Writing Humor, Part II – The Art of Exaggeration: Steal from the Barry Best

Writing Humor, Part II – The Art of Exaggeration: Steal from the Barry Best

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If you want to write comedy, you have to learn to steal. I don’t mean plagiarize; I mean steal, a long-standing, revered (or at least tolerated) technique among comedians.

Of course, you don’t lift whole sections of a humorist’s work and call it your own. Don’t even use their punch lines without giving them credit. But you can analyze their writing and steal devices. If you are going to steal, do as Milton Berle did: steal from the very best.

One of the very best is Dave Barry, one of only two humorists to ever win the coveted Pulitzer Prize (the other was Art Buchwald).

What are Dave’s secrets? One is that he’s a master of using exaggeration to heighten humor. Consider this passage about the plight of the American male when faced with the 4307 dials and settings on the modern washing machine. (See, I’m using exaggeration as well.)

“We worry that if we get just one variable wrong, we will find ourselves facing a wrathful spouse, who is holding up a garment that was once a valued brassiere of normal dimensions, but is now suitable only as a sun hat for a small, two-headed squirrel.”

What makes exaggeration most effective is when you apply it to a real situation – in this case, the known fact that an improper temperature setting can cause some garments to shrink. Then you pick the funniest garment as an example and shrink it to an exaggerated, absurd level.

“The key is to not hold back, the bigger the exaggeration, the funnier the line. Mr. Barry, some examples if you please:

“Eugene is located in western Oregon, approximately 278 billion miles from anything.”

“I have been a gigantic Rolling Stones fan since approximately the Spanish-American War.”

“If you were to open up a baby’s head – and I am not for a moment suggesting that you should – you would find nothing but an enormous drool gland.

“It is a well-documented fact that guys will not ask for directions. This is a biological thing. This is why it takes several million sperm cells … to locate a female egg, despite the fact that the egg is, relative to them, the size of Wisconsin.”

“She has enough leftovers to make turkey sandwiches for everybody in Belgium.”

Re: an explicit lingerie outfit: it was “so sheer you could read an appliance warranty through it in an unlit closet.”

Comments section and the rest of the article Over Coffee http://siamckye.blogspot.com/

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