I Wanna Write Humor Like Gordon Kirkland
I could have titled this post “I Wanna Write Humor Like Dave Barry“, but I figured Dave gets enough publicity without me. Besides, Gordon Kirkland is another accomplished humor writer, and he’s Canadian like me. He’s written weekly humor pieces syndicated in Canadian and American newspapers. He’s published books like Never Stand Behind A Loaded Horse and When My Mind Wanders It Brings Back Souvenirs. He’s also received the Stephen Leacock Award of Merit For Humour, not once but three times! (Wow)
So what is Gordon Kirkland’s secret to writing success? Luckily, I found his article, “Funny… You Should Write That!” In it, he shares three important elements to humor writing. Here’s my summary…
3 Elements to Humor Writing
You can add humor to writing by introducing an element of surprise or an unexpected twist. Your words create an image in readers’ minds that lead them along one path, and then you surprise them by changing the path. You introduce a humorous twist the reader wasn’t expecting.
You can get the reader to laugh at you by using self-deprecating humor. Being the target of a joke or problematic situation gives the reader a sense of superiority. You can also target others’ humorous character flaws or situations giving you and the reader a sense of superiority over another person or group.
Incongruity (and Exaggeration)
You can create humor by joining incongruent subjects, two or more subjects that don’t seem to belong together. For example, you might describe an adult using childlike behavior. Exaggeration can also fall into this category as a humor writing technique.
Understanding the 3 Elements
Let’s take a look at the the three elements by examining one of Gordon Kirkland’s humor essays, Does A Writer Poop In The Woods?
I’ll wait while you go read it.
Okay, what did you think?
In the essay, the surprise that makes me laugh comes in the last paragraph when he writes, “He was having difficulty believing that I’d actually go out and willingly do something to get some exercise.” He’s set us up before that sentence by talking about his encounter with a bear that he escaped and that he has a photo to prove it. We’re expecting his friend to disbelieve his bear encounter, not his exercise. That’s a surprise. The friend’s observation is also an element of superiority. Gordon Kirkland is making fun of himself by highlighting his poor exercise habits, which he introduced at the beginning of the story when he mentions his doctor.
I think he uses exaggeration to make the story funny when he describes his dog, Tara. For example, in the following sentence, he exaggerates the dog’s sniffing:
“…Tara had to sniff every tree, rock, and blade of grass just in case some other dog might have left her a pee-mail message.”
And he exaggerates Tara again in this sentence:
“Her tail, which is normally wagging, was tucked so far between her legs that she probably could have tickled her own chin with its tip.”
Can you see any other examples of the elements he’s used to make his story humorous?
You can read more samples of Gordon Kirkland’s short humorous essays on his website.
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