What’s Funny When Nothing Is Happening?

We had a challenging cartoon for the July caption contest.  It was a simple drawing of a man and a woman standing next to a window.  Often a cartoon will have a built-in twist which will be the obvious center-point of the humorous caption.  But in this case the cartoon did not offer something that shouted funny.

Here’s the cartoon:

It can be challenging to make something out of nothing.  Frustration can lead to captions like:

  – I can’t think of anything funny to say, how about you?
  – It’s a slow day at work.  Nothing’s happening.
  – Don’t you love having a job where you can just stand around?

Let’s look at some techniques which will help point your writing to something funny:

1.  Ask “what happened just before this scene?”  Any frame is part of a bigger scene.  Something happened before, and something is going to happen after the moment depicted in the frame.  Ask, where did they come from?  Where are they going?  It doesn’t have to be something immediately before or after the scene.  The man could say:  “I didn’t get the promotion this morning, but the fun I had at the party last night was worth it.”

2.  What is the relationship between the two people?  That question can lead to something meaningful which is not immediately drawn into the cartoon.  Are they boss and employee?  Husband and wife?  Sales person and customer?  The woman might say:  “You’re right.  The morning staff meeting was probably the wrong place to serve the divorce papers.”

3.  Where are they?  It looks like a scene at an office because they’re dressed in suits.  But they could be in a library or somewhere else.  If you were thinking “in an office,” that gives you the vehicle for listing “things that are said or that happen in an office.”  Layoffs, sexual-harassment, office politics and more.  You can probably come up with a dozen things on your list.

4.  Dig deeper.  Look for the smaller details.  Many of our contest entries focused on the suits they were wearing.  The woman’s earring.  The woman’s glasses.  How about the birds?  The man could say:  “I didn’t know you shopped at the Men’s Warehouse too?”

5.  Current events or topical humor.  What’s happening in the day’s headlines?  They could be chatting about what they saw on the morning news.  The winning caption did that:  “Is it a tax or a penalty?  That depends on what your definition of “is” is.”  That kind of caption could be used it they were sitting at a restaurant. Or at a bus stop.  It’s not very specific to the moment in the cartoon.  But if you’re stuck and think “nothing’s happening,” it can provide you water-cooler conversation which can work nicely. 

6.  Combine techniques:  The third-place caption was:  “Of course, I can ask you out. The Supreme Court just ruled individual man dates as constitutional.”  That deals with the relationship between the two people.  And it taps into current events humor.  That’s a richer joke than one just using topical humor because it adds the texture of a relationship.

When you have some techniques in your humor tool box, it makes it easier to create something out of nothing.  But always remember that in any scene “nothing” is never happening.  That frame of reference help point you toward something funny.

Click here for the top entries in the caption contest.