Family - A Seattle Advertising Agency

15 Amazing Tips That Only Great Comedy Writers Understand


Why Comedy Is the Most Effective Way to Advertise...

1. When telling a joke, always try to place a picture in a person’s head. And now you understand why double-entendres don’t get laughs. They only get a smirk. It puts one too many visuals in a person’s coconut.

2. When writing a joke, really worry about the last word. “He’s taking a nap” is funnier than “He’s sleeping.”

3. Find a character’s peace. Attack it. Don’t give it back without a struggle. Show their pain.

4. A character’s inability to change is funny.

5. A character that is unburdened by self-awareness is funny.

6. If your client is afraid of offending (literally anyone) with your jokes, put them in the distant past or future. You get a lot more leeway with a Pilgrim joke.

7. I don’t care if you Habla español super good-o. If you aren’t an expert on the culture, don’t attempt humor in a different language. Different cultures. Different rules. This is no time to be a hero.

8. Writing comedy is seeing reality through another person’s prism. Different perspectives on the same situation are funny. Change the context and the same copy becomes even funnier.

State Farm “Jacked Up”

9. Clever isn’t funny. It’s clever. If you don’t understand the difference, you can stop reading right now.

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10. A blind guess isn’t funny. Black-and-white decisions are resolved too fast to be funny. You know what’s funny? Indecision is funny. Create choices that are the lesser of two evils, for greater conflict. Light a fuse that forces the character to act before they’re ready. Being forced to choose is very funny.

11. In a comedic argument, quickly move from outer desires to inner desires. If your characters are fighting over an object too long, it becomes dull. Move from the transactional jousting over the object into a need to feel superior. That’s where the comedic gold hides.

12. Not all jokes are created equal. Some jokes are better as a smile rather than a laugh. If you have a short setup, your joke can be a little smile. But the longer the setup, the bigger the laugh needs to be at the end.

13. People must understand the premise or setup of the joke. Communicate the idea clearly by stating the premise at the beginning. The audience needs to understand the premise in order to follow the story or joke. If the joke isn’t working, sharpen your premise.

Of course, there are masters who can screw with the premise. The writers of Seinfeld would hide the premise or setup early in seemingly unrelated situations. And they would move the payoff as far away in time as possible. This type of writing is only for the truly gifted among us. And I will excuse myself right now.

14. A lot of bad advertising places normal characters in a normal world. It might not sound like a lullaby, but it’s putting me to sleep just thinking about it. Or we get advertising that tries too hard. It puts unreasonable characters in an unreasonable world. That sounds like chaos. But the solution is simple. Drop an unreasonable person in a reasonable world, or vice versa. Pull the string. Walk away. The jokes write themselves.

15. Jokes are like a puzzle. The audience is trying to solve the puzzle. But a great joke-teller hides the punch line. The audience must not solve the puzzle until the writer reveals a key piece of information. People love solving puzzles. But they will love you more if the solution is a surprise. That’s what earns a laugh.

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Mike Johnston is a production executive and advertising creative in Seattle. He is available for freelance consulting, writing and directing. Contact Mike

Want to understand how comedy has evolved over time? Read all about it.

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