How to write funny

So you want to create a hilarious website, press release, pamphlet, or something else—but you think you're just not funny at all. Well, writing (and being) funny can be taught. It's a whole thing, but here are a few quick ideas to get you started.

1. Make it a fun puzzle with a real payoff

You need to learn corporate-speak - get intimately familiar with it. Here are a few ways to do that:

  1. Read press releases, employee manuals, websites, and so on.
  2. Check out the PR campaigns of your target.
  3. Co-opt their dense, coded language.

Don't be afraid to see things from your opponent's perspective. Follow your opponent’s line of logic. It’ll take you far.  Speak as them "for real", and do it right - as they would have to do if they were trying to speak clearly about the problem you’re addressing.
Being concise about the problem is key. If the problem you’re exposing is really clear, then your opponent’s argument is doomed.

2. Try not being funny

If you have a tendency to try to be funny or if you think funny means making jokes, take a step back. Sometimes joke-making is a perfect recipe for creating dry, overly satirical content that’s hard for the average human being to care about.

Don't be funny. Following Principle #1, Make it a Real Puzzle: Speak as your target. Fully inhabit their voice, and tell the story just as they would. Sincerity makes the best comedy. You may find yourself laughing and making others laugh, without even making a joke. This is a good sign.  Then you can introduce little jokes here and there - but keep them subtle. Continue in their voice while accidentally getting your real, activist-y point across.

Here’s an example. In a press release from a big corporate restaurant chain, what if the CEO admits: "We must recognize that members of our waitstaff are part of the food chain, too." It's funny because the CEO is so clueless, but it can only be really funny in the context of a press release that comes from the restaurant chain’s point of view. This lets the line provoke a subtle, bottom-of-the-stomach laugh. In a ribald, over-the-top, unbelievable press release it would be just another goofy element lost in a sea of jokeyness.

3. Make your fake content (fake website, fake press release) believable.

Here are some principles for when you need to pass as your target:

  1. Be believable.
  2. Get noticed - grab your audience from the first moment they look at your release.
  3. Convey only essential information.
  4. Be funny and outrageous upon re-reading; once someone is in on the joke, then they can find your material funny (this is related to Principle #1).

All of these principles should remain in balance. Don’t sacrifice believability for the sake of getting noticed, and vice versa.

Check out the CoalCares fake release and website for an example.