I used several great books to develop my comedy writing skills. I've been using this column to teach you bits and pieces from each of these, along with a mix of my own techniques, but if you want a more in-depth look, here's what I recommend:
The Comedy Writing Workbook, by Gene Perret
I absolutely adore this book, and if you can get only one book on comedy writing, I'd make it this one. It covers a variety of techniques with detailed examples and exercises for you to try. If you can't find it, though, you can make do with The New Comedy Writing Step by Step, another book by Perret that condenses this information. Either one is worth reading if you're serious about improving your jokes.
Step By Step to Standup Comedy, by Greg Dean
This book is primarily geared to developing stand-up comedy routines and improving your performance, but it also offers the "joke prospector" system to help create great jokes. I've adopted some of the tips in this book into my own writing, so even article writers can get some mileage out of this one. Definitely a worthy purchase.
And Here's The Kicker, by Mike Sacks
Sacks has gathered interviews with 21 fine folks in the comedy writing business, from column to film, in this neat little volume. There's the obligatory advice on how to break certain markets and how to get your material in the right hands, but the strength of this book is reading where all these people came from and how they got to where they are now. And some of these cats come from poor or unpleasant backgrounds. It just goes to show you (and me) how you can get anywhere you want as long as you keep faith and stay tenacious. Without that, no dream is possible, especially one as tricky as comedy writing.
There are a few other books on comedy writing out there, but these are some of the best as far as I'm concerned. Of course, you can be sure I'll feed you helpful comedy writing advice as well! Learn from everything you can, I say. And keep on laughing.
Do you have any questions about humor writing that you want me to answer? What would you like to see me cover in future columns? Leave me a comment telling me what you'd like to see!