The literary giant T.S. Eliot said, “Humor is another way of saying something serious.” When broken down into its component parts we begin to see the pattern. ALL humor springs forth from serious subject matter which, on its face, is not particularly funny. But it is in knowing what is serious that we recognize what is or can be humorous. The contemporary comedy writer’s task is to take the serious and twist the standard meaning and search for ways to misdirect the meaning toward the unlikely, the bizarre and non-standard meaning.
The raw material for writing humor from the headlines comes, of course, from newspapers, magazines, popular books, TV shows, radio talk shows, the Internet, and various sources of real news. A great deal of information is required and a broad knowledge of world and local events is necessary. After the raw material is accumulated the writer should categorize it and begin looking for relationships between the serious and the absurd and searching for the comedic point of view.
Sometimes the headlines are humorous on their face. They jump right out at you. The headlines for example, “Lawyers must try case in Union Suit”, “Former man dies in California,” or “Woman is shot and the bullet is in her yet”, are all very funny on their face. When the standard meaning is applied the headlines might appear to be normal. When you distort the meaning in your mind and apply the non-standard meaning, however, you get a different result. Can’t you imagine the Lawyers trying a case in their Union suit ( Long Johns) ? What was the former man who died in California before he died? The woman was shot and the bullet was in her yet. In what part of a woman’s anatomy do we find her YET? Sometimes the headline writers do the comedy writer’s work. I think they do it on purpose because they have a great sense of humor. Often, the simple powers of observation and awareness will create funny material right before our eyes.
Generally, however, the writer has to do a little work to come up with funny humor from the headlines. Here is how I do it. First I pick a subject, then do a spreadsheet based on the journalistic formula of “Who, What, Where, When, How, and Why?” After that I begin looking for relationships between the serious and the potentially humorous items. The next step involves looking for the standard versus the non-standard meaning. Finally, you begin the process of tying together the relatable items, looking for the comedic twist, and eliminating all but the funniest lines. Like most successful endeavors, it is simple but not easy.
After accumulating my raw data, my brain goes through a process as follows: Who is involved? What’s involved? What is going on? How will it effect me or us? Is there a common ground everyone can relate to? When is it happening?
Where is it occurring? What are the relationships? Then I connect the dots and tie it all together.
If for instance, my subject was Politics, we could have a field day. Example: In order to balance the budget, Congress has installed a 1-900-number and is asking for suggestions. Or, it was oppressively hot in Washington recently but since Congress as on recess things did not stink as bad as they usually do. Or, The First Lady visited Historical Monuments this week; She spent time at her favorite stone statue…a Bust of Al Gore. ( My apologies to Al.)
By connecting the standard meaning with the non-standard meaning, using comedic misdirection and distortion, and a bit of the absurd, you can take almost any subject, when appropriate, and turn it into a humorous line.
The humor writer, and the professional humorist, gives us that relief by taking the liberty of humor and applying it liberally and without malice. As that great philosopher mentioned forehand once said, “It is in knowing what is serious that we can find what is humorous.” So get serious about humor and by all means…Keep Laughing!