Write Funny Shit

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.

The takeaway?

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:

  1. 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.
  2. 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?
  3. 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.

Use it.

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.

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  • http://www.sidehustlenation.com Nick Loper

    Hey Therese, love this! Great examples and totally agree that “funny” is an awesome way to spread your message. On top of that, for bloggers, it shows a little bit into your personality that people wouldn’t get on some faceless corporate website.

    The challenge (for me at least) will be to try and inject some humor into my work without forcing it!

    • http://www.BloggerDoc.com Amal Rafeeq

      Hi Nick,
      Yeah, I accept that challenge myself too :) Great! :D

    • http://webdesignerarsenal.wordpress.com Jotpreet Singh

      Definitely, worth the effort. And, everybody will now notice that were dull and boring (me included) and start trying to be humorous. Well, I’m on that track too.

    • http://www.theunlost.com Therese

      Hi Nick,

      Yeah for sure, forced humor is definitely the worst kind of humor, as I point out in my “Ultimate Guide to Changing the World By Making Your REaders Pee Their Pants Laughing” (http://www.theunlost.com/writing/change-the-world-with-humor/). Thankfully, a little bit of subtle humor can go a long way — it doesn’t have to be over the top.

      Looking forward to seeing your future chuckle-worthy masterpieces!
      :)

    • http://formyourfuture.com Josh @ Form Your Future

      I’m going to take on this challenge as well! My blog carries a somewhat serious tone and I really need to move away from thinking that making money online is serious business =)

      I’ve taken so much away from your post, Therese. For one, I learned that it really is okay for me to ship my pants. I also realized that I could definitely use my own personal slapper… I’m just wondering if slapping would be enough to drive me on task (maybe a ‘nuts kicker’ would do the trick).

      I really need to be surrounding myself with funny people! I’m sure it’ll make me funnier…I could definitely use a boost in that aspect.

  • http://www.BloggerDoc.com Amal Rafeeq

    Whoa! After Epic Shit, now the next big thing is going to be Funny Shit.
    I can’t wait to see all bloggers going to write funny stuff on their blogs from now on. The last Epic Shit post was really a revolution for sure.
    And I’m pretty sure this one is going to be too.

    Enter the power of writing funny shit. ! haha! Well said mate. And you rolled out this article as a perfect example for writing a post like that. Way to go.

    Cheers :)

  • http://shinybutter.com Coco

    Which is why Jon Stewart is better at news than CNN.

    • http://www.BloggerDoc.com Amal Rafeeq

      I can’t disagree with you on that. You got a point.
      It’d be really interesting if CNN dudes cracked jokes along the news too. Right? :D

    • http://www.photographyontheside.com Ryan

      Agreed!

    • http://www.theunlost.com Therese

      @Amal, thanks dude!

      @Coco, Hahaha. Hahahahaha. HAHAHAHAHA! So effing true! :-)

  • http://InvincibleViolinist.com Bill Alpert

    OMG, that was about the worst written blog post I’ve ever read!

    (ha ha ha ha, just kidding ’cause I’m stealing your ideas for my next 30 posts, Thanks!)

    • http://www.theunlost.com Therese

      NOT a funny joke, Bill… not funny at all!

      And you’re welcome ;-). Can’t wait to see your upcoming posts; please do share!

  • http://www.LiveWorkTravelUSA.com Dan

    LOL, this “Twelve Habits….” blog post is funny stuff. Brightened my day.
    Thanks for sharing :)

    • http://www.theunlost.com Therese

      Hi Dan,

      Yeah, the twelve habits post is funny stuff. Glad to inject your Tuesday with a little brightness :)

  • http://www.concomitari.com Susie

    Great post – the only blogs I subscribe to are the ones that make me laugh!

    I also think that there’s something lasting about the feel-good factor of laughing and that we then associate the good feeling with the blog or company. A bit like when you get offered chocolate at the checkout in the newsagents. It triggers happy feelings in your brain so you’ll associate going to that particular shop with the happy feelings released by eating chocolate on your way out.
    Personally I think it’s much healthier to create warm-glow fuzziness with humour rather than chocolate.
    But chocolate can be good too . . .

    • http://www.theunlost.com Therese

      Dear Susie,

      I vote for both chocolate AND humor.

      Sincerely,

      Therese

  • http://www.selfstairway.com/confident-by-next-year/ Vincent

    Just like that, I am now inspired to re-evaluate the way I write to make sure I’m maintaining a healthy dose of humor! Thanks for the reminder, Therese!

    • http://www.theunlost.com Therese

      Great to hear, Vincent! Please share! :)

  • Pingback: The Ultimate Guide to Changing The World by Making Your Readers Pee Their Pants Laughing | The Unlost

  • http://www.twitter.com/willreinhardt Will Reinhardt

    Great message! As the title of the post points out, I would add “don’t be afraid to cuss a little”. In a world where South Park has turned “shit” into just another word, a bit of cussing can help to get a point across.

