Humor Writing Skills — Merger Contest

Here’s a creativity stimulator game we use for my improv troupe. 
It’s called Mergers.  It can be played at an improv workshop, a
Toastmasters meeting, a party, a family gathering, or alone while
driving your car when there are no distractions.

First you pick a target company, such as Wal-Mart, or Baskin
Robbins, or Toys R Us.  Second you try to create imaginary
mergers with other companies.  After you announce the merger
you add a tag line which becomes the punchline. The tag line
could be a slogan, an advertising theme, a subtitle for the new
business.

The challenge is to create as many different mergers with the
same company as possible.  Create one merger.  Then create
another.  Then another.  Just when you run out of ideas, create
one more merger. Then start the process over with a different
company.

Connections to look for are: 
Current advertising campaigns. 
Current slogans. 
Common words between two merging companies. 
Rhyming words.  Words with double meanings.
Ways in which the companies are the same. 
Ways in which the companies are different. 
Product or service similarities or differences. 

You’re practicing basic humor writing skills,
because humor is primarily relationships and connections.

Here are some examples: 

Toys R Us is merging with Back Street Boys.  Their new
company will be called Boys R Us.

Toys R Us is merging with a past-life-regression expert. 
Their new slogan is:  Toys Used To Be Us.

Toys R Us is merging with a Shakespearian Threatre. 
Their new slogan is:  Toys B Us.

Some of your lines will be good.  Some will be bad.  Don’t
worry about the quality of the lines, just let your creativity
flow.  It’s the exercise that is the important thing.  In time,
the quality will come as a result of your improved writing
talent which comes from doing the practice.

This is a fun game to stimulate your creativity, to see
connections or to warm up your mind on your way to a talk. 

So let’s do a contest with Mergers: 

Keep in mind that the exercise is not about the jokes.  The real focus
is on developing your skill in seeing the funny connections
around you.  The real value is in the process and in the
learning.  Creating a funny line or two is just a side-benefit.
So if you don’t like contests, give it a try anyway.  It’s not about
competition.  If you come out of the contest with a better
sense of humor.  You win!

The format is:  (blank) is merging with (blank) and (punchline).

1.  The first blank must be either Disneyland or the Internal
Revenue Service (the government agency in the USA that
collects income taxes and conducts audits).  You can write
entries for either company or both companies.

2.  The second blank is any other company.  Look for
connections which will give you a funny punchline.  You
don’t have to limit yourself to companies.  You could have
a company merging with a country, a person, an association,
a religion, etc.  Open yourself to the possibilities.

3.  The punchline is an advertising slogan, a new product, a
new CEO, an operating policy, etc.  You are not limited to a
specific category.  Exercise your creativity to see what you
can come up with.

4.  You are limited to either Disneyland or the IRS
as your starting parameters.

5.  Write your lines, then sleep on them.  Edit them
the next day.  Repeat.

6.  The trick to writing some good lines is to write
many lines.  Set a quota.  Maybe 10 lines. 
Or more.  And then submit your best lines for
the contest.  The more lines you write, the
better will be your best lines.

7.  Put on your humor hat and get busy writing!
And then study the results and analysis which follow:

***********************

Here Are The Merger Contest Winners

Congratulations to everyone who entered.  We had 80 entries. 
It was very competitive.  A panel of seven judges selected the
top three entries.  The judges were a group of speakers and
entertainers.

The contest was in the format of:
(blank) merged with (blank) and (punchline).
The first blank was limited to Disneyland or the IRS (Internal
Revenue Service).  For non USA readers, it is the agency that
administers the federal income tax system.

First Place
Disneyland is merging with China.  Disney’s most famous
character will be Mousie Tongue. 
Submitted by Terry Wall

Second Place
Disneyland is merging with the organ donor bank.  The new
name is DisneyGland.
Submitted by Nancy Lininger

Third Place

The IRS is merging with Case Knives to create tax cuts.
Submitted by Randy Mitchell

Fourth Place

The IRS is merging with the US Army and expects all citizens to
“pay all that you can pay”.
Submitted by Pattie Hansen

Honorable Mention (in random order)

Disneyland is merging with The Waterfront Cleanup Agency. 
Their motto is No Blight on the Seven Wharfs.

