How to Write Political Humor



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How to Write Political Humor


As you know, if you’re a writer, everything’s grist for your mill. And you’re right that politics are gristier than anything else. But if you pile on by stating, “Besides, politics is all the rage right now, (“Politics is…” “Politics are…” work that out for yourself), you’ll find that right now, the only thing that’s all the rage is all the rage. But you don’t know where to start. Take a minute (more than one is recommended) to read, study, dissect, and bisect. Sure, go ahead and trisect, if you want.

Past political humorists include clever folks like:

Mark Twain—”The political and commercial morals of the United States are not merely food for laughter, they are an entire banquet.”

Will Rogers— “No nation ought to be allowed to enter into a war until it’s paid for the last one.”

H.L. Mencken— “Under democracy one party always devotes its chief energies to trying to prove that the other party is unfit to rule—and both commonly succeed, and are right.”

Today’s top political laugh lines come from all our top stand-up comedians and humor writers for any of the late night talk shows—each one has its own stable of writers working feverishly all day on the latest unstable actions and utterances of the loveable whack jobs who are the political characters du jour.

By the way, you don’t have to wait any more for an election year for your material to get an appreciative (and paying) audience; in keeping with our penchant for overkill, every year is now an election year.

So the work ahead of you might not be as daunting as you possibly feared. Just throw out key words, phrases and people’s names to the right audience and stand back for the derisive belly laughs, agreeing with you: “E-mails,” “Waffling,” and “Build a Wall.”

But beware—The laughs you would get would be cheap ones, and forced at best. And cheap doesn’t always mean bargain. If you say, “Mr. So and So is as dumb as a fence post,” that only insults the fence post.

Now, if you do want to get in a few scorchers without being tagged as too partisan, make statements that cover both parties—it’s easy, e.g., open with, “Congress gets 239 paid vacation days a year.” Then zing them with, “I’ll chip in to give them even more!”

You’ll pick it up: “Did you hear about the honest Senator? Me neither.”

Let’s backtrack a little here and go broader and deeper. Why do you want to be any kind of humor writer? No, I know you want to the good kind, the successful kind, but why humor at all? Alternates to Humor include Memoir, Sci-Fi, Horror, Mystery, Fantasy, and Literary, also Young Adult, which seems to encompass all of the above and even more. All of them are fun to write. Some writers seem to take extreme delight in writing Horror. I fear for them…and I fear them.

So, since any one of these genres can have some humor in them, why go for just the narrow category of Humor—or the even narrower category of Political Humor? The answer has to be either, “All my friends say I’m funny,” or “It looks easy, and I could use the extra cash.” To those who loftily proclaim, “I must answer the call of Thalia, the Muse of Humor,” shut up.

They say (no, I have no idea exactly who “they” are; which is strange, because “they” seem to be constantly saying things) that you should read what you want to write.

How well do you know and enjoy humor writing? Here are a few of the great humorists you should read: Robert Benchley; Dorothy Parker; P.G. Wodehouse; Read some of those authors listed above, and more contemporary ones like the late Sir Terry Pratchett; Christopher Moore, Andy Borowitz, David Sedaris, Joel Habush*, Tina Fey, and Dave Barry. Start or continue reading them.

*Notice how seamlessly I slipped that in? But I didn’t get pushy by writing anything like, “His book, ‘Caution, Writer Ahead’ is available on Amazon.”

Will that help your writing? Maybe. But if not, you’ll still have a good time.

Time to get (wise) cracking. Here’s a sure fire writing prompt to get you started. “Two politicians walk into a bar…”

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