Of the top 50 viral videos of 2012, over three-quarters of them were funny.
In a world where people ignore ads like the plague, Kmart’s “Ship My Pants” ad was viewed on Youtube over 19 million times and shared thousands of times over.
Note from Caleb: It has been almost three years since Corbett published “Write Epic Shit” and it still is one of the most popular articles on this site. Today we have a guest essay from Therese Schwenkler about how to make your writing, podcasts, or videos funny and what being funny can do to grow your audience. Take it away Therese.)
I watched this stupid “Daddy Long Leg” video, like, five times the other week. Then I sent it to all my friends. (WTF?!!)
No joke, humor is one of the most effective, supercharged ways to get a message across. If there is just one thing you’re overlooking that could make your content explode across the Internet Gangnam Style, humor is it.
But sadly, humor is most often reserved for stupid cat (err, Daddy Long Leg) videos and Internet memes, which is truly a shame.
Enter the power of writing funny shit.
Humor is no longer just for pranksters or writers of fluff. It’s for anyone who wants to make a mark on the world and create real impact. After all, if humor can get millions of people to engage with a commercial about free shipping at Kmart (really?!), then just imagine what it can do for your message — and for the world.
Writing funny shit has the power to get people to pay attention, morphing them from uninterested, lifeless passersby into fully engaged and wholly attentive fans.
It has the power to help spread a valuable message faster and farther than ever before, increasing its sharability factor by tens, hundreds, even thousands of times, if only you can learn to harness it for good and choose meaning over mindlessness, positive impact over pure profit.
Humor is the greatest delivery mechanism for truth.”
- Biz Stone, Co-founder Twitter
Here’s why infusing humor into your content could be the most powerful thing you’ll ever do.
Funny gets shared.
Seth Godin says your job is to create something worth remarking on — something worth talking about to your friends and sharing like crazy.
And the truth is, almost nothing is more sharable than stuff that is funny.
Just think about it: Why do you think some videos get millions of shares and views, when more “important” but less entertaining ones get only hundreds? When’s the last time you saw something go viral online and spread like crazy? The last time you just couldn’t wait to share something with your friends?
Whatever it was, I’ll bet it was hilarious.
Case in point: This June, an unknown blogger published an article that made me laugh so hard my morning latte came spewing out my nose: “Twelve Habits of Happy, Healthy People Who Don’t Give a Shit About Your Inner Peace.” Her previous record high as far as traffic was concerned? One hundred ninety-four hits.
Ten thousand plus Facebook shares and over 268,000 visits later, you could say she’s gotten her message across.
Now that’s the power of humor.
Then there’s my own experience. I’m no Leo Babauta when it comes to traffic, but I’ve grown a healthy unique monthly visitor count of about 20K range and an email list of nearly 3,000. Just two posts have helped drive more traffic to my site and convert more subscribers than any of my others, and these two posts, of course, also happen to be two of my funniest.
One is a post in which I shamelessly make fun of Cosmopolitan magazine and its plethora of vomit-inducing advice. It hit the top of a category page on Reddit, got linked to by CollegeFashion.com, has sent me viral waves of traffic several times since first published, and was shared 3.2K times on Facebook. Not bad for a post written a few months into my blogging career at a time when I had just hundreds of visitors per month.
I’ll take it.
The second is a guest post I wrote for Brazen Careerist. Entitled “Warning: 1 in 3 Young professionals Suffers From This Serious Career-Related Condition,” my post detailed a condition dubbed “Shoulditis” wherein one suffers from symptoms of nausea, the feeling they “should” follow a safe and expected career path/have it all figured out, the slow and silent killing of the soul… and sometimes diarrhea.
With over 1.3K Facebook likes and hundreds of Tweets and LinkedIn shares, this post helped propel the first sizable wave of traffic to my blog, gaining me over 600 email subscribers. What’s more, due to its popularity, Brazen Careerist has placed it in their “Best of Brazen” sidebar block, and it continues to bring new traffic and subscribers to my site day after day.
Again, not bad for a previously unknown blogger.
Give people epic, relevant, valuable, content, and sure, they’ll probably share it.
But give people something that’s also hilarious, and they’ll do more than just share it — they’ll spread it like wildfire.
Funny makes people like you
It’s not rocket science: Most of us don’t generally like totally serious people who walk around with sticks up their asses. Instead, we like people who can smile and crack a joke every once in awhile and who aren’t so damn serious about life and death and taxes.
