Archive for April, 2006

19 Ideas For Writing Funny Cartoon Captions

Saturday, April 29th, 2006

Here are some tips for writing funny cartoon captions:

1.  First, study the cartoon drawing and ask yourself a few questions.

2.  What is happening here?  What is the most obvious thing happening?  Can you twist an obvious cliche?  A recent New Yorker cartoon caption contest featured a group (perhaps a board of directors) on stage beneath a banner which read, Welcome Stockholders. One man stands behind the podium (lectern).  All the people onstage are naked.  The audience is not.  Of the three caption finalists, my favorite was.  “First, I’d like to thank the podium.”  This is a perfect opening line for a naked speaker, combining a cliche opening with the fact that he was naked and needed some cover.  Great line.

3.  Can you twist something 180 degrees.  In the Welcome-Stockholders cartoon of the previous paragraph, the caption I wrote was based on a tip for controlling stage fright…imagine your audience naked.  I placed the nervousness in the audience instead of the speaker.  “The audience controls their quarterly-earnings-announcement jitters by imagining the board of directors naked.”

4.  What could be happening here that is NOT obvious?  This may lead you in a funny direction.  A great Gary Larson cartoon shows a snake sitting in a snake restaurant, twisted in an exaggerated fashion.  A snake in the foreground comments:  “Oh, honey, he’s just signing.”  This is a reference to communicating with sign language and implying that the snake was deaf.

5.  Ask yourself “what if” questions.  A New Yorker caption contest featured a cartoon with small children standing on the side walls and ceiling of a hallway.  Two adults are walking down the hallway.  I asked the question “what if this were an art exhibit by Christo (the artist who designs and photographs unusual art themes).  It inspired my caption: (one adult saying to the other) “Actually, I preferred the Gates of Central Park.”  The unstated setup of the joke is that Christo posed the children on the walls and ceiling of the hallway as an art exhibit.

6.  What should be happening here that isn’t happening?  In the children-on-the-ceiling cartoon of the pervious paragraph, one of the top three submissions (and my favorite) was based on the observation that if the children were upside down, loose change should be falling from their pockets.  The caption:  “Unfortunately, children don’t carry much change.”

7.  What could have happened that is not shown in the cartoon?  Another cartoon from the New Yorker contest shows an old man sitting in a living room.  A little girl is standing in front of him and holding a violin.  The room looks like it was hit by a minor explosion.  My caption:  “I’d love to hear you play it again, sweetheart.  But first, let me get the cat off the ceiling.” 

8.  What could this detail mean?  What else could this be?  Inspiration is in the details.  And in humor, specific is usually funnier than general.  In a contest, the cartoon showed the speaker’s head tilting wildly to the right.  A caption could be, “It was obvious that the speaker leaned to the right.”  This caption plays with the connection between alternate meanings of the word “right”.

9.  What if you can’t find a contest to enter?  Challenge yourself without a contest.  Take an existing cartoon and cover the caption without looking at it.  Then write your own caption. This is a great exercise whenever you have some extra time on your hands:  For example, on an airplane or in a waiting room.  Find a cartoon in any magazine and create your own captions.  Then compare your lines with the published caption.

10.  It’s about relationships.  One of the basic humor writing skills is to look for connections.  Humor is often about connecting two things which were previously unconnected.

11. Inside information gives you the inside track.  How can you relate the details of the cartoon to specific things about your work group, about your civic club, about your association, about your reader’s profession?  When the caption is customized for a group, it has magical power. Use buzz words, activities, habits and names of people to drive the humor.  Those customized captions would not be funny to an outsider, but it will hit the mark with the target audience.  And if you’re going to use the cartoon for a company newsletter or a staff meeting, that is what counts!

12.  It’s a numbers game.  Quality comes from quantity.  For each New Yorker caption I submitted, I wrote at least ten captions and submitted my best one. Push yourself.  If you can write ten captions, then write five more.  If you can write thirty captions, make it forty.  Sometimes your last line is your most brilliant.  In our Toastmasters weekly caption writing contest, I normally submitted ten captions each week.  I mentioned to the President that I could just as easily write thirty.  So the next week I submitted thirty captions.  I could have written 100, but made sure I didn’t tell anyone.

13.  Team up.  Find a humor buddy.  Write your own captions individually.  Then compare your initial efforts.  By combining and improving your first-effort captions, you’ll find that your writing team will produce much funnier material.

