There are two primary reasons we laugh: surprise or superiority.
Either we laugh to cover our feelings of embarrassment, or we feel superior to a group or person who’s been tricked and made to look foolish.
Good humor includes these six elements.
Let’s begin with the first, target.
Humor is criticism cloaked as entertainment, directed at a specific target, and is always unfair.
Comedy is cruel. In humor we ridicule, tear down, destroy, and we do it for laughs. When you add humor to your writing and speaking you bond with your audience. And when you bond with your audience, you sell books, tickets, trinkets.
This is the power of humor.
It is physiologically impossible to hate someone with whom you’ve laughed. When we laugh we temporarily give ourselves over to the person who makes us laugh. For the writer and speaker, this is power.
First pick your target. Make sure it’s a person or group your audience loathes — or at least feels superior to. Then savagely attack.
My tenth grade English teacher gave me the lowest year-end grade of any student in her class. D-.
“I wanted to give you an F,” she said. “You deserved an F. Actually, you didn’t even deserve the F, but F- isn’t an option.”
“So why not fail me?”
“And have you repeat? Why should I suffer because you don’t know the difference between affect and effect?'”
“There’s a difference?”
But I got my revenge. Due to my D- minus, the next year they put me in the grammatically-challenged English class. Of course, I aced the grade, pulling down an A-. We all have a level of excellence and I’d found mine.
Due to my A-, my senior year they placed me in the smart kids class.
“You! This must be a mistake.” Turns out my tenth grade english teacher had moved up to twelfth grade english. “How’d you get assigned to my class?”
“Hard work, long hours, and prayer. You?”
“Hard work and long hours.”
“Didn’t think it necessary.”
“The prayer of a righteous student is powerful and … you know the rest.”
“Effective, though I doubt you can spell it.”
She was right. I couldn’t. But I would learn its spelling by year end.
Let’s check our formula.
Target: Yes, teachers.
Hostility: Yes, my teacher looooved pointing out my educational limitations.
Realism: Yes, this is a true story. I did bounce from the smart-to-stupid-to-smart-class from my sophomore to senior year.
Exaggeration: No, we’ll cover that next time.
Emotion: Some. We’ll cover this next time.
Surprise: Yes. My placement in her class shocked both of us — and not in a good way.
When possible, add humor to your writing. A few laughs can sometimes save a weak scene.