poke fun at themselves, state the obvious, exaggerate, make a witty remark, add a tongue-in-cheek comment, or ask a rhetorical question.

Sometimes the writer might use the aside to add a sound effect, like the sound of clearing his throat (ahem), or a whisper (psst).

By making the message of the aside a bit unexpected, you can add a bit of levity to your writing. Because the aside is like sharing a secret, it can also help build a connection with your readers.

Here are some example asides (in bold) I’ve found online and in my inbox:

  • “Which is why a new page on Wikipedia about, say, twerking will automatically get a higher ranking than a page about it on your Auntie Jean’s personal blog (which is a shame because Auntie Jean is one hell of a twerker).” ~Excerpt from a post by Glenn Long
  • “Samar Owais is a freelance writer and blogger. She loves writing (kinda goes without saying), road trips, and helping writers succeed in their freelance writing businesses.” ~ bio from a blog post
  • “I swear (under pain of being whipped by a wet noodle) that I meet all five criteria to receive a scholarship from Jon!” ~ Excerpt from an email offer by Jon Morrow
  • “Pretend You’re Van Gogh (You Can Keep Your Ear) ~ subheading from an Ezine article by the managing editor

Trick #2 — Same sound sequence

Alliteration is a writing technique that uses a series of words that all start with the same sound. The words don’t have to start with the same letter, but they must have the same sound. For example fun and phone are alliterative. Cat and chair aren’t.

Alliteration can give your writing a lyrical sound that makes it funnier.

Consider these two sentences.

  • Fred watched the crowd of attractive women on the beach.
  • Bert ogled the bevy of beautiful babes on the beach.

Okay, maybe you wouldn’t write that last sentence, but it does sound funnier than the first one. Yes?

Alliteration is a fun way to make your content memorable. I notice writers often use alliteration in names. Severus Snape, Bilbo Baggins, and Fred Flintstone come to mind.

Here’s an example from a post by Kevin Duncan on his blog ‘Be a Better Blogger’, where he pokes fun at his blog name using a bit of wordplay and alliteration. (Kevin’s in depth posts, prolific writing, and sense of humor have made him a popular blogger.)

Gosh… a guest post from this cat would take a lot of time to edit. I’ll just email that Kevin Duncan guy from ‘Be A Bitter Blabber’ and have him write another guest post instead.”

Alliteration also works well when you write a list of items. For example, suppose you are listing a series of names. You might choose names that all start with the same sound, like Charlie, Charlotte, and Chewbacca.

The key is to make sure when you choose your words, your writing makes sense. You don’t want to be alliterative at the expense of clarity.

Trick #3 — Witty words and word tweaks

This trick has to do with the words you choose.

Some words are inherently funnier than others according to humor experts (there’s always an expert). Words that contain the consonants p, b, d, g, t or k (known as plosives for anyone who cares) are funnier.

Some examples of funnier words:

  • brouhaha, pandemonium, or hullabaloo instead of chaos
  • scamper, bustle, or skedaddle instead of hurry
  • hoodwink, dupe, or bamboozle instead of mislead

Make friends with your Thesaurus to find funnier sounding synonyms.

Another way to add humor through word choice is to use specific words. When writing, it’s easy to opt for weak words. And that’s okay when you’re in draft mode. But when you edit your writing, try to replace those unimaginative nouns with more specific ones.

For example if you’re writing about the last experience at your auto repair shop. Describe your car. What type of repair did it need? Discovering your 2003 Ford Focus had loose lug nuts seems funnier than taking your car in for a rattle. (Almost true experience. I don’t drive a Ford Focus, but my car did suffer loose lug nuts.)

Be specific. Unless you’re writing about the Dr. Seuss characters in his book The Cat in the Hat, find a better word than thing (or its relative something).

Trick #4 — Surprise ending

The Rule of Three is a popular humor writing technique based on the setup and punchline formula comedians use to create jokes. You start with two straight items (the setup) and add a third item that is a comedic twist (the punchline). The effect of the twist is a surprise.

We use three items because three is the smallest, and most memorable, number that forms a pattern.

You find series of three everywhere:

  • In titles like Planes, Trains, and Automobiles;
  • in expressions like “lights, camera, action”;
  • and in classic jokes like the Englishman, Irishman, and Canadian.

With this technique, people are expecting a certain pattern. You throw them off track when you break the pattern.

