When life slaps you to the floor, grin. Yes, comedians say, “Your worst memories bring big laughs—like it or not.”
Jim Carrey faced claims that he gave his ex-girlfriend an STD. He went into hiding, resurfacing with a shaggy beard. On a talk show, he joked “The question is not, ‘Why are you growing a beard?’ The question is, ‘Why am I growing a beard and still shaving my balls?’” He squirmed while the audience howled.
Worse, first day of class, my prof mocked a student, “I remember you! You didn’t really crap your pants, did you?” The class laughed. But the student’s seat sat empty next day. But that student should’ve stayed—with a cheeky, defiant grin.
Why? We’ve all had bad bathroom tales.
In grade one gym class, my classmates and I waved like trees to the commands of Mrs. Brown. I’d pipe up in a whisper, “Mrs. Brown?”—each time silenced. That is, until she saw the puddle. Worse, the boy I liked offered to clean my mess. Shyly, I shuffled home, broken-hearted, and bawled to Mom.
If that wasn’t bad enough, a boss threatened to fire me. Not for poor performance, but for using the can when the plumbing went amuck. But what options did I have? Messing my pants. Fertilizing her petunias. Or squatting on the lawn—like Jim Carrey in Me, Myself, and Irene.
So, lighten up and laugh off horrors. Brad Schreiber shows how in his book What Are You Laughing At? How to Write Humor for Screenplays, Stories, and More:
- Laugh at your own red face: “Embarrassment is a principle that … readily connects to your own painful, shameful, humiliating, excruciating, moronic, pathetic remembrances …. If most people can find … a level of tension in an embarrassing moment, it has a good chance of amusing” (p. 10).
- No matter how bad your tale, joke about it: “Don’t tell me nothing bad has ever happened to you. And don’t tell me it’s too awful to repeat” (p. 10).
- Why tell the worst? Shudder-worthy moments entertain more than success: “When public school students come back to classes in the Fall, they have sometimes been given the essay assignment ‘What I Did During My Summer Vacation.’ Of course, in order to foster more verve … the assignment should be ‘What Went Wrong During My Summer Vacation’” (p. 69).
- Shock makes us laugh, too: Shock or surprise is the undergarment that holds in the unsightly flab of humor writing. Remove it at your own risk” (p. 6).
- Exaggeration tickles more than meekness: “Exaggeration at its most basic goes back to the idea of avoiding meek choices …. In fiction and nonfiction, you have every right to stretch things out of proportion, especially using metaphors” (p. 8).
- Pile it on—boldly! “Meekness is the … kidney stone to be passed out of the body comedic. Writers often get mildly amusing ideas and simply go with them, refusing to try to better them. For example, consider the difference between the two: ‘He’s pretty fun to be with—for a guy just out of a twelve-step program.’ ‘He’s pretty fun to be with—for a guy just out of a twelve-step program for recovering mimes” (p. 5).
Want comedic revenge on your prof or boss? Think Jim Carrey and his unfriendly lawn-potatoes.