14.  Write dull lines.  Write captions that aren’t funny.  This is a basic principle of brainstorming. Early in the creative process, don’t censor.  Let the ideas flow and record them all.  You may be able to twist them into something better in the editing process.

15.  Good writing is rewriting.  Write down several captions.  Study the placement of the punchwords, the words that drive the joke.  They should normally be eat the end of the punchline.  Eliminate excess words.  Look for colorful and funny words.  And then rewrite again.

16.  Humor writing is not a microwave oven, it’s a crock pot.  At first glance, when you look at a cartoon, you may not have a single idea for a caption.  Don’t worry, ideas will come.  Study the cartoon.  Let it stew.  Let it simmer.  I don’t normally come up with a dozen captions the first time I sit down to write.

17.  Sleep on it.  Write your lines and then review them the next day for a fresh perspective.  The brain does amazing things while you are sleeping.

18.  The improvement cycle.  Fair becomes good.  Good becomes excellent.  Excellent becomes outstanding.  A cartoon caption contest featured a cartoon with a speaker standing behind a lectern with a wide-eyed, surprised look on his face.  One of the first captions I wrote was, “The speaker was shocked to see that the audience was still awake!”  That was eventually changed to, “A speaker imagining a Powerhouse Pros audience in their underwear!”  Although I like both lines, the revised line was referring to the specific Toastmasters Club sponsoring the contest.  This newer line does four important things.  It justifies the look on the speaker’s face.  It customizes the caption for the group.  It links the common advice “control nervousness by imagining the audience in their underwear” to the cartoon.  It placed the punch word “underwear” at the very end of the caption.

19.  Take the challenge to try the caption writing exercise.  You don’t do it to become a cartoon writer.  You do it to exercise your creativity and sharpen your ability to see and create humor in all areas of your life.

Personal Development By Writing Humor

Friday, April 28th, 2006

Watch for our monthly humor-writing contest.  We’ll announce our next one on May 1.  Two weeks ago, I recommended a cartoon caption writing contest sponsored by the New Yorker Magazine.  But you’re thinking, “I’m not interested in writing jokes or captions for cartoons!”  Maybe not.  I have no desire to be doing either of those activities professionally.  But I love entering humor-writing contests because it helps me sharpen my skills. 

Here’s how humor writing contests can help you be more successful in life:

1.  Become a better speaker. With my practice of writing weekly cartoon captions for my Toastmaster club newsletter two years ago, I know that when I am challenged to speak to a group, that I can almost always come up with three or four pieces of fresh observational humor to brighten my talk.  The caption writing helped me to see and create humorous connections, a core humor skill.  When I sit in the audience, before I’m introduced to speak, I’m constantly looking for humorous connections to open my talk.  Your humor muscles get stronger only by using them.  That’s a key reason to enter a contest.

2.  Enrich your social life.  When you tell people you entered a humor contest, they’ll laugh!  But seriously, people love to be around someone with a good sense of humor.  The contests help you achieve that better sense of humor.  And maybe you’ll get your friends hooked on the contests too.

3.  Boost your career.  You’ve heard the joke, “No wife has ever shot her husband while he was doing the dishes.”  Maybe nobody ever fired someone who was making them laugh.  But I do know that people like and trust someone with a good sense of humor.  Humor is also an asset at a job interview.  It empowers you as a co-worker and a leader.  A sense of humor is definitely a career builder that is sharpened by writing the captions.

4.  Win the lotto.  Well, maybe not.  But at least you’ll be able to laugh when you lose.

5.  Reduce your stress.  As you sharpen your sense of humor you’ll be better able to diffuse tense situations with humor.  The essential skill of humor is having the ability to look at things in a different way.  When ever you’re faced with a tension-causing situation, you’re almost always in need of a fresh approach, in need of doing something differently.  Strong humor skills provide the ability to break out of stressful patterns.

6.  And who knows.   In time, maybe you’ll become a professional humor writer.  Watching today’s sitcoms makes it quite clear that Hollywood is desperate for great writers.  If that’s your interest…go for it!

7.  Tomorrow, watch for 19 Ideas For Writing Funny Cartoon Captions.

Creative Ideas for Your Telephone Answering Machine

Thursday, April 27th, 2006

Fun With The Phone

Nearly everyone has a phone answering machine or a voice-mail system of some kind.  And most outgoing phone messages sound something like this:  “Hi, we are away from the phone, but at the sound of the tone please leave your name and number and we will call you back as soon as we can.”  Very functional.  Very boring.  Not funny. Not memorable.  Here are some ideas for adding color to your outgoing message.

