I recently got this question in my in-box: “How about tossing a few crumbs to us humor writers on your blog? Do you have a favorite book on humor writing? How different was doing stand up comedy compared to writing humor?”
My favorite books on humor writing probably include:
–The Comic Toolbox, by John Vorhaus
–The Hidden Tools of Comedy, by Steve Kaplan
–The Deer on a Bicycle, by Patrick McManus
–Stand-up Comedy, by Judy Carter
There are a bunch of others that have value. Gene Perret has several good books on comedy writing. Greg Dean and Jay Sankey offer great pointers in their works. And Judy Carter’s book is there to help you be able to tell funny stories, more than write comic novels, but I find it’s a book I used to go back to time after time.
There are similarities with these books, by the way. You create a script. You establish a character. The words you choose are important. But writing a humor piece is very different from performing standup comedy. When I did standup, it was all about timing and attitude. Pauses (silence) were crucial. The energy I brought to the stage was important. And, of course, the single most important thing to success as a standup comic is that the room has to LIKE you. If they like you, then you can do anything, and they’ll find it funny. If they don’t like you, no matter how great your material is, the performance won’t work. In writing, on the other hand, there’s no facial expression or tone of voice or obvious attitude for people to pick up on – all that matters is the word on the page. And it better be VERY good, because people who want humor don’t want to just smile once in a while… they want to bust out laughing while reading. That’s incredibly hard.
It’s easy to tell a story and get the occasional smirk out of the reader, but really tough to create a belly laugh. That’s why these are books on “how to create humor in your writing,” as opposed to actually being “funny books.” There’s a difference. Kurt Vonnegut used to make me laugh out loud. Dave Berry does. Jenny Lawson is a brilliant comic writer. And the memoirs of Tina Fay and Haven Kimmel and Ellen DeGeneres have all been very funny. But in my view, it’s a short list.
Who are the funniest people writing, in your view?