You can use the Rule of Three anywhere:

  • In your bio: John Cleese — “writer, actor, and tall person”
  • In your tagline: Mother Reader — “The heart of a mother. The soul of a reader. The mouth of a smartass.”
  • In a list: The Catcher in the Rye, Wuthering Heights, and Uncle John’s Bathroom Reader

The key to using this trick is to break the pattern with an absurd ending to your list.

You can extend the rule of three to include sentences as your list items. Start with two straight sentences and make sure the last sentence has an element of surprise. To demonstrate, here’s an example from blogger Kevin Duncan…

For four months, I was in limbo. Paychecks stopped being deposited. Savings accounts started dwindling. Ramen noodle consumption skyrocketed.

Trick #5— Gigantic proportions

Exaggeration is one of the most effective ways to add humor. But to be funny, the exaggeration needs to be extreme. You need to create a mismatch between reality and the exaggerated image your words create.

Dave Barry, Miami Herald newspaper columnist and Pulitzer Prize winner for humor writing, is the master of using humorous exaggeration. As an example, here’s a paragraph he wrote to describe men’s concern over their ability to handle laundry. Notice the extreme condition Dave uses to describe shrinking a woman’s bra.

“We worry that if we get just one variable wrong, we will find ourselves facing a wrathful spouse, who is holding up a garment that was once a valued brassiere of normal dimensions, but is now suitable only as a sun hat for a small, two-headed squirrel.” ~ Dave Barry

So when you use exaggeration, stretch it as far as it can go to make it absurd. If you succeed, your readers will enjoy the humor.

Here are some other examples I found online:

  • “About two years into my blogging career, to my surprise and delight, my dream came true. One of my blog posts was tweeted by marketing superstar Guy Kawaski, who has a Twitter following roughly the size of France.” ~ from a post by Mark Schaefer on his blog
  • “But any 30-second ad about generalized “build quality” in barns is likely to suck harder than a Dyson vacuum.” ~ from a post by Brian Clark on Copyblogger
  • “It only got worse after I turned 50, as my metabolism seemed to have taken an early retirement. I now have to jog five miles just to work off a tic-tac I ate in the 90’s. The only things that fit from my earlier years are my earrings.” ~ from a post by Judy Carter on the Psychology Today blog

Trick #6 — Twisted cliché

A cliché is an expression that was once clever but has lost its original impact due to overuse. You can twist a cliche to add humor by adding a surprise ending. Here are some examples from well known personalities:

  • Cliché: Where there’s a will there’s a way. Twisted: “Where there’s a will, there’s a family fighting over it.” — Buzz Nutley
  • Cliché: A fool and his money are soon parted. Twisted: “A fool and his money were lucky to get together in the first place.” — Harry Anderson
  • Cliché: If at first you don’t succeed, try, try again. Twisted: “If at first you don’t succeed, then skydiving isn’t for you.” — Mel Helitzer

Want to make your reader smile? Take a well-known phrase (Google can help you search for clichés) and change the ending to create a humorous twist.

Trick #7 — Déjà vu

Déjà vu is a sense of familiarity or previous experience. Comedians use a callback to make a clever association at the end of their set with a joke made earlier in the set. In a sense, the callback is like a déjà vu for the audience because they are reminded of a funny bit they heard before.

You can use a callback in your writing by referring to a notable point or topic you wrote earlier. Here’s a small example to illustrate:

“The marathon is over and, I must say: I accomplished what I wanted to….

I didn’t die.
I kickstarted my health journey.
I raised money for Ronald McDonald Charities.
I didn’t die.” ~ Excerpt from a Huffington post article by Jennifer Bertrand

In this excerpt, the sentence “I didn’t die” is repeated at the beginning and the end, resulting in a sense of repetition. I find it funny because the author is exaggerating how difficult the marathon was by repeating that line.

The idea of a callback though isn’t to repeat the words verbatim. Instead, you reintroduce the reader to a funny point you made earlier in your writing. The callback is an effective trick to end a piece of writing. For examples, read some of Dave Barry’s work.

What if

Dilbert, Dave Fox, Dave Barry. What if your name doesn’t start with the letter D? Can you still write funny? Yes, even the Dave’s had to start somewhere.

And you don’t have to become a full blown humor writer to add a bit of humor to your writing. You can apply the seven simple tricks I’ve shared to give your blog posts, your emails, or your Dear John (or Jane) letters an element of levity.

Try one or more of these seven simple tricks to lighten up your writing. Follow the guidelines to avoid offending anyone.