So what’s this got to do with blogging?
Well, if you’ve read Robert Cialdini’s book, Influence, then you know you’re far more likely to have influence over someone who likes you.
And isn’t that why you blog in the first place: to have an influence on the world? To help people make changes for the better, to expand their current realities, or to teach them something that will improve the quality of their lives? Isn’t that why you’re here?
Likability, then, is a key factor in any writer’s level of influence and success.
Confession: I often wish Ash Ambirge of The Middle Finger Project was my best friend, because let’s face it, I like that girl. I like her because she’s always making analogies between business and vodka and sex and… I mean, how could you not like her?!
Then there’s Ramit Sethi of I Will Teach You to Be Rich, who is one of my favorite bloggers of all time, but let’s get real: I’d probably want to punch him in the face if he weren’t hilarious.
Thankfully for his face, however, Ramit regularly adds in bits of humor that tone down his enormous intimidation factor and cause me to actually like him:
It’s a huge honor to be profiled next to Warren Buffett. As one of my friends said, “Man, you’re good, but not that good.” I nodded in agreement, then plotted how I would get him back later that day.
Ramit’s humor not only makes him more likable, but it also makes the stuff he’s writing about infinitely more interesting. I mean, I’d never read (nor wanted to read) about things like automating my finances, removing psychological barriers, or negotiating my credit card rates until I started getting emails from Ramit with Taco Bell Mexican Pizzas and Roth IRAs mentioned in the same sentence.
All of the sudden I became fascinated with this kind of stuff, which leads me perfectly into my next point…
Funny makes your message memorable
OK, so. I hate to break it to you, but no one’s going to remember your generic advice about “How to be more productive.”
What they will remember is the time you hired a girl from Craigslist to slap you in the face each time you visited Facebook, quadrupling your productivity in the process. (Yes, Maneesh Sethi of Hack The System actually did this, and not only was it f’n hilarious, but the post went totally viral and was covered on Huffington Post, NPR, Yahoo! Finance, Digg, Daily Mail, and more, evidencing yet again that funny shit gets shared.)
Here’s the thing, guys: If you want to change the world, people have to actually remember what you said. And humor, as it turns out, is one of the best ways to grab peoples’ attention and help them retain information.
In fact, humor is the perfect vessel for crafting a “sticky” message because by default, it almost always contains some of the core necessities outlined by authors Dan and Chip Heath in their book Made to Stick:
- Unexpected: “Sticky ideas are unexpected. People quickly recognize patterns and are accustomed to filing new ideas into their existing mental framework, so for a new idea to stick, it must surprise them.” Think about it: Humor is almost always unexpected and surprising — for example, “I shipped my pants” is the last thing you’d expect to hear in a Kmart commercial. It surprises us, delights us, and shakes us awake.
- Concrete: By default, humor is usually concrete rather than abstract and general — for example, hiring a girl off Craigslist to slap us when we’re off task creates a concrete, specific image in our minds, whereas making a generalized statement such as “Use productivity tools to keep yourself on task!” does not. Which one of these messages are you more likely to remember?
- Story: Stories are one of the best ways to help imprint messages into peoples’ minds (and stories are almost always concrete, too!). The story of the time Grandpa shipped his pants in Kmart is more memorable than “free shipping.” The story of the “Craigslist Slapper” is more memorable than “Hold yourself accountable.” And more often than not, humor involves some level of storytelling, making it a perfect vessel for sticky ideas.
So there you have it, boys and girls: Humor naturally contains many of the core necessities that will cause ideas and messages to stick in peoples’ minds like velcro.
The mark of an epic writer
In the end, I’ve found people don’t just want to be informed or educated or even inspired; they also want to be entertained.
You see, serious writers are deathly sure it’s their job to educate, inspire, or advise at all costs — but more often than not, their readers just end up bored, failing to retain or engage with potentially life changing content.
Mindless writers think it’s their job to entertain at all costs (cue visions of Jenna Marbles, Tucker Max, and celebrity gossip) — but more often than not, their readers just end up empty.
But epic writers?
Epic writers know it’s their job to do both.
They know it’s their job to inspire, educate, and entertain, ultimately filling their readers to the brim — and they know that sometimes (just sometimes), changing the world and making people pee their pants laughing can be one and the same.
What’s your favorite example of someone using humor to inspire and educate online? Let us know in the comments below this post.