Funny is Hard

A lot of us get into advertising to make people laugh. We want to do funny spots like the moose ad for monster.com or the shark spot for Snickers. Check out Adweek’s 18 Great Skittles Ads by TBWA, and you can’t help but want to be on the funny wagon.

But I’m always reminded of something Luke Sullivan (a really funny guy) said. In his book, he says humor is a dialect, not a language. It’s more important to be interesting than just funny.

Funny is good. But it’s also really, really hard. And when you miss, it can be painful.┬áSaturday Night Live hires some of the funniest writers in the country, and the show is still wildly hit-and-miss. Lots of weeks it’s miss-and-miss.

In this article, Gerry Graf tells Creativity his thoughts on humor. If you’ve got an account, you should really read it.

Don’t Discount the Laugh


I’m in a radio session today, working on a funny* spot. The script was funny when I wrote it, but by the time I get to the studio, I’ve rewritten it dozens of times. I’ve read it dozens of times and presented it maybe a half dozen. Then the talent reads it a few dozen more. And after awhile, I often find myself in that place where I’m going “Wait, is this really funny?”

Unless you’re in a joke-writing class, analyzing humor can be counterproductive. If you have to explain why something’s funny, it’s not. Funny just is. Humor is based on surprise, so after the surprise has worn off, it’s hard to keep that sense of what’s funny. Because of that, the best gauge of whether or not something is funny is usually your first gut reaction.** Trust your gut. And when you present it and people laugh, point that out to them if they come back later and say it’s not funny. When you hear 50 takes and one of them makes you snort in laughter, note that.

Humor can be structured and built up, and a script might go through months of painstaking crafting and revision. But you’ll know if it’s funny in about a half second.

*Yes, funny is subjective. For the sake of this post, though, pretend I’m talking about an idea that is indeed “funny.”

**This is different from late-night slap-happiness funny–if it’s not still funny in the morning, it’s probably truly not funny).