You Call that Funny?
Jewlarious is looking for contributors. Here are my 10 tips. Whether you want them or not.
First, a little humility here. Mel Brooks I’m not. But I’ve had the great privilege and pleasure of writing for Jewlarious for some years now, along with other humor sites, so, for those of you out there who have said, thought, or been told: “You’re hysterical! You should write!” and want to give it a try, here are some pointers that might be, could be, helpful before you submit your work to our darling editor, who beneath that funny, tough exterior, is a funny tough judge. But I don’t mean to scare you.
1. HUMOR IS SERIOUS BUSINESS. True, it’s not like developing a cure for polio (or for that matter, an allergy to gribenes), but writing funny is tougher than writing about say, “Places to Visit in Borneo.” The late funnyman Steve Allen once cited a study done of comics that found they had a significantly higher I.Q. than average. Think about it. Have you ever met a truly funny schnook – who was trying to be funny? Be prepared to take the work seriously.
2. ARE YOU REALLY TRULY FUNNY? Just as we’re born with a nose, or a personality like Genghis Kahn, so are we born funny – or not. If one is an “or not”, don’t fret, you can still appreciate humor. My late husband for example, a Sr. Editor (The New York Times), had many skills. Humor wasn’t one of them. He told the same joke for 30 years – to the same people. Every Passover. It had to do with the Queen saying, why is this “knight” different from all other “knights?” Once I fainted when he started. He let me lay there … until the punchline.
3. HUMOR, WHAT ISN’T SO FUNNY. If your sense of humor is limited to two-liners (“Why is a Jewish mother like a Rottweiler?”) or you’re a pun nut (“Jewphoria is the way you feel when you realize Jew only live once”) you might consider a career in accounting. You may be a riot to your family, or at a Shul meeting with this shtick, but please mamalas, don’t give up the day job.
4. WHAT IS FUNNY? Everyone has their own idea of what’s funny, but in general, truly funny people tend to be quirky. They notice, and their strange minds immediately pick up the humor or oddity. Instead of the doughnut, they think the person who said, “OY, Look! There’s a hole. Let’s sell it” is a genius. Even in unpleasant or neutral situations, they see the humor. I thought the sign on the Express aisle in the supermarket that read “ABOUT 15 items” was a riot. I am almost alone in that. Let me explain what went quickly through my mind: As no one pays attention to the number anyway, and wars have been started over “is 10 of the same thing ‘10’ or ‘1’?” the fact that the store “gave up” is to me, funny. The ability to look at everyday situations or habits and see the humor is a must, and made Seinfeld a fortune.
5. ORIGINALITY/CREATIVITY. I have a friend who’s like a joke machine. He knows every old Jewish joke and tells them, over and over. I stare with a smile so frozen, I need a vat of Chap Stick and the Jaws of Life to feel my lips again. While few things are like discovering Black Holes, nevertheless, you’ve got to have a new angle, a different perspective. For example, I took the DSM (psychological Disorder Manual) and turned it Jewish. Others have written brilliant satire. The point is, ask yourself (and this is for you, my late husband), “Why is this article different from all the other articles on the same topic?”
6. MAKE A POINT WORTH MAKING – SIMPLY. Sure, jokes can be funny, and believe me, after writing scores of Jewish joke calendars, I’ve heard them all. Writing a funny article requires a point. We all do it differently. Personally, I get an idea and ask myself can this be expanded? For example. I’m fascinated by why there are more pinks than whites in Good & Plenty. I tell you, there are 33 pieces, and probably 25 are white. Why?! To me this is sort of funny. Even MORE funny is why I care. But is this an article I ask you? Not yet. On the other hand, Advice from a Meshuggah Jewish Mom is a concept. You can list examples, and from this get 1,000 words. You heard 1,000 words? Simple is harder but better. Don’t over write or become so in love with your brilliant metaphors that only you know what you’re saying. When I first starting writing for “As the World Turns,” I got a call from my boss, the late, constantly fascinating Doug Marland – at 7 am on a Sunday. He said: “Turn to Margo’s scene, Act A.” I did. I had written a metaphor so deep, so complex, so long, it made Hemingway look like a jingle writer. He then said: “Our audience is ironing. By the time they figure out what the heck Margo’s saying, we’ll be into ‘Guiding Light.’” I never did that again.
7. KNOW WHO YOU’RE WRITING FOR. Let me actually bring you into the process. Right now I’m considering a piece on stupid anti-Semitic beliefs we only wish were true. I haven’t yet decided. Here’s why. AISH/Jewlarious is a fairly conservative Jewish site. Even though I’d be making fun of idiocy, I am asking myself, “Is this OK for the site?” Each outlet has its own policies and tone. Know you’re audience.
8. RESEARCH RESEARCH RESEARCH. Even in humor, know thy facts. Trust me, one little mistake and your readers will be all over you. In fact, if you research and something doesn’t feel right … keep checking. I do thorough research, yet in one of my books I referred to “the late” Calvin Trillin. He was and is very much alive. OY VEY. Why? I misheard a newscast. I called and told him: “Mr. Trillin … I am SO sorry … but I killed you.” Then explained. The feisty, brilliant curmudgeon’s answer? “I’ve been called worse.” DON’T LET THIS HAPPEN TO YOU.
9. FIND YOUR COMIC VOICE. Every writer, artist, actor, musician, has a “voice” – a distinctive style that is them. It takes a while to find your own, but do look at the writers you like and admire. Take notes. I did. As you continue to write, trust yourself more, and put more “you” into it. On Jewlarious we have some terrific writers, each with their own voice. I suggest you read them all.
10. CAN YOU “WRITE” FUNNY? You may be a true riot – in person. But can you write it funny? This has a lot to do with instinct and timing. Ever hear a person tell a good joke, bad? Oy. As my friend Jackie Mason once told me: “A wrong word, an out of place word can ruin the whole piece.” He’s right. Ditto with logic. You’re building something. If there’s no order it’s like taking a wrong turn and you’ve detoured into oblivion, leaving your readers asking “Wha …? Where’d she go?”
I’ll leave you with this bit of advice from my late husband. “A writer is someone who gets paid to write.” Simple. If you’ve sent your pieces to 30 humor sites over and over and don’t get a nibble, find your true passion and bask in the appreciation. You get a nibble? Someone might give you even a penny a word? Mazel tov. You’re on your way!
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