1.  There are some commercially recorded messages (usually found at bookstores) which you could use for your outgoing message.  These are normally musical parodies or celebrity voices.  I have a cassette tape of outgoing musical messages from country to 50s to Elvis, each with its own humor twist.  A 50s doo-wop style message might sound something like this:  

  “Don’t hang up!  Doo Doo (sung as in back-up for a 50s doo-wop style song)
  No, don’t you do it!
  You dialed the phone.  Doo Doo
  So talk into it!
  Leave your name and number too
  We will get right back with you!
  So don’t hang up!”

2.  Look for a friend who has an interesting voice to record your outgoing message.  For example, a fun variation is to have a sophisticated British voice speaking as your butler.  What ever their character-voice specialty is, put a twist to it and brighten your message.
3.  What if your phone answering machine was not answered by a person?  “Hello, this is the stove.  John hates it when I answer the phone, so please do not tell him.  Leave your message and I will put it on the back burner until he returns home.”

4.  Another idea:  “Hello. If you are calling for Tom, please press one.  If you are calling for Marilyn, please say two.  If you are calling for Jerry, please hold up three fingers.”

5.  Use the rule-of-three to break a pattern and set a funny line:  “If I am unable to answer the phone it is because I am either saving the world from crime, solving the global hunger problem, or taking a nap.  At the sound of the tone, leave a message, and I will call you back when I wake up.”

6.  I found a device called a Voice-Changer in a toy store.  In the past, I have recorded an outgoing message with a mechanical robot voice and the voice of a child.  The device takes your voice and converts it to something different.

7.  Have someone record your message in a foreign language and then add a twist at the end.  It could sound something like this:  “Quy vi muon biet  them chi tiet ve van de nay ,xin cho so dien thoai cung ten ho,va chung toi se tra loi ngay khi nhan duoc loi nhan cua quy vi. Cam on.  (then, add in your own voice)  If you are wondering what that means, at the sound of the tone, please leave your name and number.”  This may look lengthy, but takes only 17 seconds.

8.  Here is another idea:  “Hello…….  Hello??…….  Oh, I forgot, I am not at home.  Please leave your message at the sound of the tone.”

9.  Or try this one:  “Hi I am away from the phone.  No, actually, I am here, right now, recording this message.  But I have this feeling that, by the time you call, I might be gone.  Please leave your message at the sound of the tone.”

10. If the outgoing message is for a business line, be cautious about being too silly.  Cute, off-the-wall ideas work best for your home phone.

11.  Remember the basic principle: Less is More.  Avoid outgoing messages that are too long.

12.  These are just a few ideas.  But the best tip is to find ideas and twists of your own.  When something fun comes to mind, give it a try.

Studying a Celebrity — Rita Rudner

Monday, April 24th, 2006

I loved Rita Rudner’s one-woman show in Las Vegas.  It’s always great to study a top pro.  She drove home the power of the “call-back” (a reference to something funny which was previously presented during the routine).  Her call-backs were some of the funniest lines of her hilarious 75-minute performance. 

Let me give you one example:  She commented on the health risks of sunbathing.  And she pointed out how cute, young 18-year-old women will lay out in the sun and get great sun tans.  She just looks at them and thinks to herself, “Fry…you homewreckers!”  The line gets a good laugh. 

Then, later in her act, she said that she had hired a masseuse to come and give her husband a massage.  The doorbell rings and she answers the door to meet a gorgeous 18 year old masseuse.  “Hi I’m here to give your husband a massage.”  “I’m sorry, he’s dead.”  (pause)  “Why don’t you go get some sun.”  My recollection and paraphrasing of the lines doesn’t do justice to her writing and delivery talent.  But I hope you get a feel for the impact of bringing back a former funny line.  Catch her act if you can.  She is currently playing at Harrah’s Las Vegas, or catch her on video or on a cable TV special.  It will be a study well worth your time.  She is terrific.

The power of the call-back is also woven into a good improv comedy scene.  It’s called reincorporation.  Take something from earlier in the scene and revisit it later.  In a recent improv show in Las Vegas one of the audience suggestions for a fireman’s snack was “squid”.  The word squid came up two more times in the evening, reincorporation, and got a good laugh each time.

