by Paul C. Binotto
Telling a joke may be an art, but writing a joke is a science – So, if you want to be a comedy writer, but mom or dad insist that you learn a real job, tell them you are planning to become a Digital Scientist. I know what you’re thinking. Before you say it, I’ll say it for you, “Oh, Great, another egg-head claims he can explain everything with science, including comedy – now that really is a joke!”
Relax, don’t bounce to another site just yet. I’m not about to make such a claim – I don’t have to, somebody else already made it for me! Besides, by my measure you still owe me about 29 seconds. Scott Weems says it’s a science, and he should know he wrote a whole book about it.
According to Weems, “There’s a science behind what makes a joke funny, and though shock and surprise are important, they aren’t everything. Even more essential is something called the “kick of the discovery” …Humor works the same way, first by leading us one way, then suddenly shifting our perceptions.” I hope by this point your perceptions about this article have begun to shift.
Who doesn’t like to be surprised by a punch line we didn’t see coming? He tells us, there’s even one “British researcher Richard Wiseman[ ’s], who search[ed] for the funniest joke in the world” – I know, cool job, right? This guy even discovered the funniest animal – the duck. “Perhaps it’s the webbed feet”, Weems wonders. You’re probably wondering if this guy’s a quack. If ducks are so funny, why did that pun only get crickets?
Anyway, you say, “I am a serious writer, a Professional Writer, I do not intend to be writing ‘funny’ stuff, whether it’s scientific or not.” I assure you, Mr. or Ms. Smarty-pants, writing Comedy counts as Professional Writing and it’s a lot harder than it sounds. You’re just “ducking” the subject, get it, “ducking the subject”, “duck”, “quack” – oh, never mind. Let’s just say you get an assignment from a serious client to write something seriously funny for their website; feel better? No? Ok, well, maybe someday we’ll both look back on this and laugh.
But, if you do get this assignment, I’m just saying, you better be prepared to get your webbed feet wet before you dive into writing online comedy. Get it, “webbed feet”, “online”, “website” – Oh, never mind. We already know, when you write online, your reader can be located anywhere in the world, so you better write in way that can be easily understood by people who don’t have English as their first language or who may not understand American idioms and cliché. Weems tells us Wiseman’s research also finds that, “Preferences (in comedy) differed by nationality too, with British tastes being dry and absurd, and Americans preferring jokes that are slightly aggressive.” We can presume, if this is true for comedy in general, it’s especially true for digital comedy.
Before you think it would be funny to get aggressive with me, I want to leave you with a few closing thoughts. Even if you can’t imagine yourself ever writing online comedy, and you just know you are destined for a cushy New York Ad Agency, or some lofty corporate writing job, writing incredibly bright correspondence for senior executives who will take all the credit for it, remember this: Jordan Bainer, Associate Business Director, Mirum Agency, Minneapolis (notice the impressive title?), has discovered, “How Sketch Comedy Helped Me Write Emails”. He says, “Oddly enough, I’ve found some natural parallels between sketch writing and writing a good email.” So there – happy now?
If you’re still not convinced, there’s another reason to consider writing digital comedy, professionally. The next time your friends rag on you for still sleeping in the spare-bedroom in your parent’s basement you can reply, “That’s not my bedroom, it’s my laboratory.”
Some more fun reading: https://www.truedigital.co.uk/articles/is-creative-work-like-comedy-writing ; https://trainingcenter.secondcity.com/s/sc-class-category/a2g1H000000XvvDQAS/writing-for-tv-film-digital ; https://www.adweek.com/digital/heather-anne-campbell/ . Above Illustration thanks to: https://www.theringer.com/2018/3/26/17157020/online-comedy-the-onion-funny-or-die-digital-media