Find Your Funny Bone (Without Whacking Your Elbow)

27.09.2020 |

Episode #1 of the course Humor boosters: Lighten and tighten your writing by Gay Merrill


Welcome to Humor Boosters!

Wouldn’t you love to make your communications sparkle, keep audiences awake during presentations, and add fun to your life? Humor can help you with that. People who write funny material attract fans, engage their audience, and stand out from the frickin’ crowd.

My name is Gay Merrill. I’m a content writer, instructional designer, and Canadian. And yes, I’m a humor fanatic specialist. Back in 2012, I began a humor quest that included courses in humor writing, improv, stand up comedy, and even laughter yoga where, at one point, I was literally on the floor laughing. I also ran a meetup group teaching comedy skills. (My community is still laughing about it.)

Over the ten lessons in this course, I’ll share humor insights, then dive into seven humor-boosting techniques and how to apply them. And because crisp writing helps humor shine through more brightly, I’ve included a mini editing lesson. (Bonus.)

In this first lesson, you’ll learn what makes people laugh, why it’s helpful to understand what makes you laugh, and how to find your funny bone (also known as your sense of humor).



Fun fact: The name funny bone comes from the sensation you get when you strike your elbow. (Ouch!) The long bone between your elbow and shoulder is known as the humerus. When you hit your humerus, it causes the ulnar nerve to create that funny sensation. So the funny bone isn’t a bone, it’s the ulnar nerve.

Have you ever stopped to think about what you find funny?

In a comedy-writing course at Second City Training Centre in Toronto, our instructor asked us, “What makes you laugh?” One classmate said a dog wearing sunglasses. (Hmm. I hadn’t thought about the question. A cat wearing sunglasses?)



What Makes People Laugh?

Humor experts have varying explanations for why people laugh. (Have you noticed there’s always an expert, even for humor?) These key ingredients are common among humor theories:

Surprise: You lead your audience in one direction and then shock them with an unexpected twist. Surprise is the basis of a comedian’s joke. The joke starts with a setup which leads down one path and then goes off the path with a punch.

Incongruity: You combine items that don’t belong together, for example, a dog wearing sunglasses. Absurd humor uses this ingredient.

Superiority: You put the audience in a higher position. Self-deprecating humor (poking fun at yourself), which is the safest form of humor, involves superiority. Physical comedy (aka slapstick) and embarrassment can be other forms of superiority.

Recognition: You share an experience or situation your audience can relate to.


Why Understand What Makes You Laugh?

In his book The Complete Idiot’s Guide to Comedy Writing, comedian James Mendrinos writes: “We all laugh at different things. As a comedy writer, the key is to learn what you laugh at so you can bring it to an audience to laugh at. After all, if you don’t think it’s funny, how can you expect someone else to?” He goes on to say that everyone laughs at something, but that something changes from person to person.

Humor is subjective. You might find a Labrador Retriever sporting aviators side-splitting while your friend doesn’t find it funny. Not everyone has the same sense of humor… and sadly some people just don’t get it. That’s okay, you can’t please everyone. So start with what makes you laugh.


How to Find Your Funny Bone (The Pain-Free Way)

To learn about your sense of humor, start observing what makes you laugh in your daily life. Jot down your observations and why you find them funny.

You can look for humor anywhere: on the screen, on the page, or on daily travels (even if you telecommute). Take note of articles, TV shows, books, movies, communications, anything that causes you to laugh. Look for the humor. What is it about each communication that’s funny?



1. Try your own humor quest for a short period of time to figure out what makes you laugh. Keep a list of specific instances when you’re…

• Watching stuff: sitcoms, movies, and Youtube videos like White Bear on Ice.

• Reading stuff: books, blog posts, and notes from your loved ones.

• Listening to stuff: speeches, podcasts, and webinars on Zoom.

Take note of common elements you find funny about the material.

2. As you delve into future lessons in this course, come back to this exercise to see if you can identify the humor-boosting techniques.

Stay tuned for the next lesson to find out what it means to “Observe it like Brian”.


Recommended book

The Complete Idiot’s Guide to Comedy Writing by James Mendrinos


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