So You Wanna Write Funny? by Heather Haven

In my far-off youth and for as long as I can remember, lurked inside me the heart of a comedy writer. I wanted nothing more than to be writing funny quips for people, like Woody Allen did for Sid Caesar on Your Show of Shows, back in the fifties. I wasn’t around then, but I’ve seen most of the kinescopes interviews with Allen and Caesar and was mesmerized. Just to make it clear, I wasn’t nearly as impressed by Allen’s foré into his own comedy shows, record albums, movies and even less impressed with his romantic encounters. What got me where I lived was him writing words for performers that made an audience laugh. I couldn’t imagine a greater existence.

One of my very first jobs as a writer in New York City was for No Soap Radio. As the name implies, we wrote funny ads and commercials for radio, had a ball and got paid a weekly salary! Does it get any better than that? Of course, the weekly stipend was so little I often had to decide if I would pay my rent or the phone bill, but by golly, I was a comedy writer. It was a short-lived chapter of my life, maybe a little more than a year, but the things I learned from that group of comedy writers have held fast for the rest of my writing life.

The art of comedy is serious business and you’d better know your business. You’d better know timing, delivery, and what the funny words are. By funny words – and most people don’t think about this – these are words that automatically cause people to smile or chortle. For instance:

Orange? Not so funny. Kumquat. Funny.

Move? Not so funny. Jiggle. Funnier.

Glasses? Not so funny. Spectacles. Funny. Or maybe more funny. Testicles? Whoa. Never mind. But in comedy, expect the unexpected. It often gets a laugh.

But back to words, if you don’t have the words in the right order, with the right rhythm and cadence, it’s probably not going to work. I’ve known comics to work on a one-line joke for weeks until they get it right.

Speaking of comics, have you noticed they often talk in violent or military terms? “I slaughtered ‘em last night” “Man, that audience was murder” “Go out and kill ‘em, pal,” phrases like that. There’s a reason for it. If you don’t get that laugh, you might as well be dead. Comics are very serious about their laughs.

Same with authors who write a funny mystery series. That corpse better be laughing when he hits the ground. Otherwise, I don’t sleep so good at night.

6 thoughts on “So You Wanna Write Funny? by Heather Haven

    1. I totally get that. I just love writing comedy, but I like writing pretty straight, too. That’s for thinking the post was a good one.


  1. Writing humor is hard, no question. Occasionally I find myself falling into my own brand of wry humor when that’s not what the scene calls for (or at least not what I had planned). I can’t imagine going through life without the sanity preserving gift of humor. The more I read on Ladies of Mystery, the more I learn about the amazing backgrounds of the writers here. You wrote for comedians! I think that’s fabulous.


    1. Wow, thank you, Susan. It was and is a lot of fun, I have to admit. Not a lot of $$ but we do what we love. I have to admit that writing a humor murder mystery series checks all the boxes for me. I love it!!


  2. Fun post, Heather! I actually went to a workshop to learn to write funny and realized, I don’t have the knack for it. I ended up making a heroine clumsy and that was my comedy in the story. LOL I like humor in my books, because without humor and relationships you don’t have well-rounded characters, but I can’t write funny on purpose. I am not a comedian. My hat is off to those who can.


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