    Also regarding humor, I’ve shared Chase’s introduction video on Fizzle.co with several people, because his impression of Johnny Ive pronouncing “aluminum” is not to be missed!

    • http://www.theunlost.com Therese

      Hi Will,

      I think cussing is a matter of 1) Who your audience is, and 2) Who you are. It’s for some people and it’s not for others. That said, I tend to cuss in my writing every once in awhile (my mom hates it… sorry, Mom!).

  • http://marcallred.com Marc Allred

    This post couldn’t have come at a better time. I’m drafting a new blog post and have been considering incorporating more humor for quite sometime.

    One of my favorite authors is Ken Robinson. But what makes his principles so potent is that he delivers them with such wit in a live setting. Like this one from earlier this year. http://youtu.be/-M8Hl5MUr8w

    Robinson’s points are so important, but he makes his delivery so memorable by making you laugh through out it. He doesn’t have a stick up his rear, but he also isn’t taking his subject lightly.

    I’d like to be more like him as I write stuff like “how to improve productivity.”

    Great post and thanks for sharing.
    -Marc @ Marc My Words/marcallred.com

    • http://www.theunlost.com Therese

      YES, great example, Marc. Thanks for sharing and would love to see you incorporate some humor into your writing about productivity!

  • http://www.photographyontheside.com Ryan

    The timing of this article couldn’t be any better! Thank you!!!

    Chase is another great example of how humor drives engagement. I have a tonne of podcasts to choose from on my iPhone. Despite the crazy length of the Think Traffic podcasts, I often choose it because it’s just so damn funny.

    Added bonus that it’s also extremely helpful and inspiring. That’s a deadly f’in combo! :)

    • http://www.theunlost.com Therese

      Heck yes, Chase is a great example. And yes, that IS a deadly combo… funny without epic/helpful/inspiring is just empty.

      Thanks Ryan!

  • http://www.thekitchensnob.com Dee @ The Kitchen Snob

    It’s like you read my mind! I’ve been trying to incorporate humor into my posts (and that is what I would do in conversation) but I admit it is a little nerve wracking to write funny and not know if it’s coming across or not. It sometimes feels like being on a stage and your audience is empty. Yes, my blog is new so maybe that’s why.

    There is always that fine line of being funny and trying to be funny. Some of my favorite blogs are funny – check out Thug Kitchen. HILARIOUS. I wish I had the guts to cuss like that!

    • http://www.theunlost.com Therese

      Hi Dee,

      A food blogger friend of mine actually emailed me the link to “Thug Kitchen” the other day… funny stuff!

      And yep, just like anything, it will take practice to effectively infuse humor into your writing (http://www.theunlost.com/writing/change-the-world-with-humor/). Keep working at it!

      xx T

  • http://VROwnersGuide.com Steve

    Great post even though it wasn’t that funny.

    Funny, I was just telling a friend the other day about this hilarious article about “Surviving Whole Foods”

    As I went back to find it for this comment, I realized the author is a STAND UP COMIC. Uhhh, that might help! And here the crazy sharing numbers in only 2 weeks: Almost 1M FB likes, 164,000 shares and even 3000 shares on G+, meaning every single person on G+ shared it!

    • http://www.theunlost.com Therese

      Great example, Steve — thanks for sharing!

      And you’re right… shamefully, my post is not all that funny :-x.

      I’d dare to say, however, that my follow-up guide on HOW to incorporate humor into your writing is much, much funnier.
      ;-)

  • http://suzyhomemaker.net suzyhomemaker

    This is so timely. Someone just asked which of my blog posts was my favorite and I had chosen one where I am being sarcastic, yet still getting my message across. And I agree, my favorite blogs have wit and sarcasm. I need to make sure that I inject more of that into my posts without it feeling forced or unnatural.

  • http://Www.robertrosales.com Rob

    Great post! Not drinking the hater-aid or anything, but those bloggers really aren’t that hilarious as much as just cute or chuckle worthy. I think mostly because many of them are afraid of polarizing people or coming off as assholes- a risk any standup comic knows all too well about.

  • http://www.mortarandpestlestyle.blogspot.com Nicole H

    Great post, I will definitely try to incorporate this idea into my writing. If Ramit Sethi can make finance funny, I can make fashion funny.

    Just wanted to share an idea for how to incorporate humour into your blog: you don’t always have to crack your own jokes! Your post mentioned memes, and sometimes you can borrow memes to get your point across. Or link a funny video that has something to do with your post. Here’s one meme I thought would be perfect for a post on managing finances: http://iwastesomuchtime.com/on/?i=81551
    Memes don’t have to be useless, they can be used to get a point across. You can borrow memes or make your own to get a “funny shit factor”.

    • http://www.theunlost.com Therese

      Nicole,

      YES, so true! Take advantage of the memes that are already out there… this strategy is one of the best :)

      Thanks for your comment!

  • http://raymondduke.com Raymond Duke

    Being funny CAN work, but it’s also a double edged sword. When you put forth too much humor, people may not take your seriously. You have to figure out what your audience is first.