A good speech can often be made better by the active listening skills of the speaker.  Before you rise to speak, pay attention to everything taking place before you are introduced:  Awards, funny lines, other speeches, the decorations, etc.  Look for opportunities to incorporate (revisit) your observations within the text of your talk.  I normally open my talks with three or four pieces of observational humor before I go into the main body of my prepared remarks. 

The power of reincorporation and call backs is amazing.  Focus, tune in, and have the courage to give it a try.  You’ll like the results.

Studying A Celebrity — Barry Manilow

Thursday, April 20th, 2006

Last night I had the treat of seeing Barry Manilow perform live at the Las Vegas Hilton.  What a show!  A great singer and entertainer.  And he’s skilled in the use of humor.  Anytime I see a celebrity onstage I always analyze their style to see why it has power.  Here are some observations from his performance.

1.  His smile.  He has an infectious smile.  He smiles with the eyes.  A great, natural smile made the audience feel like he was having a good time.  It made it easier for the audience to have a good time and to laugh.

2.  His eye contact.  One of the first things he did was to speak directly to, and make eye contact with, the people in the balcony.  He was connected to the audience throughout the show, whether singing or speaking, through one-on-one eye contact.

3.  His natural delivery.  His style is very conversational and relaxed.  That builds trust and increases the impact of the humor.

4.  Story telling.  Almost every joke was told as part of a story.  Stories about growing up, playing lounges and piano bars, being a guest on American Idol.  Stories are the perfect vehicle for humor.  It gives structure and a reason for the joke.  If you tell jokes without a story structure, you’re probably a comedian or you’re probably not very funny.

5.  Personal contact with the audience.  He literally reached out and touched the audience.  In one case he danced with a woman from the audience while he sang.  Her hands got a little friendly on his backside.  He went with the flow and laughed along with the audience.

6.  Poking fun at himself.  Commenting on the contestants on American Idol:  “The good news is that they’re very talented.  The bad news…they didn’t know who I am.”  This line is funny because he was directing the humor at himself, and also because it was current and fresh.  It was obvious that most of the audience had seen the recent American Idol show on which he was featured.  Then, telling a story about his early career as a piano-bar entertainer:  To a customer who said he was ill and was starting to leave.  Barry Manilow:  I hope you get better soon.  Customer:  I hope you get better too!  There were other examples.  Watch for them when you see him perform live.

7.  Clean humor.  It was refreshing to see a full-length evening show which was funny and also totally clean.  It was suitable for all ages and the family with four young children sitting in front of us had a great time.

The next time you see a professional speak or perform, go to school.  Watch the elements of his or her delivery.  Study what works well.  Learn from it.  Apply it to your own speaking or performing.  Barry Manilow, Music and Passion, will be at the Las Vegas Hilton through the end of 2006.  If you’re in town, don’t miss him.  You’ll love the show.

Two Articles in Ezine

Tuesday, April 18th, 2006

Check out the articles, Three Ideas for Sharpening Your Humor, in the Mid-Month issue and Humor In Advertising earlier this month.

April Humor Contest Results

Tuesday, April 18th, 2006

April Humor Contest Winners (two contests)

Over 200 entries.  We had a panel of eight judges (speakers and improv players).  Here are the results.

April Fools Prank Contest

I pranked my sons by setting up “Betty” in the living room before they awoke.  I stuffed a pair of my jeans with towels and a pair of my socks with washcloths.  I put the socks in the legs of the jeans and put sneakers on “Betty’s” feet.  I took Betty and sat her in my living room recliner.  I reclined the chair and propped her feet up on the foot rest.  I then took the newspaper and taped it to poster board so it would be stiff and stood it up on Betty’s lap.  When my sons woke up I told them my friend had a fight with her boyfriend and had stopped by very late and fallen asleep in the chair.  The worst part of this prank was trying not to laugh.  I had to keep running in the kitchen to hide my smiles as they tip-toed through the house and ate breakfast at the dining room table, whispering to each other so they wouldn’t disturb Betty.
Karen Porter, Parlin, NJ

Note:  We received many pranks from the extravagant (setting up an outrageous Christmas display on a neighbours lawn to arranging a total blackout of a friends bedroom and removing the door handle) to the simple (putting a raisin in the toothpaste tube and filling a potato chip bag with cotton balls).  All fun pranks.  The thing to remember about playing pranks is that theyre as much fun planning as they are actually doing them!

