I’m offended by pretty much everything. See, I’m a conservative Christian, and there’s barely anything in pop culture that I don’t find offensive on some level, with all the sex and language and poor production quality. Still, in being offended by everything, I can’t even hope to compete with the modern day secular puritans on the left. The Social Justice Warriors invent at least one new thing a day that highly offends them (“You can’t call your one-year-old child a ‘he’; it hasn’t officially identified its gender!”). You couldn’t even keep up with them if you wanted to — by the SJW’s estimation, the average person commits five hate crimes before their morning coffee — and a sixth during the coffee if you don’t like it dark. Eventually, the only way to be politically correct will be to shuffle around staring at your own feet while mumbling incoherently. As an introvert, that’s perfectly fine with me, but not everyone is as excited.
What this means is that the right has to take over being funny. The left keeps making an ever longer “That’s not funny!” list and is starting to get hoisted on its own petard of speech policing, and soon they will lose the ability to make jokes at all, as they turn into those shuffling mumblers I talked about. So that leaves it to the stuffed shirts on the right to be the free spirits and the funny ones.
The only problem is I’m pretty sure science says conservatives can’t be funny. Like I’ve read that various places. Since we don’t like taxes, we’re incapable of humor. We may think we’re funny, and we may laugh at what each other say, but that’s all a shared delusion. We just don’t get comedy, as our best idea of a joke is to push a poor person down the stairs (which is funny because he doesn’t have health insurance).
But luckily, I’m a writer (I just released a science fiction novel, Superego, plus look at what I’m doing right now) and a scientist (prove I’m not), so I’ve written this short guide to being funny. And it absolutely, positively guaranteed to make you at least as funny as Dane Cook.
BEING FUNNY ADVICE
1. Imply, don’t say.
It’s hard to teach wit, but the best advice I can give you is to think, “Is there a less obvious way to state this?” Let’s say you notice someone has a head shaped like a pumpkin. You could simply say, “That guy’s head is shaped like a pumpkin!” But that is not witty. Instead you need to just imply that the guy’s head looks like a pumpkin, like this: “We need to tell Linus and Charlie Brown that we found him.” Instead of directly making the “head looks like a pumpkin” connection, you take a detour, and the listener gets to make the connection and be clever himself. That’s what makes wit so special; you’re making a connection with the audience that says, “I think the same as you.” But the length of the detour is important. Too short, not clever enough. Too long, it’s too obscure, and people won’t get the joke (“I bet his head is rich in lutein”). In my estimation, the perfect joke should take about one tenth to two tenths of a second for your audience to process it and understand the punchline. So pull out a stopwatch and work on being funny.
Seriously, though, don’t ever make fun of someone for having a pumpkin-shaped head. They can’t help that, and it would be super-mean.
2. Don’t shock.
A cheap way to do humor is to go for shock value. If you push the line on something, you’ll get a few laughs, but it’s not an enduring form of humor, as what’s shocking one day wears off quickly. So don’t cop out and make gasp-inducing jokes about punching hippies or pushing poor people down stairs; that’s just hackish.
3. Make fun of the Irish.
As part of not relying on shock humor, stay away from racist jokes, of course. But people do have this impulse to have an “other” group to make fun of. Just look at how people on the left always go after the Tea Party, unloading all the dark parts of their own ids onto whatever they imagine that group to be. So pick some group you won’t get in trouble for making fun of — and a good group for this is the Irish. I make fun of them all the time, and no one has called me out on it. Because really, who cares about those inbred, drunken potato-lickers?
4. No clapper humor.
If you’re going to do political humor (and I don’t recommend it, as politics is a serious issue affecting many people, so it’s crass to make fun of), watch out for clapper humor. When you tell political jokes to a group that agrees with you, it’s like doing comedy on easy mode. You don’t even have to be witty; you just have to say something the audience really agrees with. For instance, you can just say, “[Person X] sure is stupid!” and if people really dislike Person X, they’ll applaud and laugh and say, “It’s funny because it’s true!” Getting laughs this way will make you as lazy as Barack Obama, who sure is stupid.
5. Be detached.
If you get too caught up on something, it’s hard to be humorous. Because suddenly it’s a serious issue, and “THAT’S NOT FUNNY!” And I know some people like to do the angry rant thing, but anger makes you dumber and tends to wilt wit, leading to the aforementioned clapper humor. To be funny, you have to take an honest look at things, and to do that you need to sort of float above it all. Like a balloon. You don’t see balloons get worked up about things. Well, they do appear at a lot of political events, but they don’t speak at them. I mean, sometimes they pop really loudly. I don’t know where I’m going with this.
6. First of all, target yourself.
Most political humor just makes people dumber. A lot of it is, “Hey, you know those people you already didn’t like because they disagree with you politically? Here are more reasons not to like them!” It’s just massaging people’s biases, and that leads to people being more certain in their views. And if there is one wrong political view, it’s certainty. Because certainty is what makes you think you know enough to push other people around and force your beliefs on them. And that should be the target. You can be much more effective at attacking the certainty of your own beliefs than anyone else’s.
And this goes for non-political humor as well. If you want to be funny, understand your own flaws and use them as the basis of your humor. Pointing and laughing at someone else is just bullying, and any wrong impulse in someone else’s views and behavior you should be able to also recognize in yourself, because we’re all just the same silly people. So focus your criticism there; make fun of your own pumpkin head.
So that’s my advice. It’s not the easy path to humor — and I can’t say I’ve always avoided the easy path — but it’s the better path. Follow my advice, and you should be starring in a sitcom based on your stand-up work in no time. If that doesn’t happen, try rereading this a few more times, if you can see past all the lutein in your head.
