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Make Your Writing Funny – Using (And Not Abusing) Puns

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Now, it's often said that puns are the lowest form of comedy. And when you have a friend who is constantly making terrible puns to you like I do, it's easy to agree. And when you come across forum threads and videos of countless David Caruso one-liners, the case for the pun declines quickly.

But a clever pun, used sparingly, can be an awesome joke in its own right. The trick is to slip one in when the reader least expects it. Of course, you need a good pun, too. Most of the puns you've heard of switch words with others that have similar sounds or different meanings. That usually gets you groaners like this:

I went to a seafood disco last week...and pulled a mussel.

This is pure wordplay, but if the wordplay is inventive, puns are more acceptable. Here's one of my favorite puns from Steven Wright:

I spilled spot remover on my dog. Now he's gone.

This pun has a double effect - not only does it play with an alternate meaning of the phrase "spot remover", but it can also create a mental image of this guy pouring something on his dog and making it disappear. Note that the alternate meaning of "spot remover" is imaginary. That's perfectly okay - the best jokes often break the rules of reality and logic.


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So, how do we craft a better pun? Once again we return to the headlines. Recently Disney's new movie "Tangled" performed better than "Harry Potter and the Deadly Hollows: Part 1" this weekend. Yahoo has gone ahead and made a "Hairy VS. Harry" pun, but we're better than that, aren't we?

We need a setup that gives us punning opportunities, and so I've written it like this:

This weekend, Disney's "Tangled" outperformed the latest "Harry Potter" film in the box office.

The key is to have a word or phrase you can exploit. For this joke, "box office" is that phrase. We know the "box office" normally means that little booth where tickets are sold, or as a catch-all term for the income a movie takes in. But let's try an alternate meaning. What if we took it literally? What if it was an office for boxes - packing boxes, toy boxes, and so on?

With that, a punchline comes to mind.

This weekend, Disney's "Tangled" outperformed the latest "Harry Potter" film in the box office. The toy boxes are particularly looking forward to buying the action figures.

By playing off an alternate meaning of the phrase "box office", we've created a huge twist in the normal assumption, created an interesting mental image, AND made a monster pun. They can be difficult to craft, but if you follow the standard comedy writing tricks and open your mind, you too can experience puns that don't make you groan...too much, that is.

YOUR ASSIGNMENT: Take a news item and craft a pun out of it. Play off an alternate meaning of a phrase, real or imaginary, but be a little inventive with it. Remember to ask questions and look for relationships to help you find or create these alternate meanings.

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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.

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