How Not to be Funny

Pink rose

Pink roses with dew
Bursting from the green foliage
Eaten by a goat

I wrote this haiku when in high school, and I still laugh whenever I read it. Do I think many people will agree it’s funny? No. The reason why shows what to avoid when presenting humorous material.

Juxtaposing items not usually seen together–like lovely roses and a hungry goat–can work if readers relate to the conflict. What’s the conflict here?

Roses are beautiful decorative plants that might require special care to flourish. Goats are indiscriminate eaters that can quickly devour the blossoms of a gardener’s labor. However, most people don’t tend roses or hang out with goats. Also, most people might not fret over the transience of what they produce.

I have, and I do. That makes my haiku a personal joke.

So, I suggest when writing or telling a joke, remember your audience. Consider whether they can relate. If they must think too hard, or you provide them no bridge to understanding, they won’t laugh at your punchline.

Has anyone given you a perplexed stare and stated, “You’re funny.” Believe me, it’s creepy. This happens when they realize the comments you’ve made around them were jokes. Don’t make your readers or listeners work so hard to understand you. Learn from my mistakes.

Another mistake I’ve learned to avoid is providing too much detail. As Polonius said in Shakespeare’s Hamlet, “brevity is the soul of wit.” Brevity in this case means concise, not brief. Provide as much as needed to bring your audience to the punchline and no more. Unnecessary details also make them think too much.

Which brings us back to “remember your audience.” Know what they know and where to find the line between funny and serious.

“Think it’ll work?”
“It would take a miracle.”

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2 thoughts on “How Not to be Funny

  1. Hey, sounds like somebody may be starting to listen to my advice. You have to be careful not to be too smart for your audience. Why? Because we don’t like to feel like we’re stupid. If we find out we’re too stupid when we’re reading we will just end up back on the couch watching reality tv to make ourselves feel better about our intelligence again. As a side note, most people may not find the goat haiku funny because not everybody has a little sister that is traumatized about goats eating their personal belongings. I thought I would point that out.

    1. The trick is not to seem too smart, I’m sure. I’ve learned an audience wants information to seep in rather than be bludgeoned into them, because being beaten with new ideas isn’t any fun. Every audience wants some amount of entertainment.

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