Brighten up your writing with the right kind of humour

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For generations people have been saying that laughter is good medicine. And now the scientists have taken an interest it turns out great-grandma was right. The boffins have discovered that laughter releases helpful goodies in the body which boost your immune system.

aricle about using humour in writing

As long as the butt of the joke is a set of circumstances, not the people, you’re far less likely to upset anyone.

In fact the therapeutic benefits of laughter are harnessed by academia and the business community into laughter workshops and other formalised chuckle sessions. Get the workers laughing and you raise productivity, so it seems.

However it is extremely easy to get humour wrong. And a joke that’s sent to someone who doesn’t see the funny side will create more ill health through raised blood pressure than a few laughs could ever cure. So what’s the answer? How do we harness humour and make it work for us, not against us?

People often say that the internet’s international nature makes it an unsuitable environment for humour because humour doesn’t translate across national boundaries and inadvertently can cause offence. But there are a couple of simple rules which – although not universal panaceas – can help you use humour in your writing without risk.

Use humour about circumstances, not people

If you think about it, the butt of many jokes and other humour is a person or group of people, so it’s hardly surprising that offence is caused. The more extreme types are obvious – mother-in-law jokes, blonde jokes, women jokes, men jokes – but there are many more subtle ones too.

Then there are the nationality gags. I remember in one year hearing exactly the same joke (in three different languages) told by an American about the Polish, by a Canadian about Newfoundlanders, by a French person about Belgians, by a French-speaking Belgian about the Flemish, and by a Flemish person about the Dutch.

Obviously most humour is going to involve people in one way or another

But as long as the butt of the joke is a set of circumstances, not the people, you’re far less likely to upset anyone. (Plus the joke is more likely to translate into different languages.)

And there is an added advantage here. Whoever they are and wherever they come from, people will usually identify with a set of circumstances. Take this one for example…

A police cruiser is following an SUV down the highway and pulls them over.“You’ve got a tail light out,” says the police officer.

The driver jumps out of the SUV, runs around to the back, screams in shock and panic and then rests against the vehicle, clutching his brow with one hand. The police officer is puzzled and says,“that’s not exactly a hanging offence, sir. All it needs is a new bulb, and I won’t book you for it, so don’t worry.”

“Don’t worry?” shouts the driver. “The reason why you could see there’s a tail light out is because I must have lost my trailer!”

As the butt of the joke is the broken rear light and the loss of the trailer, not the policeman or the driver, no-one can be offended. And most people can identify with how that would feel.

The other key issue with humour is wordplays, puns, and anything else that’s based on figurative speech, slang, or jargon

The short answer is they don’t work internationally and yes, sometimes even regionally. However if the play or double entendre is in the concept rather than the words, it probably will work.

These may be funny to us, but would not be understood by anyone who is not a good English speaker and/or from another part of our country, because there is a play on the words:

**Déjà moo: The feeling that you’ve heard this bullsh*t before.
**The two most common elements in the universe are hydrogen and stupidity.

The following, however, probably would be understood because the humour is in the concept, not in the words themselves:

**You don’t stop laughing because you grow old. You grow old because you stop laughing.
**The trouble with doing something right the first time is that nobody appreciates how difficult it was.

So go ahead – don’t be afraid of using a little humour to brighten up your writing. Especially with our current problems of the pandemic and political confusion, tasteful humour plays a very important role in keeping up our spirits whether in business, therapies, socialising or family time.

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