Unlucky Person Contest

First Place
With my luck…I’d buy honey-scented perfume and break out in hives.
Susan Parsons-keir

Second Place
With my luck…the cure for narcolepsy wouldn’t be available in non-drowsy.
Thomas Ota, United Kingdom

Third Place
With my luck…if God ever showed up on earth, I’d have jury duty that day.
Andrew Brunelle, Myrtle Beach, SC

Honorable Mention (in random order)

With my luck…my favorite lottery numbers would be drawn the pick before I bought my ticket.

With my luck…if I went to the casino, I’d be robbed at the street before entering the building.

With my luck…if I’d go to bed dead-tired, I’d dream I am doing a marathon.

With my luck…the only time I’d manage to be on time at the office, it’d turn out it is Sunday.

With my luck…if I’d stop eating meat, we would have an outbreak of the lettuce flu.

With my luck…I’ll get caught by my boss for writing humor at w

With my luck…Hell will freeze over before I get there.

With my luck…the day of the end of the world I’d have my TV broken and I couldn’t enjoy the show.

With my luck, just after I finally found the courage to be simply
myself, I’d realize how full of it I really am.

With my luck…I’ll become the next American Idol, only to be later disqualified for not being American.

With my luck…April Fools Day is the only day people don’t play tricks on me.

With my luck…the only way I could make a killing in Vegas is to shoot someone.

With my luck…by the time I take my Christmas lights down, it will be time to put them back up.

With my luck…I’ll never be able to sing like Aretha Franklin because I don’t know how to spell.

With my luck…my day will come…Doomsday.

With my luck…401k is about ten times what my retirement’s going to be

With my luck…I’ll come up with the same joke as someone else.

With my luck…I’ll come up with the same joke as someone else.

With my luck….I’ll get the day off work, and wake up early anyway. With my luck…I’ll go to bed early, and wake up dead.With my luck…American girls would stop liking the British accent if I moved there.With my luck…itd be fashionable to be an introvert the minute I become more outgoing.


1.  The Superiority Theory of Humor.  There is a humor technique which allows the reader or listener to complete the joke. Ill get caught by my boss for writing humor at w   … is the perfect example of this.  The implication is that the boss walked in before the line could be completed.  Excellent.  Its the same principle at work with:  I’ll never be able to sing like Aretha Franklin because I don’t know how to spell.  The writer makes the assumption that you are familiar with Aretha’s songs (Respect).

2. The double entry setup/punchline of: Ill come up with the same joke as someone else.  This was a set up and a punchline submitted by one reader in two separate emails from two different addresses.  Terrific idea. 

3.  The truth.  By the time I take my Christmas lights down, it will be time to put them back up.  Does this ring true for anyone else?  I know someone who has had his Christmas tree up for three years.  I won’t tell you who because I wouldn’t want to embarrass myself. 

4.  Relationships/connections/opposites.  Great use of these key principles throughout.  Narcolepsy/non-drowsy; dead-tired/marathon; office/Sunday; wake up/dead; introvert/outgoing.

5.  Double meanings.  Hives.  401K.  An excellent technique to create humor.

6.  Poking fun at yourself.  Just after I finally found the courage to be simply
myself, I’d realize how full of it I really am.  And, April Fools Day is the only day people don’t play tricks on me.  Self-deprecation is usually an effective and safe form of humor.

7.  Tighten the wording.  The day of the end of the world I’d have my TV broken and I couldn’t enjoy the show.  I totally love this line.  And I feel that tightening the words would make it even stronger.  The day the world ends, my TV will be broken.  The new version is cut from nineteen words to ten, almost in half.  And the punchline is implied, “What a show this will be!”  Less is more.  And let the reader/listener figure out the joke.

The Blunt Truth — Flinching in the Face of Feedback

Thursday, April 13th, 2006

Whether  you’re presenting a humorous talk or a serious talk, you’ll receive audience feedback.  However when delivering a humorous talk the feedback is more blunt.  If you’re giving a motivational speech, you might fool yourself into thinking that people, who sit silently looking at you, are motivated…even if they’re not.  But if your speech is supposed to be funny…and they’re silently looking at you…Houston, we have a problem.  They’re supposed to be laughing. The feedback is obvious.  It’s not that giving a good serious speech is easier.  It’s not.  It’s just that the feedback in the serious or motivational-type talk is often disguised and open to mis-interpretation.

