Ellen Degeneres—she’s award winning, Gangnam dancing, and loved worldwide. She has authored three books and hosted the Emmys, the Grammys, and the Oscars not once but twice. (And no wonder—without comic relief, award shows would be a marathon of film recaps, fashion faux pas, and coma-inducing acceptance speeches.)

Ellen is also one of the most likeable hosts on television. Why? Her style endears people. She uses humor that doesn’t offend.

You can gain devoted fans like Ellen by adding the right touch of humor to your writing. A little levity can engage, whether you’re delivering a presentation or crafting a letter to a long lost customer.

So let’s break down the keys to using humor like Ellen.

Be self deprecating

A safe way to include humor is to be the brunt of your own joke. Make sure you joke in a light-spirited way and not a negative way. Start your communication using your own humility. It’s a great icebreaker.

“I’m so unfamiliar with the gym, I call it James!”
― Ellen DeGeneres

“When I look back on the stuff I used to wear, I wonder why somebody didn’t try to stop me. Just a friendly warning, “You may regret this,” would have been fine.”
― Ellen DeGeneres, The Funny Thing Is…

If you don’t want to alienate your audience, don’t joke at other people’s expense. Avoid humor targeted at people’s core identities or conditions. Your safest bet is to poke fun at yourself.

Have fun with wordplay

Ellen loves to have fun. Many of her jokes are silly and based on wordplay. Here are some examples:

“Haiku sounds like I’m
Saying hi to someone named
Ku. Hi, Ku. Hello.”
― Ellen DeGeneres, Seriously… I’m Kidding

“When life gives you lemons….they could really be oranges.”
― Ellen DeGeneres

“Take a nap in a fireplace and you’ll sleep like a log.”
― Ellen DeGeneres

“Knock, knock… Who’s there?… Little endorphin… Little endorphin who?… Little endorphin Annie.” And then the endorphins laugh, and then you laugh. See? It’s science.”
― Ellen DeGeneres, Seriously… I’m Kidding


Exaggeration is a popular comedic tool you can use. When you exaggerate, take it to extreme. Use your imagination to stretch an observation or truth to absurdity:

“People have become so accustomed to texting that they’re actually startled when the phone rings. It’s like we suddenly all have Bat-phones. If it rings, there must be danger.”
― Ellen DeGeneres, Seriously… I’m Kidding

“My grandmother started walking five miles a day when she was sixty. She’s ninety-seven now, and we still don’t know where she is.”
― Ellen DeGeneres

“Honestly, I would eat cardboard rather than go back to eating animals.”
― Ellen DeGeneres

Joke about universal truths and stereotypes

Know your audience and tailor your humor to them. Consider the demographic you are writing for: age, nationality, industry, experience and knowledge of your topic. What are some of their problems and pain points you can use to create a joke to relieve some tension and release endorphins?

Here’s an Ellen quote that pokes fun at the stereotype of being old.

“It must be around forty, when you’re “over the hill.” I don’t even know what that means and why it’s a bad thing. When I go hiking and I get over the hill, that means I’m past the hard part and there’s a snack in my future. That’s a good thing as far as I’m concerned.”
― Ellen DeGeneres, Seriously… I’m Kidding

Keep it professional

Humor that works is light, clean, positive, kind, and professional. Never use humor that puts others down, complains, or is unprofessional—no insults, profanity, arrogance, or inappropriate references. That’s the Ellen way.

“If you want to get rid of stuff, you can always do a good spring-cleaning. Or you can do what I do. Move.”

“Most comedy is based on getting a laugh at somebody else’s expense. And I find that that’s just a form of bullying in a major way. So I want to be an example that you can be funny and be kind, and make people laugh without hurting somebody else’s feelings.” Ellen DeGeneres

Keep it clean. Keep it fun. Poke fun at yourself.

Appropriate humor sprinkled through your communication can create ease, make the experience memorable, and leave your audience wanting a return performance. Engage your audience with a touch of humor and wait for them to ask you for more.