    For example, if I’m waiting for the results of an AIDS test, and the Dr. comes in the room and he’s all…

    “Knock, knock!”

    “Um… who’s there?”

    “AIDS! You don’t have aids.”

    Humor isn’t always the best way to send a message. Just something to keep in mind.

  • http://Www.jasonloveslife.com Jason Love

    I tried using what I considered a funny photo to promote a post I wrote on Miley Cyrus. It related to her VMA performance & her desire to re-brand herself.

    The original article did well, but the image I created didn’t get the reaction I expected. You can see it at http://www.jasonloveslife.com/batman-vs/

    Any thoughts on what to do if the humor or joke misses the target?

    Great article,
    Jason Love
    sent from i-phone

    • http://www.theunlost.com Therese

      Hi Jason,

      My best advice if the humor or joke misses the target is the same as if any piece of writing misses the target: Evaluate, adjust, and try again!

      Practice, practice, practice, learn, learn, learn, study, study, study, observe, evaluate, then adjust and do another test run!

      All of life (& business) is a grand experiment, and hopefully you’re tracking and measuring its effectiveness!

  • Drogo Jay

    Hello Therese,

    Going to check out your guide soon.

    I’m not a naturally funny person to be honest. Rather than force it out after reading a guide/tips/checklists, I want to learn how to be funny over a long-period of time. Would you happen to know of anybody or resources from which I can learn from? Perhaps even you? ;)

    Thanks for bringing attention to this. It was quite enlightening to realise that comedy makes the world go round :)

    Drogo.

    • http://www.theunlost.com Therese

      Hi there!

      Well, I wrote my guide in order to help “teach” people (even people who aren’t naturally funny!) to incorporate some humor into their writing… that said, if you want more than just a “guide/tips/checklist,” I’m not sure where to point you. Feel free to email me and I’ll see if I can help, depending on exactly what it is you’re looking for.
      :) T

    • Drogo Jay

      Hello Therese,

      No problems! I read your guide and it was pretty much what I was looking for. Great information for people like me. Heee!

      Thanks again :)

  • http://www.Kingged.com Joanne

    A very witty article, Therese!

    Most writers are serious-minded. They want to create educational posts that will help their readers learn from them. Yes, the objective is clear. Yet, too much seriousness, more often than not, results to a boring content.

    Your article shows that injecting humor on your post will make it sharable, likable and memorable without losing the essence of educating and inspiring the readers.

    Writers might want to consider your vantage point on injecting humor on their next post. :)

    I found and “kingged” the post on Kingged.com

    • http://www.theunlost.com Therese

      Thanks, Joanne! Much appreciated!

      xx

  • http://newinternetorder.com Azalea Pena

    Therese, kudos to a very entertaining article! Even merely reading about the words “humor” and “funny” is already bringing out a smile on my face, I could imagine it in others too.
    You’re right on point on this one. People like funny, there’s no question about that. It doesn’t have to be all-out funny, just a sprinkle of humor will do. Readers will be more engaged as the piece (no matter how serious the topic is) can still keep the reader feel a bit relaxed.
    Humor really does go a long way. The audience likes it better and finds it more appealing. In turn, even writers who use a bit of humor will find that writing isn’t supposed to be that serious to begin with.

    • http://www.theunlost.com Therese

      Right on, Azalea, and you’re absolutely right — as I point out in my guide, humor doesn’t have to be “all out”; just a bit will help lighten the mood and be effective.
      :)

  • http://www.launchalegacy.com Michael Knouse

    Therese – This is great stuff! Injecting humor into our writing is more of an art form and (for me at least) it takes a lot of practice too. Sometimes it falls flat, sometimes it’s over-done, but sometimes I seem to hit the sweet spot. I just realized that all of my favorite blogs/podcasts (i.e. the ones I actually read!) use humor. Ash Ambirge, James Altucher, Derek Halpern, and of course the Fizzle Show all use humor to educate and entertain. Humor just makes everything better! Thanks and I will check out your “Change The World With Humor Guide.”

    • http://www.theunlost.com Therese

      Great realization, Michael!

      Yes, it does take a lot of practice, and yes, of course it’s an art form.

      Best of luck to you!

      x T

  • http://teresacapaldo.com Teresa

    Thank the devil herself for this funny shi*!

    Great post. Quite inspiring.
    This article made me realize I’ve been holding back on humor and
    without good reason! Thanks for the swift kick. :)

    • http://www.theunlost.com Therese

      Thanks, Teresa! Always glad to provide a swift kick when needed ;-)

  • http://www.StartupBros.com Will Mitchell

    Great post, I don’t think you could have ended it any better!

  • Helen Martin

    Bit late to the party commenting, but love the post Therese. Humour and laughter are also great stress busters, they makes us feel good, cost nothing, and you don’t have to visit a serious therapist to make you feel better. Combining humour, education and inspiration is definitely the way to go. Thanks for the post.

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