I think, by nature, we humans are not well adapted to feedback.  The natural tendency is to flinch in the face of feedback.  In our daily lives, in our personal relationships, in nearly everything we do, when we receive feedback (dare we call it criticism) we almost automatically become defensive.  It’s no different when we’re on the speaking platform.

As an Ezine writer I receive my own special feedback from readers.  Here are some of the comments I’ve received in recent months in response to my newsletter, blog postings and articles.

1.  I believe your humor tip needed a bit more reality attached to it.

2.  I’m not sure you can go after making someone laugh in such a strategic way.

3.  The newsletter seems more like self-aggrandizement than humor tips.

4.  You’re not funny.

These were comments from four different people.  Each comment could have been received as criticism.  As constructive advice.  As an ignorant opinion.  As a comment from someone having a bad day.  As valuable insight and a gift.

Here’s my take on feedback.  I didn’t flinch the slightest bit or feel badly about any of the comments.  It’s not that I never flinch.  Occasionally, with the right comment, I will.  But I think that 33 years of speaker feedback and contest participation in Toastmasters have conditioned me to receive most feedback in a positive way.

I’ve come to believe that everyone is coming from a good place, trying to do the right thing.  And their truth is based on their reality…as is mine.  Neither of us own the truth.  And their opinion is just as valuable as mine.  Probably more so.  My truth is stuck in my own rut.  Another person’s truth opens the door to fresh thinking and the possibility of growth.  And if not, I can let it go and move on.

The first remark was accompanied by several suggestions to support his comment.  Well written, brilliant ideas.  Right on target.  There’s always another way of looking at any issue.

The second comment was exactly correct.  Getting someone to laugh is not science.  It’s art.  It’s hit and miss…trial and error.  Like learning to hit a golf ball, what we need is internalized skills.  The process of studying the golf swing, while probably necessary, is sometimes a confusion factor when it comes to actually swinging the club.  And so it is with building humor skills.  Each tip is food for growth, points you in the right direction, but is not a magic bullet for instant results.

The third comment.  Self-aggrandizement.  That had never occurred to me.  Someone’s perception is their truth.  Valuable feedback.  Sometimes we receive a dozen positive comments, but isn’t it the one negative remark that burns in our mind.  Get over it.  Choose to grow.  Actually I receive very little feedback on either the Ezine or the Blog.  I’m pleased that the positive comments always exceed the negative ones about ten to one.  And every month for each person who cancels their subscription, ninety-nine don’t.  Yet at the same time I realize that it’s the person with the so-called negative remark who is often doing me a favor.

The fourth comment.  You’re not funny.   Well, I don’t normally try very hard to impress my readers as being funny.  In fact, my writing is probably more dry than it should be.  So he’s probably more right than wrong.  I’m not a humor writer…catch me on the platform.  And even then, my humor might not be your style.  And that’s ok.  Most of my audience likes me.  But all of them never will.

A recent feedback experience was my participation in the Toastmasters division level speech contest.  I was considered by some to be the favorite to win, having won 13 division contests in the past.  I took third place.

I drew speaking position number one.  Not the best slot.  In the opening of my talk I knocked over my easel holding my one visual aid.  And to top it off, the winner had a much better written and delivered speech!  Ah, the frustrations of competition.

Bottom line:  The contest cycle this spring was a terrific learning experience.  I had the opportunity to get feedback on three different speeches (I chose not to repeat the same speech at each level).  I had fun.  Glad I competed.  And now the pressure is off until next year.

So start to condition yourself to accepting feedback.  Learn to solicit feedback.  Make it a habit to thrive on feedback.  Whenever everyone is piling on the praise, keep your radar tuned for that one “negative” comment.  It may be just what you need to move to the next level.

April Humor Contest

Saturday, April 1st, 2006

April is National Humor Month.  This is a great time to feature not just one contest but TWO.

1.  The Unlucky Person Contest.  This contest idea comes from Les Harden, winner of our March Contest.

Here’s the format.

With my luck….punchline.


With my luck…I’d be the first person to die on Survivor. (line from Les Harden)

With my luck…if I ran for President, I’d win.

With my luck…if I wore a bullet-proof vest, nobody would shoot me.

With my luck…my wife will win the lottery, the day after the divorce is final.

