Replace the italicized word in the following clichés. You don’t need to limit yourself to one word. Try to come up with a few variations for each. When you’re done, save the funniest ones. If you can’t use them now, you might find a future place for them in your writing.
- Let the cat out of the bag
- Pot calling the kettle black
- Damned if you do and damned if you don’t
- Pure as the driven snow
- Up a creek without a paddle
- Falling on deaf ears
- Wait for the other shoe to drop
- Hindsight is twenty/twenty
- Lights are on but nobody’s home
- Wake-up and smell the coffee
- His bark is worse than his bite
- Wear your heart out on your sleeve
- Don’t look a gift horse in the mouth
- Whatever floats your boat
- Light at the end of the tunnel
- As snug as a bug in a rug
Repeat the exercise with the following slogans:
- Double your pleasure, double your fun. (Doublemint Gum)
- The best part of waking up, is Folger’s in your cup.
- Because sometimes you feel like a nut. Sometimes you don’t. (Mounds and Almond Joy)
- Takes a licking and keeps on ticking. (Timex)
- How many licks does it take to get to the center of a Tootsie Pop? The world may never know.
- Silly Rabbit, Trix are for kids!”
- A mind is a terrible thing to waste. (United Negro College Fund)
- Plop, plop, fizz, fizz, oh what a relief it is. (Alka-Seltzer)
Expand the proverbs and idioms below.
- If you don’t have anything nice to say, don’t say anything at all, except ____________.
- The customer is always right, ____________.
- Don’t put all your eggs in one basket, unless _____________.
- Give him an inch and he’ll take a yard. __________________.
- If it looks like a duck, swims like a duck, and quacks like a duck, then it probably is a duck. But then again, ______________.
- If you snooze you lose, and that can be a good thing. ________________.
Come up with humorous (and relevant) definitions for the following words. Come up with as many as you can for each.
- The secret to ______________ is ______________.
Pattern Surprise Statements
George Bernard Shaw said, “I despise Shakespeare when I measure my mind against his.” Readers naturally expect Shaw to follow with a complimentary summation of Shakespeare’s genius. Instead, he came back with: “It would positively be a relief to me to dig him up and throw stones at him.” Pattern, surprise.
Write ten to twenty pattern-surprise statements.
A great way to summon incongruity is through associations. In this exercise, create a chart like the one below and pick a topic. I’ve started the exercise with “circus” to give you an example, but you can use anything—climate change, film noire, WWII, zombie apocalypse, etc. Once you exhaust the topic’s 5Ws, brainstorm associations for each item (e.g., ringmaster: car salesman), then see what incongruous couplings you can come up with.
PUTTING IT ALL TOGETHER
If you’ve gone through the humor articles, you’ve learned a trick or two. Now’s the time to put the techniques into practice. Pick a title from the list below and write about it. You can rough-draft a scene, a short short, a nonfiction article… whatever you like. Just make us laugh.
- Things I Say When I Don’t know What to Say
- What Do Babies Think About?
- Why Do Fathers Hate Their Daughters’ Boyfriends?
- The Day That Facebook Shut Down
- Repercussions of an Impetuous Facebook Post
- Foreign Words That are Funny in English
- Dangerous Ways to Say ‘I Quit!’
- Why Men Never Ask for Directions
- Why Women Never Think They’re Thin Enough
- The Difference Between Male and Female Body Language
- What is a Red Dwarf?
- How to Trick Your Mind To Do Things it Doesn’t Want To Do
- Five Ways to Resist Change and How They’ve Worked for Me