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Writing funny: how to improve your website UX with humor

Become a better writer—and improve people’s experience of your web content—with comedy.

Jeff Cardello
May 25, 2016
Web design

We’ve all been there: staring, eyes glazing over while we try to read through large blocks of content devoid of even a drop of fun or creativity. But with a just a little humor, you can make your website content more engaging ... maybe even just a little bit fun.

Your content should be informative, yes. But it shouldn’t induce narcolepsy, unless you’re offering an inexpensive cure for insomnia.

You can learn to be a funny writer

A writer's desk with book, notebook, glasses, etc.
The best thing you can do for your writing? Show up.
Thankfully, persistence is a great substitute for talent.

–Steve Martin

Not everyone is born with a sense of humor, unless you’re George Burns – who we’re pretty sure emerged from the womb smoking a cigar and cracking one-liners.

The great thing about using comedy in your writing is that it will make the process more fun, for you and your readers. And, as with writing itself, the more you practice, the better you’ll get.

Cliches are baaaaaaad

One black sheep, two white ones
Steer clear of that black sheep. He's got a look in those eyes.
It’s better to fail in originality than to succeed in imitation.

–Herman Melville

Keep calm and think outside the box while yoloing to Gangnam Style.

No this isn’t our sage advice to you as a writer, but a sentence utterly devoid of comedy. Why? Because we’ve heard these cultural references so many times that they’ve lost all meaning.

Take the phrase “plenty of fish in the sea.” No writer should use this phrase, unless you’re a marine biologist and even then it’s a bit iffy.

Instead, put your own spin on things: There’s plenty of fish in the Dead Sea, and those fish are sardines. This is a great example of misdirection. The reader thinks they’re trotting down the same clichéd path, but instead end up somewhere completely unexpected.

Fight the urge to recycle the same comedic concepts you’ve heard so many times before. Be original. Unless you’re Barbara from HR, who always gets a pass on her Austin Powers impression. Yeah, baby.

The truth (in comedy) will set you free

Woman with parasol jumping against yellow wall
Freedom. It feels good. Even when you're faking it.
If I can get you to laugh with me, you like me better, which makes you more open to my ideas. And, if I can persuade you to laugh at a particular point that I make, by laughing at it you acknowledge it as true.

–John Cleese

Too often people confuse absurdity with being funny. Comedy can embrace the absurd, but a funny observation or joke should have some basis in reality—an element people can connect to.

Think about your audience. Are they software developers, florists, or bankers? What are some of the common traits or problems that they may face? Remember, you’re not being mean, just exaggerating these morsels of truth.

The LA Weekly did this to great effect with this tweet:

So this SEO copywriter walks into a bar, grill, pub, public house, Irish bar, bartender, drinks, beer, wine, liquor.

@LAWeekly

Anyone who’s done SEO work will appreciate this joke, and it’s clear enough for those that haven’t to get it.

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Metaphors spice things up

books.jpg
Life is a moderately good play with a badly written third act.

- Truman Capote

A metaphor links two distinct ideas in order to make a point. Here, Truman Capote compares life to theater to comment on its ups and downs. Isn’t this a more fun way of saying life sucks, then you die?!

Think of a metaphor as the rocket-fuel that will propel your writing into the stratosphere. And yes, that is a metaphor. Just keep your metaphorical language consistent to avoid mixing metaphors. As a recent commercial points out, saying “this foundation is dissolving” is just confusing—foundations don’t dissolve, they crumble.

Because metaphors are already asking you to think differently about their subject, familiar turns of phrase help people get the joke.

Write from different points of view

It's a clear case of cataracts.
Congratulations, San Francisco! You’ve ruined pizza.

-Anger, from the Pixar film Inside Out

In the movie Inside Out, 11-year-old Riley moves from the midwest to San Francisco with her mom and dad. What makes this movie so funny is that the story isn't told from a traditional perspective. Instead, we hear it from the characters of Joy, Sadness, Fear, Anger and Disgust. And this is a method you can totally steal.

Check out this straightforward approach to writing about cheeseburgers:

You'll love our double cheeseburger. With its layers of cheddar and crispy smoked bacon, it's the most popular burger we serve.

This isn’t exciting.

What if you wrote this from the perspective of the cheeseburger?

Psst, buddy. You like what you see? These patties are all organic. And this bacon? It’s not just here for decoration. I’ve got enough melted cheese to make a dairy farmer blush.

Okay, this might be inappropriate for a family-friendly restaurant, but you get the point.

Telling a story from a viewpoint that isn't yours is one way to make your writing funnier. Talking to yourself in that character’s voice helps too. Just do it in the privacy of your own home or in the presence of an understanding spouse.

Be a comedy scientist

SETI satellite dish
Here's hoping there's humorous life out there.

Take in all of the comedy you can. Watch funny movies, read funny books, listen to comedy podcasts.

While you’re consuming, turn on that writer part of your brain that’s so good at analysis.

Why is a joke funny? What is it about the premise of a sketch that makes it so great? What’s the universal truth in a movie that we can relate to—and laugh in recognition of? Soon you'll be able to distinguish good comedy from bad, which will help you develop your own comedic voice.

Go forth and write

Man walks down dirt road

It’s easy to get too comfortable with your writing voice. Don’t be afraid to take a chance by trying something different. Don’t feel bad when your attempts at humor fall flat. Be proud that you’re trying to grow as a writer.

You don’t have to make a joke in every sentence, but if you do use humor, your reader will want to pay attention in anticipation of your next moment of comedic genius. So what are you waiting for? Go ahead—start being funny!

Jeff Cardello

Writer, improviser, and reformed music snob. Check me out @JCardello.

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