How to Write Funny, by a bunch of writers and edited by John B. Kachuba

Add humor to every kind of writing

Should I list all the authors?

No, too many, and both covers do that. But in case of problems with the uploaded photos, the authors are; Robin Hemley, David Bouchier, Frank Sennett, J. Kevin Wolfe, Jennifer Crusie…

In the interest of starting the review, the book’s split into 3 parts. The Basics, The Genres, The Interviews.

Connie Willis, Josip Novakovich, Esther M. Friesner, David A. Fryxell, Mel Helitzer, Patricia Case, Dinty Moore, David Evans…

Robin Hemley gets things going. Words meander across an anecdote or two. It’s readable enough, but not focused.

Lee K. Abbot, Gail Galloway Adams, Sherman Alexie…

2 ½ pages in is more like it, with some usable tips.

But that’s it for now, and it’s a bit like this throughout, with noteworthy things buried under a mass of text. There is some amusement under Funny Situations and Anecdotes.

Then…

Use your dreams if you need, let’s talk about Woody Allen’s Bananas (are they green, black or pink? How many?) The Vandals part is pretty good, and across only a page, it doesn’t do excess damage.

I’m laughing too.

The book’s topics continue…

Surprise yourself, consider writing about cream cheese, something about exaggeration, snowballing, nothing about Danish Blue, repetition, repetition, repetition, repetition, repetition.

Thank you Robin. Next!

That would be David Bouchier. Apparently, “Humor is like sex”. That’s why you brought a microphone to bed. Testing, testing…

Incongruity, irony, word games and dialogue, the simple truth is funny. But what this book lacks is instruction. What was the title again?

Maybe things will change. Not that the cover will alter itself. But if it does…send me a sample. And all the packets you’ve got.

The book improves…

Some examples make things better. An NY cab ride with Dave Barry helps things along and promotes understanding.

Giving the Joke, by Frank Sennett, is chapter 3. It’s a discussion between Mark Leyner, Maggie Estep, James Finn Garner and P. J. O’Rourke. It can sometimes amuse, but doesn’t assist with comedy writing.

Up next, J. Kevin Wolfe adds analysis with The Six Basics of Writing, although it never goes very deep. Then, Part 1 ends on a high with Comedy Workshop. Jennifer Crusie with nine exercises to cover different written elements.

<Deleted joke about periodic tables>

Part 2 is The Genres.

Connie Willis starts with exaggeration and understatement. But the book’s been here before. So feel free to storm off for a drive to tear up the asphalt at 20mph.

Josip Novakovich takes control for chapter 7. Not a bad effort.

Then Esther M. Friesner leaves her mark. The constant use of ‘SpecFic’ is one you won’t forget, as it appears at a rate of about 1 a page. She does say some good stuff. The part where she tells you to write, then file it, is intriguing. Maybe I should have done the same with this review.

Jennifer Crusie returns. Now she’s banging on about writing Romantic Comedy for Women. Hardly a large demographic. Only half the world. But Crusie’s done it again, with a look at the differences between humour for men and women, well worth the inclusion.

David A. Fryxell says “On certain holidays, everyone becomes Erma Bombeck!” What is that, fancy dress at Christmas? There’s advice on choosing an article target, then a joke at the expense of North Dakotans. As someone living in the UK, I completely understand. Completely.

Mel Helitzer even gets a chapter, but this is Helitzer lite. If you want more of the man, be sure to read his famous Comedy Writing Secrets. I would tell you where it is, but I can’t.

This cartoon represents 29 people. Because that’s tough to imagine, and takes a little effort to replicate, I’ve stopped at 3 of them.

Repetition’s back as a sub heading. Did I mention it before? And a look at wordplay ends her contribution. Case endorses it for youngsters (and all ages).

While she thinks wordplay is worthy, it was hammered earlier, filed under ‘best avoid’. Two different authors, two different opinions, which shows the somewhat disjointed nature of the book. That said, you get two perspectives to choose from.

Dinty Moore writes about a salesman.

Which is a good reminder to support those in need. Buy a used copy from Amazon for $2.99. Help the man.

Moore skips across juxtaposition, aided by a snippet of Bill Bryson. Irony and satire are covered too, as is exaggeration. She signs off with a couple of exercises.

The Seven Laws of Comedy Writing is from David Evans. His fifth point is a very good one. Then as he writes about timing, he sneaks in a bit on repetition. So another boot up the backside.

But it’s the most insightful bit on repetition so far. And that bears repeating, so… actually, no, I won’t go there. Clap for my superiority.

The book comes together for part 3. As oppose to falling off its spine.

There are lots of people interviewed and I won’t mention them all. That’s because I started earlier.

Melissa Bank, Dave Barry, Roy Blount Jr., Bill Bryson, Tom Bodett, Peg Bracken, Andrei Codrescu (save the fish), John Dufresne, Denise Duhamel, Joe R. Lansdae, Michael J. Rosen, Lois-Ann Yamanaka.

That’s it, the whole load. Put your thanks in the comments.

Lee K. Abbot states some noteworthy things in his interview. The questions posed to Dave Barry end too quickly. Roy Blount Jr.’s line from a Wynonie Harris song makes an important point, while Bill Bryson shares some wisdom.

The interviews are good to go through; they’re helped by the editing and because they’re all storytellers. One downside is having authors’ beginnings outlined, which won’t help you Write Funny. Their pondering doesn’t assist much either. A bit like the rest of the book then, where a thorough sift through gets the most from it.

After his intro appearance, Kachuba’s back to wrap things up. If the book hadn’t gripped you, this won’t either. It’s a good quick recap, and as a further help, he leaves a list of authors and their important works.

That starts with Aristophanes. But about him, and a word of caution. While he can be prolific, he has dried up as of late.

Verdict

A book that roams and can be a little hard to get into. There’s usable information in here, but be prepared for some repetition, some conflicting ideas, and not much instruction.

It’s mostly cross threaded wisdom, but stick around, because there is a bit of gold if you persevere.

Recommended for:

The basics of comedy writing. Some great insights here and there.

Not for:

A shared vision. Or completely shared vision. While they mostly agree, there are some differences between the authors’ viewpoints.

Not much depth on any topic.

Other thoughts

Some of the authors won’t hook you, so reading their parts will be less pleasurable.

Length

Quite a long one. 232 pages listed. Take off 5 for the index, another 10 for blank spaces and the 3 title pages.

That makes it a 210 + page read.

Quicker readers will be done in a couple of days.

Slower and dedicated readers will get through this in a few weeks.

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