April 1, 2009

Humor is a Serious Thing!

It’s April, the month that begins with all forms of foolishness.

Writing humor is hard for those of us who write “straight” text for a living. When we’re told to let our hair down and have fun, we sit at our computers distressed.

Last month, columnists across America agonized over their annual April Fools Day columns. Some put pencil to paper and found it pointless. Newspaper editors brainstormed visual puns to use on their front pages only to discover that the mere idea of a visual pun made their photographers shutter. By March 31st, many journalists continued to struggle with their humorous ideas. They worked 24 hours straight, scrambling to put the finishing touches on their April Fools Day pranks, before calling it a day.

Visual puns can be a knightmare for photographers.

Our local newspaper used to run an April Fools Day story on the front page. One year, the Loch Ness Monster was lurking in our small-boat harbor on Lake Michigan. Another year, the paper reported that the president was visiting friends in town, and the Secret Service had blocked off an entire neighborhood. Our paper’s last April Fools Day story was about a jumbo jet making an emergency landing in a local park. It caused such a traffic jam that the paper’s editor decided to stop the annual prank. Too many people took the stories literally. Where was their sense of humor!

On April Fools Day, and every day, newspapers provide great inspiration for writing humor. When I’m looking for amusing ideas and characters, I never miss reading my paper.

Take the police reports, for example. There’s always something interesting there. Today, I read that officers were called to a daycare center where a three-year-old was resisting a rest. Another item reported that an APB was sent out to officers to apprehend a short fortune-teller who escaped from our local jail. The description of her was sketchy. It said only that she was a small medium at large. Wouldn’t she make a terrific main character for a humorous story?

Even bad news can provide an idea for a funny story. Recently, I read in the paper that there was a guy who was fired from an orange juice factory because he had a problem concentrating on his job. Then, there was a story about an optician who fell into the lens-grinding machine and made a spectacle of himself. I even found a tiny article next to the obituaries that said the woman who fell into the upholstery machine last week, and was left for dead, is fully recovered. Wouldn’t any of these be a great starting point for a humorous tale?

Even bad news can provide ideas for a funny story, like this: a-salted peanut.

I love browsing the newspaper for bits and pieces of odd information to use in my writing. Trivia is a great starting point for writing humor. For example, I was interested to learn that when fish are in schools they sometimes take debate. I was also excited to find out that ancient orators often tended to Babylon. I was even more excited when our newspaper devoted more space to its astronomy column. Some of the strange and outrageous trivia in that column led me to see the sun in a whole new light. Yes, indeed! Newspapers provide great inspiration for humor.

With all the inspiration that newspapers can provide, there will always be some writers who just cannot write anything funny—not on April Fools Day, or any other day. I just read about a writer who sent ten puns to her friends with the hope that at least one of the puns would make them laugh. Unfortunately, no pun in ten did. Like I said, writing humor is hard.

As the old saying goes: Time flies like an arrow, and fruit flies like a banana. It’s time to end this post. Happy Easter to all. Happy Spring!

If you enjoyed the puns in this month’s post
you’ll love Richard Lederer’s
Get Thee to a Punnery.

Writing wasn’t my first career choice. I used to be a tap dancer until I fell in the sink.