Monday, July 8, 2013

Guest Post: Martin Willoughby

I'm happy to be hosting Martin today!

How To Write Humour

There are lots of rules about writing humour, but there’s one that stands out from all the rest: If you’re not laughing, no one else will either. The second standout rule is aptly summarised by the playwright Alan Ayckbourn who said, ‘dramatic acting is easy compared to comedy acting’.  Why? Because everyone laughs at different things. That’s not to say there aren’t generalities that most people find amusing, the success of comedy shows such as Friends and Monty Python attest to that, but even then everyone will find something different in the show that they remember.
With a standup routine you can tell if it’s going well by the number of laughs you’re getting. You can then adjust your comedy routine accordingly, or, as Eddie Izzard, does, make a fake note on his hand to the effect of ‘Must remember not to do that joke again’.
Writing humour for a play, film, TV show or novel is more difficult than a standup routine as you have a far more general audience in mind than the relative few who attend comedy clubs, or those who find your brand of humour funny. 
First of all, find out what makes you laugh. Jot down films, comedians, etc. that make you laugh or smile, even when you’ve seen them a hundred times. For me one epic moment comes in a Bob Hope & Bing Crosby film where they’re sent into space. The capsule has been designed for monkeys and the feeding system goes, overfeeding them bananas and milk. I first saw that clip in the 1970s and it still makes laugh when I think of it now.
Once you’ve identified the things that make you laugh, see if there are any instances in your novel that lend themselves to a bit of humour in that vein and experiment.
For me, my first book, which was relaunched on 1st July, started out as a piece of serious SF, but the characters lent themselves to comedy so well, I changed it and have been writing comedy ever since. There were ideas that just left me laughing out loud (my neighbours still give me odd looks), so I wrote them down and worked with them until they were funny even when I knew what was coming.
The second thing is not to elaborate. Don’t tell the reader every punchline; allow them to come up with their own sometimes. The best horror films use the audiences imagination to great effect and it’s a tool that a comic writer can use to good effect, such as the following piece from the second comedy I’ll be re-releasing later this year, Apollo the Thirteenth.
Carla remembered what God had said to her earlier and started to laugh, then whispered in Anne's ear. Anne started to laugh and said, “Oh that's good.”
As the novel never reveals what God has said, it allows the reader to make up their own joke based on what’s funny to them.
In summary, writing humour is about writing what makes you laugh, then making other people laugh too.  And you’ll always find someone who will find what you say funny.

Martin Willoughby has performed on stage in comedy, drama and pantomime and makes people laugh wherever he goes, sometimes deliberately. Tempers Fugit is his first book, published by Bubble Books is available as an ebook on Amazon, and will soon be available as a paperback.

Twitter: @Willabywriter


  1. Wonderful tips, Martin! Thanks.

  2. Great post! I have the hardest time writing humor, mainly because my sense of humor has always been so off the wall. Nobody seems to get it, so I stick with mostly dramatic stuff. :)