Humor gets attention. Humor makes people laugh and feel good. And if it’s done its job, humor makes writing memorable and share worthy.

Let me know if you’ve tried any of these tricks. Which ones do you use? Which ones will you try?

38 Replies to “7 Simple Tricks to Add Humor to Your Writing (without offending anyone)”

  1. Do you have a spam issue on this blog; I also am a blogger, and I was curious about your situation; many of us have created some nice procedures and we are looking to swap solutions with other folks, please shoot me an email if interested.

  2. I do believe all of the ideas you have introduced to your post. They are very convincing and can definitely work. Still, the posts are too short for novices. May just you please prolong them a little from next time? Thanks for the post.

  3. It’s my belief that mesothelioma will be the most deadly cancer. It’s got unusual attributes. The more I actually look at it a lot more I am persuaded it does not work like a real solid human cancer. If perhaps mesothelioma is often a rogue viral infection, then there is the probability of developing a vaccine and offering vaccination for asbestos exposed people who are vulnerable to high risk with developing future asbestos associated malignancies. Thanks for expressing your ideas on this important health issue.

  4. I nearly in no way comment on weblogs, but I have to say, I enjoy studying about this tropic. Hope you will hold up the very good operate. I will for certain be back again once again

  5. Definitely believe that which you stated. Your favorite reason seemed to
    be on the internet the simplest thing to be aware of. I say to you, I certainly get irked while people think about worries that they
    plainly don’t know about. You managed to hit the nail upon the top
    and also defined out the whole thing without having side-effects , people can take a signal.

    Will likely be back to get more. Thanks

  6. If you are seeking for the top service to get website visitors to your web page, i advise to use seowebsitetrafficnet. I am using it with a great result. Simply just type seowebsitetrafficnet in google, yahoo and bing.

  7. I like your website, it has awesome content. If you want to use seo tools like majesticseo ,semrush guru, ahrefs , moz, keyword revealer, grammarly, wordai, article forge and Article Builder. You can use the group buy seo tools to get them just for a fraction of the cost. I hope this will help you…

  8. Great – I should definitely pronounce, impressed with your site. I had no trouble navigating through all tabs as well as related info ended up being truly simple to do to access. I recently found what I hoped for before you know it in the least. Reasonably unusual. Is likely to appreciate it for those who add forums or anything, site theme . a tones way for your customer to communicate. Excellent task.

  9. After reading your blog post, I browsed your website a bit and noticed you aren’t ranking nearly as well in Google as you could be. I possess a handful of blogs myself, and I think you should take a look at “groupbuyseotoolsinfo”, just google it. You’ll find it’s a very lovely wordpress SEO tools that can bring you a lot more visitors and improve your ranking. Keep up the quality posts

  10. If you are seeking for the top service to get website visitors to your web page, i advise to use seowebsitetrafficnet. I am using it with a great result. Simply just type seowebsitetrafficnet in google.

  11. Hi there, You have done a great job. I will certainly digg it and personally suggest to my friends. I’m sure they’ll be benefited from this site.