The IRS is merging with Nike and the slogan? Just pay it!

Disneyland is merging with IBM because they need a
computer to go with their mouse.

The IRS is merging with Florida Citrus Commission and
now every day is like a day without sunshine.

*********************************

Analysis of Some Funny Lines

Let’s take a look at 15 of the submissions and examine my
attempt to rewrite the lines for humor impact.  Here are some
things to realize as you review this exercise:

a.  Don’t underestimate the value of an exercise like this.  You
can learn a lot about humor by dissecting it and analyzing how
to improve it.

b.  Humor is subjective.  Sometimes you will prefer the original
line to my attempt to improve it.  The contest judges were not
unanimous in their selections of best jokes.

c.  My selection of a line to rewrite does not imply that the
original joke was not good.  Quite the opposite.  In most cases the
original line is excellent.  And in all cases, the original line
gave me a terrific seed to work with to create my own line.
Without the original line, my new version would have never taken
form.

d.  In many, cases my rewrite is shorter than the original.  The
basic principle of editing is to get your writing down to the
essentials. That applies to humor as well.

e.  In some cases, rather than rewrite the line, I simply used one
of the words from a line to trigger a completely different line.
This is the advantage of combining your creative efforts with
another person.

f.  We’ll look at the original line as submitted.  Then we’ll see
my rewrite effort.  And then I’ll include some short comments about
the edit.

****
Original
The IRS is merging with Xerox to create many returns.

Rewrite
Disneyland and the IRS merged with Xerox to create many happy
returns. 

Comments
I wanted to use both companies listed in the contest.  I wanted to
play with the Happiest Place on Earth.  When I saw “many returns”
the holiday cliche of “many happy returns” popped into my head. 
So I paired it with the Disney slogan.

****
Original
The IRS is merging with Case Knives to create tax cuts.

Rewrite
The IRS merged with Ginsu Knives to create tax cuts.  But wait. 
That’s not all….

Comments
Changed knife company to Ginsu for two reasons.  First, it’s a
funnier sounding name.  Second, the Ginsu commercials have
been the subject of many humor parodies.  Their familiar phrase
(that’s not all) makes a good topper for the joke.  Two laughs in
one joke.

****
Original
Disneyland is merging with Congress.  Nobody will notice the
merger, since both organizations are full of goofy cartoon
characters.

Rewrite
Disneyland merged with Congress.  Nobody noticed, since both
organizations have always been full of characters who are goofy.

Comments
Restructured and also moved the punchword to the end.

****
Original
Disneyland is merging with Chrysler.  Now all rides will have
air bags.  And, Goofy will replace that airbag Lee Iacocca in the
Chrysler ads, and will be more convincing.

Rewrite
Disneyland merged with Chrysler.  Now all rides will have air
bags.  They managed to clone enough Lee Iacoccas for every ride.

Comments
Tightened the wording.  Also, it’s usually funnier to imply
something than state it outright.  The theory is that it is funnier
when the reader/listener gets the joke without extra help.  It
falls under the Superiority Theory of humor.

****
Original
Disneyland is merging with Iraq. For this park, Disneyland only
issues annual passes, but that means you have to stay there for a
year.

Rewrite
Disneyland merged with Iraq.  Now an annual pass means you have
to stay there for a year.

Comments
Tightened the wording.  Ask yourself, how can I cleanly get to the
punch as quickly as possible, without losing the necessary setup.

****
Original
Disneyland will have a reality competition to determine who gets
to play Pinnochio in a new movie.  The competitors are George
Bush, Donald Rumsfeld, Michael Moore, and Patty Sheehan.

Rewrite
Disneyland merged with United Artists to produce a new Pinnochio
movie.  Competitors for the lead role are George Bush, Donald
Rumsfeld, and Michael Moore.

Comments
I like the original, but I feel that the rewrite is stronger.  It
conforms to the merger theme.  The wording is tighter.  Lists are
usually funnier in sets of three, so I eliminated one name.  It
sets a pattern of right-wing, right-wing, left-wing, which provides
the comedic twist.

****
Original
Disneyland is merging with NASA, and taking over the Space Shuttle
program.  Safety is bound to improve.  When was the last time
someone got killed on Space Mountain?

