Make Your Writing Funny: Poking Fun at Others

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One of the best parts about humor writing is that it's a perfectly acceptable way to make fun of people. When you just call someone a moronic, womanizing jerk, that's mean. When you compare someone's love life to a McDonald's takeout lane, that's witty.

Of course, you have to be careful of whom you mock. Using a joke like that against a celebrity or a politician is fine, since they're acceptable public targets. But busting out the "takeout lane love" routine at a friend's party could land you in a world of hot water. How far should you go?

Let's look at each target and see how to handle them:

1. Public figures: Celebrities, politicians, companies, big websites...comedians mock these all the time, since everyone knows who they are. And since the media tends to report on every blooper they make, you'll find a ton of potential topics to joke about. My only obvious warning here is that you can't make stuff up. Do your homework first, and make sure what you're talking about is true and recognizable by your audience. Other than that, you're home free - how exactly you mock these figures depends on your style.

2. Big events: Approach these like public figures - don't make stuff up and make sure the audience knows what you're talking about. And, of course, if it's too soon, DON'T make a joke about it. Don't even try the most polite joke you can think of. Professional comedians have the experience to walk around huge tragedies, so if you don't, just don't bother. Trust me.

3. Friends and family: You can definitely get away with poking fun at the people you know, but you have to set boundaries. Don't mock any problems they may be struggling with. Stick with the things they already make fun of themselves about. Exaggerate traits they already have or boast about. Poke fun at the stuff that ultimately doesn't matter, and everyone will come out of it with friendships intact.

4. Yourself: Yep, making fun of your own faults is also possible. Comedians do it all the time - it's a great way to build a connection with the audience. The best way to do this, I find, is to discuss a topic that most people are familiar with and occasionally remark about how it affects you. The trick is to come off looking like the fool, and there's no limit to how you can do this. Just make sure it's funny.


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!

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Matt Willard

Matt Willard's bio begins with witty phrasing that succinctly illustrates his stance as a humorist. It is then followed with a clever sentence that illustrates what he does in his spare time. The bio concludes with a shameless link to his Twitter profile, paired with an off-hand comment that alludes to his success with women. Laughter.

4 Comments

  1. Justin P Lambert January 13, 2011 Reply

    Hey Matt,
    Thanks for the post and for the ongoing column! Good stuff.
    I try really hard on my blog not to take myself too seriously. One of my favorite running gags involves my ongoing love affair with all things Google and my unnatural hatred for Facebook (which I refer to as The Evil Galactic Empire). In honesty, my feelings on both are not quite so intense, but I do stand out as a little weird in the blogosphere for having given up completely on Facebook as a viable means of marketing, so it tends to draw attention here and there when I work it in.
    I’d love to see more in your column about how to effectively use humor to highlight important life lessons. Take that for what it is (because I know it’s not very specific.)
    Thanks again!

    • Jennifer Mattern January 13, 2011 Reply

      Don’t feel too bad about swearing off Facebook. You’re far from the only one. You’ll never see me actively using that site, and there are quite a few PR and social media folks in the same boat. Too many privacy issues and typical 3rd party reliance issues as a start. Not long ago on a client’s social media blog I also took a look at the typical social media lifecycle — the one we’ve seen sites like Myspace, Squidoo, StumbleUpon, and others go through (remarkably similar) and how Facebook seems to be on the same path. The only real difference now is that no one’s stepped up with a newer option that’s different enough to get attention. Innovation in social media has largely stalled and we’re simply seeing tweaking of existing things. One of the big expectations in 2011 for example is the prediction that we’ll see more in collaboration. That’s all well and good but it’s anything but new. Still, I have a feeling a few years down the road people will be moving away from Facebook just like they move away from everything else in social media over time — on to newer toys and we’ll have a lot of wasted effort w/o continuing returns that many companies are hoping for. A bit off Matt’s topic, but my $.02.

  2. Bonnie January 14, 2011 Reply

    Hi Matt,

    Love your post. I especially like #1 – poking fun at public figures and celebrities. Which reminds me of one of our favorite shows: “TMZ.” My husband and I stay up late to watch it. It’s not your ordinary celebrity gossip show as it brings celebrities down a peg or two with its humorous commentary. No celebrity is safe. Look out Jesse Jame and Tiger Woods!

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