  12. Lalu ada Will, yang bermata biru, dengan kejenakaan tajamnya dan suasana hatinya yang cepat berubah-ubah membuat semua orang menjaga jarak..Suspenseful, terrifying, full of strong characters one can easily relate to and sympathize wit.Peters shows a man who has forgotten why is fighting, but continues because he “enjoys” it and is extremely good at it.The 50th Pa shows the struggle the union with mid-level commander.The summer reading selection for the school where I work, this book examines (lightly) the teaching of morality in schools, and how parents can be unintentionally a part of the proble.Susan CooperSusan Cooper’s latest book is the YA novel “Ghost Hawk” (2013)Susan Cooper was born in 1935, and grew up in England’s Buckinghamshire, an area that was green countryside then but has since become part of Greater Londo. [url=http://www.fat.cricketinfoonline.com/pdf-3627-350-essential_mathematics_glossary_2.pdf]Essential Mathematics Glossary 2[/url] Thus, I am taking statements like “the only economics book you need to read” with a grain of sal.There was also a portion of the story that had me guessing what would happen next and it ended up turning different than I’d have ever thought making for a very exciting read! I’d highly recommend this book, as well as the whole series to all young ladies!~This review is to be published on my my ministry blog in August for my monthly book review post.~noneAnne’s own true love, Gilbert Blythe, is finally a doctor, and in the sunshine of the old orchard, among their dearest friends, they are about the speak their vow. [url=http://www.astrology.berkeleyorganics.com/pdf-2328-164-data_mining_and_business_intelligence.pdf]Data mining and business intelligence[/url] Because this is the first of Neil White’s I’ve read I’ve rounded up, also because in several ways it was a more than OK book insofar as he has the enviable ability to construct multi-twisting plot.NOT about her time at Bennington, NOT really about being an innocent among the wilds, more about her mentor at the Academy of American Poets, Betty Kray.Which is fine, but it was NOT SOLD AS A BOOK ABOUT THAT. [url=http://www.astronomy.cricutforbusiness.com/pdf-3820-471-the_history_and_antiquities_of_the_exchequer_of_the_kings_of_england_in_two_periods_volume_.pdf]Some of the information was informative[/url] Ia jatuh cinta dengan Atik–yang sayangnya, menjadi sekretaris Sutan Syahrir, yang tentu saja mendampakan kemerdekaan Republik Indonesi.I’m anxiously awaiting the next book considering how his one ended with the. [url=http://www.spiritualism.ecomdreams.com/pdf-3739-23-downside_the_history_of_st_gregory_s_school_from_its_commencement_at_douay_to_the_present_.pdf]-I must add, Steampunk-Alternate History with[/url] I really hope both Dusty’s brothers and Andrew will all get there own stor.And the fact that the perpetrator is finally exposed, definitely has you cheering at the en. [url=http://www.holocaust.benjaminelbaz.com/pdf-2691-240-parenthood_in_america.pdf]Parenthood in America[/url] I mourned right alongside him for the life that he once pictured for himself, but was no longer in his gras.But really, the adventure, the story and the lovely writing was the focus of this stor. [url=http://www.futuristic-romance.chicanapride.com/pdf-2360-272-automata_networks.pdf]It is a discussion of these[/url] It wasn’t the best book I’ve read, but if you’re interested in learning more about women’s lives at this time, I do recommend i.I can’t go into this without spoiling the novel, but I didn’t really like how anti-climatic the whole thing was and how this sort of antagonist wouldn’t really end the book in a way that was satisfactor. [url=http://www.mermaids.cricutforbusiness.com/pdf-2022-51-search_for_last_chance.pdf]Search for last chance[/url] Once again, Lady Antonia sees sex as a remedy for unhappiness, on par with the consolations of faith and religion at the hour of death.I must admit, there is more proof that the queen had an innocent, girlish infatuation with her dear friend Madame de Polignac, than there is that she had any deep feelings for Count Ferse.How else do you take control of the situation if you do not take responsibility? Then there is Jud. [url=http://www.near-future.berkeleyorganics.com/pdf-2283-110-instant_film_photography.pdf]Instant film photography[/url] Those Who Seek Forgiveness is set in the Anitaverse, right before Guilty Pleasure.After three animals are introduced, there is a summary page to review all of the shapes named in that sectio. [url=http://www.theosophy.dandenongfamilylawyers.net/pdf-3890-91-business_knigge_fr_den_orient.pdf]Business-Knigge fr den Orient[/url] In 1968, Beard and Kenney wrote the successful parody Bored of the Rings.In 1969, Beard, Kenney and Rob Hoffman became the founding editors of the National Lampoon, which reached a monthly circulation of over 830,000 in 1974 (and the October issue of that year topped a million sales)My favorite style of racing is drifing as it’s the only style that I still have challenges wit. [url=http://www.holocaust.benjaminelbaz.com/pdf-3699-99-a_short_history_of_the_us_working_class_from_colonial_times_to_the_twenty_first_century.pdf]A Short History of the US Working Class: From Colonial Times to the Twenty-first Century[/url] I love that she always seems to find herself smack in the middle of trouble, with non-stop entertainment and unexpected discoveries to follow! She is a character who is painted with strokes of realism, complete with flaws but also with much to inspir.While this added to the killer’s amusement, it didn’t do much for the stor. [url=http://www.m-m-romance.dandenongfamilylawyers.net/pdf-3025-260-mixture_models.pdf](Although, you should re-read Henry James’[/url] The force of the impact shockwave would have been disastrous by itself, vaporizing everything in a wide radius…but the widespread ecological disruption and climate change which followed doomed the survivors, especially those who were adapted for certain ecological niche.I’m curious to see what happens with some of the side characters, especially Saari and Olive. [url=http://www.futuristic-romance.chicanapride.com/pdf-2618-162-changing_supervisor_behavior.pdf]She has Peter, who she loves[/url] When she goes to live in the house she inherited, she meets a man from her past, Jonathan Albrighton who is a tenant ther.Wouldn’t mind seeing this story on screen.I also read L’Amour’s ‘Brionne’ at the same tim.They are developing trust, exploring their environment, and learning to try new thing.She hides out in Alaska, where she meets a new best friend and a love interest, while growing up a bi.At 22 she has graduated from college and moves to New York with her girlfriend Thea where they work on a script and try to make a movi.]

