Dana’s Bathroom Emergency … and How to Write Really Funny Stuff
By Dave Fox
What makes something funny?
The key to virtually all humor is an element of surprise or incongruity. Whether you hear a great joke, read a funny story, or experience something humorous that happens spontaneously, look for that surprise and you’ve found the source of the laughter.
If you want to write humor (or perform stand-up or sketch comedy, give funny presentations, etc.) the trick to making people laugh is to lead your audience partway down a path, then yank them in a direction they’re not expecting.
One of the ways to do this, I learned many years ago from one of my comedic mentors, Bill Stainton, is to make something go wrong. And… often in life, things just go haywire on their own. When they do, you’ve got the potential for hilarity.
I mention this now because of something that happened at the Globejotting Happy Hour in Denver a few weeks ago. While I was having fun slurping some tasty (ahem… and potent) microbrews with a boisterous group of my readers, writing students, and former tour members, one of my students was having a little bathroom emergency. The rest of us were laughing so loudly outside, it took a while before any of us heard Dana screaming.
Here’s an excerpt about what went down from Dana Talusani’s blog:
I become so engaged in conversation that suddenly, I realize that I have to pee really bad. We are talking emergency here. Two craft beers threaten to spill out of my person at any second. And remember, I’m the kid who earned the nickname “Leaky” as a child.
I race down the corridor in search of a bathroom. The first one I see is a free-standing single bathroom with a placard that reads: Handicapped. I don’t see any wheelchairs in the vicinity and Hell, a bladder like mine is a handicap in my book, so I go for it.
Doing the pee-pee dance, I lock the door, dash to the toilet and baaaarely make it. Whew.
I wash up and turn the lock to exit the bathroom. The lock won’t budge. I use more force. Nope. I twist the heck out of the thing. Nada.
I resort to banging on the door, hollering, “Hey! I’m stuck in here! Help! Help!”
Did Dana ever escape, or is she still trapped, three weeks later, blogging from her phone? You can read her full, hilarious account of the happy hour and her bathroom mayhem on her blog at thekitchwitch.com.
Dana uses a technique I teach in my online humor writing class: Start with a personal experience in which something goes awry. Then, amp up the laughter by showing us how the situation unravels – with selective details, creative wording, and often a little embellishment.
There are lots of different techniques you can use to take something that’s only gone a little wrong, and spin it into a laugh-inducing tale. A lot of this happens through trial and error. The first thing you must do is find that moment when the surprise happens – conflict, a mishap or mini-crisis, the first slice of time when you hear yourself mutter, “Oh crap.” You might be having a bad moment, but you could also have a wildly funny story percolating, which will reverberate far longer than the suckiness at hand!
Want to learn how to write really funny stuff? I’m working feverishly this month on a new, self-guided version of my popular online humor class, “Professional Humor Tricks for Writers, Speakers, and Other Misfits.” You’ll be able to do the course at your own pace, and mingle online with an international gaggle of other aspiring humorists. I hope to launch the course by March 1 (2013) and will be offering a big discount for the first few days it’s available… plus an even bigger discount for subscribers of my online newsletter. To get that even bigger discount, and find out as soon as the course goes live so you don’t miss the big sale, sign up for the newsletter in the right sidebar on this page.