** See the previous posting for 41 humor-line writing tips. **

2.  The April Fool Contest.

Submit your favorite April Fool prank or practical joke (an actual one) that you have either played on someone or which you experienced being played on you.  Not one you’ve simply heard about, but a prank or joke you have personally been an initiator of or victim of.

3.  Send entries for either contest, or for both contests.  We’ll need your submissions not later than April 16.  Submit your best entries to us at:  Our panel of judges will vote and we will post the contest results on April 28. 

When you win, we’ll place you under a pedestal.  The first-place entries will win a spot next to past winners on the Humor Power 3X5 Card of Fame! 

Good luck!

41 Tips For Writing Funny Lines

Saturday, April 1st, 2006

Here is a review of humor writing techniques, gathered from our recent contests, which may be helpful when you’re writing lines for The Unlucky Person contest.

Our past contests were:Blank Book Titles contest:  The Ten Best Things to Say to Someone When You Are Angry.A School of Fish contest (names for groups of people):  A giggle of girls.

Life Has Taught Me contest:  No matter how sexy your spouse is, at some point you’re going to have to talk with each other.

Mergers contest:  If Disneyland merged with an organ bank, it would be Disney Gland.

Toasters contest:  If financial planners made toasters, the bread would pop up and down but turn out just fine in 5 – 10 years.

It’s a Numbers Game

1.  Quality and quantity.  The winner of each contest was usually the person who submitted the most lines.  In the comedy writing business, even top professional writers aim for quantity.  The funniest lines seldom spring from the pen or keyboard while writing the first line.  Inspiration comes from deep within the creative process…with the 20th line, the 50th line, the 100th line.  When you go to the gym, your success comes not from the first pushup or curl, but from many repetitions.

2. When you’re stuck, go deeper.  When you do creative writing, and you think you’ve run out of ideas, write ten more.  The deeper you go, the more likely you’ll uncover that great line. Are your chances of winning the lottery better with one ticket or 188 tickets?  Sometimes someone who buys only one ticket wins, but not normally. It’s a numbers game.

The Philosophy of Competing

3.  Remember, the contest is about growth.  It’s not about winning.  Trite as that may sound, it’s true.

4.  Subjectivity of humor.  As usual, the taste of the judges varied from person to person.  You might disagree with the selection of the judges.  When I provide a suggested rewrite to improve a joke, you may feel that the original version is better!  So remember than if you don’t win, it doesn’t mean that your lines weren’t great.

5.  Funny ideas seem to have no limits.  Of 650 entries in the School of Fish contest, amazingly there were only five duplicate entries.  As a group, we could come up with over 10,000 different lines.  I’m sure of it.  Your personal capabilities for creativity are also unlimited.

The Truth is Funny

6.  Life philosophy.  Often the submitted lines had a philosophical message with a humorous touch.  One of the guiding principles of humor is that the Truth is funny.  Looking at personal experiences, likes, and dislikes strikes a humorous chord.

Your Audience

7.  Target audience.  Often times the quality of a joke is judged by whether it’s presented to the right audience.  When a joke is customized for a specific audience, it magnifies the impact of the joke.  Lines which you’ll write for a skit to be presented at work will hit the mark, yet when you tell them to your friends at home, they’ll yawn.

8.  Superiority theory.  One of the theories of humor is that people, your audience, find something funny when they “figure it out for themselves.”  It is sometimes referred to as the superiority theory of humor.  Don’t give them everything.  Give them the clues and they love it when they “get it.”

The Set-Up

9.  The Set-Up for a joke is as often as important as the punchline.  The setup is often the background necessary for the listener to understand the joke.

10.  Sometimes the Set-Up is not directly stated.  For example: Life has taught me…to run like hell when a chicken sneezes.   What is implied is your awareness of the news headlines on the bird flu.  Without that awareness (setup) your likely response to the joke would probably be “Huh?”  Sometimes it is a choice to imply the set up or clearly spell it out.  It’s better if it’s implied, but sometimes it’s essential to clearly state the set up. 

Surprise and the Unexpected

11.  Remember that the punchword, the humor trigger, should be the last word of the punchline.  You want to hide the surprise until the very end.

12.  The twist.  Often, a good humor line has an unexpected twist. 

The teachers always hated me, even when I was the principal.

I once tried reading a book upside down, but I had a hard time keeping my legs up in the air.