  13. After reading your blog post, I browsed your website a bit and noticed you aren’t ranking nearly as well in Google as you could be. I possess a handful of blogs myself, and I think you should take a look at “seowebsitetrafficnettools”, just google it. You’ll find it’s a very lovely wordpress SEO tools that can bring you a lot more visitors and improve your ranking. Keep up the quality posts

  14. Hi there this is kinda of off topic but I was wanting to know if blogs use WYSIWYG editors or if you have to manually code with HTML. I’m starting a blog soon but have no coding experience so I wanted to get guidance from someone with experience. Any help would be enormously appreciated!

  15. I like it a lot forzest online bestellen China’s central bank governor Zhou Xiaochuan said on Mondaythat economic growth faces relatively big downward pressure andthe country will keep prudent monetary policy and reasonablecredit supply to provide a good financial environment for smallfirms.

  16. After reading your blog post, I browsed your website a bit and noticed you aren’t ranking nearly as well in Google as you could be. I possess a handful of blogs myself, and I think you should take a look at “seowebsitetrafficnettools”, just google it. You’ll find it’s a very lovely SEO tool that can bring you a lot more visitors and improve your ranking. They have more than 30+ tools only 20$. Very cheap right? Keep up the quality posts

  17. Great web site you have here.. It’s hard to find good quality writing like yours nowadays. I honestly appreciate people like you! Take care!!

  18. Whoa! This blog looks exactly like my old one! It’s on a entirely different topic but it has pretty much the same page layout and design. Wonderful choice of colors!

  19. Wow, amazing blog layout! How long have you been blogging for?
    you made blogging look easy. The overall look of your web site is wonderful, let alone the content!

  20. Excellent beat ! I would like to apprentice while you amend
    your website, how can i subscribe for a blog web site?

    The account aided me a applicable deal. I had been a little bit acquainted
    of this your broadcast provided vibrant clear concept

  21. I just like the valuable information you supply for your articles.

    I will bookmark your blog and test once more here regularly.
    I’m moderately certain I will be told many new
    stuff proper right here! Good luck for the next!

  22. continuously i used to read smaller posts that as well clear their motive, and that is also happening
    with this paragraph which I am reading at this place.

  23. Definitely believe that that you said. Your favorite
    justification seemed to be on the internet the
    easiest thing to have in mind of. I say to you, I certainly
    get irked even as other folks think about worries that they plainly don’t understand about.

    You controlled to hit the nail upon the highest and defined out the
    entire thing without having side-effects , folks can take a
    signal. Will probably be back to get more.
    Thank you

  24. I’ve been browsing online more than 2 hours today, yet I never found
    any interesting article like yours. It’s pretty worth enough for me.
    In my opinion, if all website owners and bloggers
    made good content as you did, the internet will be much
    more useful than ever before.

  25. Whats up this is kind of of off topic but I was wondering if
    blogs use WYSIWYG editors or if you have to manually code with HTML.
    I’m starting a blog soon but have no coding expertise
    so I wanted to get guidance from someone with experience.
    Any help would be greatly appreciated!

  26. I’m amazed, I have to admit. Rarely do I come across a blog that’s both educative and entertaining, and without
    a doubt, you have hit the nail on the head. The issue is something not enough folks are speaking intelligently about.

    Now i’m very happy that I found this in my hunt for something concerning this.

  27. Link exchange is nothing else however it is only placing the other
    person’s website link on your page at suitable place and other person will also do similar in favor of

  28. Attractive portion of content. I simply stumbled
    upon your web site and in accession capital to claim that I acquire actually enjoyed
    account your weblog posts. Any way I’ll be subscribing to your augment
    or even I fulfillment you get entry to constantly rapidly.

  29. Greetings from Los angeles! I’m bored at work so I decided
    to check out your site on my iphone during lunch break.
    I enjoy the knowledge you present here and can’t wait to take
    a look when I get home. I’m surprised at how quick your blog
    loaded on my cell phone .. I’m not even using WIFI, just
    3G .. Anyhow, very good site!

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.