Please join the discussion on Twitter. The essay above is the thirteenth in volume 2 of the cultural discussions between the writers of PJ Lifestyle and Liberty Island exploring the history of counter-cultures, the future of conservatism and the role of new, emerging counter-cultures in restoring American exceptionalism. Want to contribute? Check out the articles below, reach out, and lets brainstorm: @DaveSwindle
- Frank J. Fleming on February 26, 2015: What Is the Future of Government? Why It Won’t Look Like Star Trek
- Aaron C. Smith on February 26, 2015: What Is the Future of Superheroes? Why They Need To Start Killing Super-Villains
- Mark Ellis on February 26, 2016: What Is the Future of Gen-X Manhood? Adam Carolla Vs Chuck Palahniuk?
- David S. Bernstein on February 26, 2015: What is the Future of Fiction? You’ll Be Shocked Who’s Fighting the New Conservative Counter-Culture
- Aaron C. Smith on March 2, 2015: The House Loses: Why Season 3 of House of Cards Utterly Disappoints
- Michael Walsh on March 2: What the Left Doesn’t Get About Robert A. Heinlein
- Frank J. Fleming on March 3: 8 Frank Rules For How Not to Tweet
- Susan L.M. Goldberg on March 4: 7 Reasons Why Backstrom Is Perfect Counter-Culture Conservative TV
- Frank J. Fleming on March 5: What Is the Future of Religion?
- Aaron C. Smith on March 5: The Future of Religion: Why Judeo-Christian Values Are More Important Than Science
- Spencer Klavan on March 5: Not Religion’s Future: ISIS and the Art of Destruction
- Chris Queen on March 7: 5 Reasons Why Big Hero 6 Belongs Among The Pantheon Of Disney Classics
See the first volume of articles from 2014 and January and February 2015 below:
2014 – Starting the Discussion…
- Sarah Hoyt, March 22 2014: Interview: Adam Bellow Unveils New Media Publishing Platform Liberty Island
- David S. Bernstein, June 20 2014: What Is Liberty Island?
- Adam Bellow at National Review, June 30 2014 kicking off the discussion: Let Your Right Brain Run Free
- Dave Swindle on September 7, 2014: Why Culture Warriors Should Understand the 10 Astounding Eras of Disney Animation’s Evolution
- Dave Swindle on September 9, 2014: The 50 Greatest Counter-Culture Films of All Time, Part I
- Dave Swindle on September 19, 2014: The 50 Greatest Counter-Culture Films of All Time, Part II
- David S. Bernstein on November 19, 2014: 5 Leaders of the New Conservative Counter-Culture
- Liberty Island on November 22nd, 2014: A Unique Team of 33 Creative Writers
- Dave Swindle on November 25, 2014: 7 Reasons Why Thanksgiving Will Be My Last Day on Facebook
- Kathy Shaidle on November 25, 2014: Is America Overdue for a Satanic Revival? (Part One)
- Dave Swindle on December 2, 2014: My Growing List of 65 Read-ALL-Their-Books Authors
- Kathy Shaidle on December 3, 2014: Is America Overdue for a Satanic Revival? (Part Two)
- Mark Elllis on December 9, 2014: Ozzy Osbourne and the Conservative Tent: Is He In?
- Aaron C. Smith on December 22, 2014: The Villains You Choose
January 2015 – Volume I
- Paula Bolyard on January 1, 2015: 7 New Year’s Resolutions for Conservatives
- Susan L.M. Goldberg on January 1, 2015: The Plan to Take Back Feminism in 2015
- Kathy Shaidle on January 4, 2015: Did the 1960s Really Happen? (Part One)
- Andrew Klavan on January 5, 2015: In 2015 The New Counter-Culture Needs to Be Offensive!
- Clay Waters on January 5, 2015: The Decline and Fall of Russell Brand
- Mark Ellis on January 5, 2015: How Conservatives Can Counter the Likable Liberal
- Audie Cockings on January 5, 2015: Entertainers Have Shorter Lifespans
- Aaron C. Smith on January 6, 2015: How Mario Cuomo Honestly Defined Zero-Sum Liberalism
- Stephen McDonald on January 10, 2015: Why the New Counter-Culture Should Make Strength Central to Its Identity
- Stephen McDonald on January 16, 2015: The Metaphorical War
- Kathy Shaidle on January 19, 2015: Did the 1960s Really Happen? (Part Two)
- Frank J. Fleming on January 20, 2015: What if Red Dawn Happened, But It Was Islamic Terrorists Instead of Communists?
- Mark Ellis on January 21, 2015: Adam Carolla: The Quintessential Counterculture Conservative?
- Aaron C. Smith on January 29, 2015: Objection! Why TV’s The Good Wife Isn’t Good Law
- David Solway on February 2, 2015: For a Song To Be Good, Must It Tell The Truth?
- Mark Ellis on February 6, 2015: President Me: Adam Carolla Vs. the Scourge of Narcissism
- David Solway on February 6, 2015: ‘Imagine’ a World Without the Brotherhood
- Kathy Shaidle on February 9, 2015: Was Rod McKuen the Secret Godfather of Punk Rock?
- Aaron C. Smith on February 10, 2015: Kick NBC While It’s Down: Use The Williams Scandal to Set the Terms of the 2016 Debates
- Spencer Klavan on February 12, 2015: How to Apologize for Your Thought Crimes
- Kathy Shaidle on February 16, 2015: David Byrne: Creepy Liberal Hypocrite
- David P. Goldman on February 18, 2015: Understanding This Bloody Truth About the Bible Will Save Your Life
- Lisa De Pasquale on February 20, 2015: Why American Sniper Is a Much Better Love Story Than Fifty Shades of Grey
- Spencer Klavan on February 24, 2015: How Bad Ideology Destroys Good TV: Why Glee Crashed and Burned
image illustrations via shutterstock / icsnaps