Rewrite
Realizing that nobody had ever been killed on Space Mountain,
Disneyland merged with NASA, and the Space Shuttle safety program
improved by 783%. 

Comments
Specifics are generally funnier.  I liked Space Mountain but didn’t
feel it was suitable as a topper for the punchline.  I think it
works great as a setup line. 

****
Original
Disneyland is merging with The Apprentice.  It will involve two
teams of characters from Disneyland in full costume.  We’ll see
that even Disney characters are backstabbers when they’ve got a
chance to work for The Donald.  Of course, The Donald now refers to
Donald Duck. Carolyn’s replacement is Daffy Duck.  George gets to
stay.

Rewrite
Disneyland merged with The Apprentice.  After the first episode,
most viewers thought Donald was a quack.  And they thought Carolyn
was Daffy and that George was goofy.

Comments
Distilled some great ideas and tightened the wording and made the
punch words more precise.

****
Original
Disneyland is merging with the nuclear weapons watchdog agency,
the IAEA.  The agency’s slogan will be, It’s A Small World After
All.

Rewrite
Disneyland is merging with NASA and will feature an actual trip to
the moon to look at the earth.  Their slogan will be “It’s a small
world after all.”

Comments
The Small World idea triggered my line with NASA.  I feel is
provides a good visual link to the Small World punch line.

****
Original
 Disneyland has recently merged with NASA.  Shortly thereafter the
entire park was shut down due to a piece of chewing gum stuck to
one of the turnstiles.  Upon reopening several days later, the
lines at the popular theme park are now visible from orbit.

Rewrite
Disneyland merged with NASA.  Now the lines at the park are visible
from orbit.

Comments
Tried to distill it to the best part of the joke.  The long lines
at Disney are legendary.  I also like the chewing gum line.

 ****
Original
Did you hear that the IRS is merging with the Church of
Scientology?   In other news Tom Cruise, John Travolta, and Kirstie
Alley recently announced they’ve all become born-again Christians.

Rewrite
The IRS merged with the Church of Scientology.   Tom Cruise
announced he was becoming a born-again Christian.

Comments
Lately, Tom Cruise has been in the headlines the most.  Tightened
the words.  Remember the principle of Less Is More.  Lists are best
when used to present a comedic twist or break in the pattern.

****
Original
Disneyland is merging with Timex to create magical moments.

Rewrite
The IRS has merged with Timex to create tax payers who take a
licking without the kicking.

Comments
The Timex idea triggered my line using the IRS.  I took the
familiar phrase, takes a licking but keeps on ticking, and went
searching for a word (to replace ticking) that would fit into an
exaggerated audit situation.

****
Original
Disneyland is merging with Disney World.  Only problem is that
Cinderella’s pumpkin must be modified to meet California automotive
energy standards.

Rewrite
Disneyland officially merged with California.  Cinderella’s pumpkin
was modified to meet the strict emission standards.

Comments
Restructured and tightened.

****
Original
Disneyland is merging with Star Trek and we can go where no man has
gone before.

Rewrite
The IRS is merging with Star Trek and is going where no auditor has
gone before.  But the return is guaranteed to be EZ.

Comments
The Star Trek idea triggered a line for the IRS.  I initially wrote
the joke without the last line, but felt that it was missing
something about either the trip or the destination to make it
stronger.  I pulled the words “return and EZ” from familiar IRS tax
language, both having double meanings which could be applied to a
journey. 

****
Original
Disneyland is merging with Pampers Diapers and others do not need
to know how scary some of the rides are.

Rewrite (two lines)

1.  Disneyland merged with Pampers so they could design rides which
were even more scary.
2.  The IRS merged with Depends to prepare people for next year’s
tax rates.

Comments
1.  I rewrote the punch line of the Disneyland joke to take the
amusement park beyond the status quo to the next level.  This
employs the principles of extrapolation, exaggeration, and what if.
The rewrite also moves the punch word to the end.  (Actually, the
real punch line is implied.)
2.  The Pampers idea also triggered my line for the IRS.  I changed
Pampers to the more appropriate product of Depends, the adult
undergarment, even though Pampers is probably a funnier sounding
word.