Unfortunately, this will be my last post with DIY MFA. While I am sad to end this chapter, I hope what comes next is a bright future. And I hope that for all of you too.
The last two years have been hard. Not to understate it, there just aren’t proper words to cover the scope of the confusion, stress, and heartaches we all faced. And there isn’t much that’s funny about that.
Which is why I believe many shied away from humor writing and comedy for a spell.
Some shifted to other mediums to deal with angst and grief.
While others, those highly skilled in dark humor or well-versed in the ability to still be light-hearted and silly during dark times, kept at it. Making comedy specials. Doing stand-up. Writing comic novels.
The wheel kept turning. And as a result, so did we.
Now we have this new comedic beast. And it’s an exciting time. Humor is no longer about women who shop and men who spend too much time in the garage and don’t ask for directions.
It’s also no longer humor about nothing. It is very much something. It addresses the pain and anguish we all felt. It addresses the changes to society that confuse us. It addresses the human psyche in a way we might never have been brave enough to do before.
And it was a pleasure to teach you to do these things with your writing.
What I Hope You’ve Learned
I insisted that you still write humor, even if you think you aren’t funny because you are probably wrong. You didn’t even have to take my word for it. Like Levar Burton, I let the famous humor writers who doubt their own talents, speak for themselves.
Why did I do that? Because humor writers and humor writing have been a thing since the dawn of civilization. And not to beat you over the head with that, but why take yourself out of the humor lexicon? Why insist you’re not funny enough to write humor? You’ll quickly find that writing humor isn’t like eating spinach, and you’ll kick yourself for not trying it out sooner.
I also told you that introverts aren’t shy and are, in fact, some of the funniest writers and comedians that exist. Not only did I debunk many harmful myths about introversion, but I played with the notion that comedy, humor, and psychology are all tied together. Why did I do that? Because the myth of personality also stops people from trying or even allowing themselves to see what they are capable of.
And this is just step 1: allowing yourself to sit down and write humor.
For those itching and ready, step 2 is the how-tos:
I told you that you can use stand-up as a way to outline your humor writing and to get you thinking about the kind of humor writing people expect to read. I didn’t tell you that, even when you are stuck, improv is a great way to get started. Check out this blog post I wrote after sitting in a session with Chip Brewer where he taught improv for writing. And check out this sister podcast episode all about Improv for Writers.
Remember that writing and performing standup is interchangeable. Comedians need outlines for their sets, just as humor writers need outlines to write their essays. They both need feedback and critique. They both edit and improve their skills. They both need to be fearless and face down potential naysayers.
With this information, you are armed with the ability to think on your feet, to continue making humorous observations, and even get a sense of your own special brand of humor. You can hit the ground running.
What I Hope You Continue to Learn
The next step is to get started. Here are some tips for goal-setting and looking ahead:
- Set a goal to write a true story from your life every Monday.
- Every Wednesday, go through that story and find the humor in it.
- Every Friday, do whatever you can to highlight and exaggerate the funny.
- Keep doing this until you’ve written five stories.
- Reread them, see what they have in common. Make connections.
- Read them outloud and nail the timing. Bonus if done in front of a small audience.
Humor writing isn’t all that different from other writing. If you’re here, it’s because you love writing. You know your niche, and on some level, you must know what you are doing. I’m not going to talk down to you and act like this is too hard.
Humor writing requires the same discipline as writing in other genres. The same colorful, empty notebooks, the same timed writing sprints. Maybe the mindset is a bit different, but you are still writing with purpose. Continue to learn how your unique brand of writing is necessary and has its own flavor. Develop it and don’t shy away.
What I Learned
I didn’t try to go into this experience blind. I looked to others more skilled than I and read what they had to say. I took classes and watched people in action. I took their advice and tried it out myself before imparting that knowledge to you.
The column’s original title was “What’s So Funny?” the idea being that I would write about what was funny during such unfunny times. Or even helping you develop the skill of finding the funny in maybe your own “unfunny” life. End of the day we could work together to develop the dying skills of irony and nuance.
Want to read about a funny experience? I lost my job and found out I was pregnant all in the same week. It feels vulnerable and honest to say that, and guess what, that’s where the humor is. That gut-punch of reality and actively staring it down until you can’t help but laugh. That’s what I ultimately learned from all the experts I watched, read, and spoke to.
The Truth about Humor Writing
The truth about humor writing is that it is truth.
The thing about fiction is that people can’t debate whether or not it’s fiction. The author says it is, so that’s that. But, like humor writing, it can also come from a true place. Sure you made up the place and time and the character names, but there is a kernel of truth in what you are writing, or there isn’t any point to writing it.
The same is true of humor writing. Don’t just try to get laughs, teach people something true. What is the purpose of your humor? Why should people laugh? Point to things they might be overlooking or missing. Think about what makes you laugh and then don’t let yourself off the hook. Figure out why.
Once you start thinking more critically about humor, you give it life again, in a time where I feel humor is dying off.
Share your voice, and bring it back.
Amy Ayres has four novels in progress and is querying two. When she is not in her office writing about comedy, terraformed planets, multiple personalities, stolen pinwheels, and Irish folklore, she is hanging with her awesome tech-savvy hubby, stepson, baby bump, and RubyCat. Visit amymarieayres.com. You can sign up for her Newsletter where she sends out motivational tips for new writers and her special brand of humor.