Funny is a value judgment by the joke teller.
You’re going to want to save this if you’re attempting to be funny at work.
I regularly have something I find amusing that doesn’t pass the internal filter check. This is a good thing. We all need some amount of filter.***
Colin Chung has an excellent note on how this works in his Osmosis #57 letter, in the “Funny Filter” section.
Drawing from How To Write Funny by Scott Dikkers, he points out that saying something obvious like “racism sucks” is not saying something funny. If you want to make the obvious funny, you’re going to have to go out, at least a little, onto a limb with a judgment of your own.
Via Dikkers, we get a list of “funny filters” to help push you out on the branch. These, my friends, are gold and you may want to keep them handy for that next presentation prep:
Irony – write the extreme polar opposite of your subtext.
Character – an archetypal 2D character with 1-3 traits.
Shock – sex, violence, swearing*
Hyperbole – Exaggeration to the point of absurdity
Wordplay – Double entendres, puns, oxymorons*
Reference – Relatable observations (but with a twist)
Madcap – Slapstick, non sequitur, wacky words*
Parody – Aping the format/presentation of a medium
Analogy – Compare two disparate things, and find maximum similarities
Misplaced Focus – Pretend lack of awareness of the obvious, and focusing on small insignificant detail
Metahumor – Making humor itself the target or subject*
* Used sparingly and only as garnish.
If you want to be funny (or funnier, or whatever you’re going for), take that obvious-sounding statement you want to make a point with, and apply one of these filters.
***if people want to use acronyms all of the time, you can’t ask me to not make up my own assumptions about what these things stand for, as one recurring example.