How To Write Humor — Alternate Word Meanings

The basic principle used to create most humor is that of finding connections and relationships.  Words that have double meanings are ripe for picking when you are creating a funny line.

In the movie Vegas Vacation, Chevy Chase (as Clark Griswold) worked the principle of alternate word meanings to the max when his family visited Hoover Dam.  The tour guide introduces himself with something like:  “Welcome.  I’m your dam tour guide.  Please don’t wander off the dam tour.  But let me know any time you have a dam question.”

For some people the joke would be so obvious as to be unfunny.  And some would think it was in bad taste.  I’m not a big fan of obscene language, but for me, since it wasn’t really a four-letter-word used for shock value, as you see in the comedy clubs, it was a funny sequence and I liked it.

Another principle at work here is the disconnect between the expected proper behavior of a public tour guide and the apparent rude behavior created by the alternate word meaning.  Once the joke is played, playing it again allows it to become its own topper, actually becoming funnier each time. 

It’s a pretty obvious joke.  When I toured the dam seven years ago, the visitors were joking about being “dam tourists.”  Many of them had probably seen the movie.

A widely circulated joke is the one of the duck walking into a drugstore.  He picks up a stick of lip balm and starts to leave the store.  The clerk shouts, “Hey, you haven’t paid yet!”  The duck replies, “Just put it on my bill”  Alternate word meaning in action.

In a joke about a car I describe the car as yellow in color.  Here an alternate association, while not an alternate literal meaning, implies “lemon.”

Get into the habit (when brainstorming for relationships, connections, links and disconnects) of always thinking, “what else could this word mean.”  Sometimes the funny connection or relationship you’re looking for is found within the word itself.  The alternate word meaning could be just the twist you need to bring the humor to life.

Copyright 2007 by John Kinde