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.


Unexpected photography: When asked to smile for one of those those goofy, outstretched-arm self-portraits, and the person with the camera can’t see you behind them, go for something more creative than a smile. (Photo by… ahem… Kattina Rabdau-Fox)

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

Looking for something funny? Twist your perspective until you find the element of surprise.

Looking for something funny? Twist your perspective until you find the element of surprise.

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? Check out my super fun, ridiculously informative online humor writing course on Udemy.

Published on Tuesday, January 29, 2013

2 Responses to “Dana’s Bathroom Emergency … and How to Write Really Funny Stuff”

  1. January 30, 2013 at 6:30 AM


    You know I’ll be on the student roster in March. I still have so much to learn!

    Dana the Shrieking Bathroom Chick

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