Relationships Are the Key

13.  Relationships and connections are the key to nearly every joke.  When you understand this principle, the humor lines will start to jump out at you.

14. Pay attention to how things and groups are different and how they are the same.  This uses the principle of finding relationships.

15. Laying the qualities of one category onto another:  If toasters were made by Harley-Davidson, they’d be noisy and only cool people would buy them.

16. Look for both positive and negative relationships.  The creation of humor lines could be for praise or satire:  A sage of psychics.  A scam of psychics.

17. Word relationships and word  flow combinations.  An interesting technique is to find a group name that blends with the “A” that starts the sentence:  A lone of popes.  A loof of social climbers.

18. Splitting an Existing Word Pair.  Look for names, word pairs and phrases that can be split to create group names.

A karen of carpenters

a huckleberry of Finns

A nit of wits

A forgiveness of sinners

19. The Flip Side.  A giggle of girls..might suggest:

A brat of boys

20. Or look for totally opposite meanings within your humor line.

a deity of atheists

Look to Your Life Experiences

21.  Tap your life experiences.  Explore things that have happened to you that were funny or embarrassing.

22.  What in life irritates you?  That takes advantage of the principle of The Truth Is Funny.

23.  What life experiences taught you lessons?  This will lead to funny connections.

24. Look for a problem, then find a funny solution.  Dumb solutions are funny.

Ask The Right Questions

25.  Asking “What If” questions lead you to funny ideas.  For example, looking for a twist with a what-if:  If BREAD made toasters, they’d be marketed as portable tanning salons.

26.  What if questions can lead you to excellent exaggerations.

Go Beyond the Ordinary

27.  Exaggeration is a great humor technique.  My wife watches fear factor for the cooking tips.

28.  Extrapolation.  Taking something a step further. Life has taught me that if you burn garlic toast bad enough, it will catch on fire.

29.  Absurdity.  Taking exaggeration to an extreme.  When I replace my carpet, I’ll look for a pattern that looks like dirt.  With my luck…if I bought a life insurance policy, I wouldn’t die.

Playing With Sounds

30.  Homonyms and Similar sounds:

 Toasters made by a religious group are made for prophet (profit).

A herd of cowboys

A heard of ear doctors

I would combine these two lines to make:

A herd of ear doctors.  (and let the connection be implied)

31.  A rhyming dictionary is a great creative tool to find fun-sounding connections:  A clobber of boxers.

32. Alliteration works well.   A cackle of comedians.33. Onomatopoeia.  Look for group names that consist of sounds to add an auditory dimension to the humor.A splat of painters

A slammer of spammers (double duty here for the word slammer/prison)

A crash of cymbalists

 34.  It is said that words with a K sound are funnier:  Life has taught me…Never buy a cactus covered couch with a credit card if you can carry cash. 

Word Play

35.  Playing with double meaning of words:  If toasters were made by accountants, every crumb would COUNT (addition versus significance).

A wave of greeters.  While wave relates to greet, it is also a descriptive word for a group (amber waves of grain).

A hail of cabbies.  Double word meaning for hail sets up the visual picture of lots of cabbies or “raining cabbies.”

A yank of jerks.  Double word meaning of jerk sets up the group name.

36.  Use a dictionary and synonym finder to connect word relationships.

37.  Tweak the Spelling.  Don’t necessarily settle for the first spelling of a group name.

A firmation of Yes Men…could be changed to

A formation of Yes Men.  A subtle connection to affirmation when read aloud.

A thong of streetwalkers.  A nice twist on throng with the R deleted.

38. Adding a Qualifier.  Sometimes you can add an adjective or adverb to give the connections in the line a better link or twist.

A hoy of sailors…could become:

A hoy of Spanish sailors

Watch Current News and Advertising

39. Connecting with common marketing slogans:  If toasters were made by Rice Krispies they would Snap Crackle and Pop.

40. Connection with something funny from the past:  If toasters were made in cyber space, Al Gore would have claimed to have invented them

Backwards and Forward

41.  You can work in more than one direction.  In the group name contest (school of fish) you could work from either the group looking for a name: 

CARPENTERS.  A pound of carpenters.  A Karen of Carpenters.  Or you could start with a name and then work the other direction, looking for a group to match.  GAG.  A gag of comics.  A gag of jurists. 

If you ever feel blocked, explore working on the same idea in a different direction or angle.