Dave Barry Reveals Secret To Being Funny


Lately I’ve been reading And Here’s the Kicker: Coversations with 21 Top Humor Writers on their Craft by Mike Sacks, and I ran across this little gem about writing funny via Dave Barry:

It’s a lot like a magic trick, in that there’s a very mechanical way in which it’s done. There are a lot of obvious and basic structural things you do with a sentence and with a joke and how you set it up on the page. And the trick is to do it in such a way that it doesn’t look like there was any effort involved–that it’s somehow magic.

He continues:

There’s a certain amount of inspiration, but there’s also a fair amount of work and repetition and practice and mechanics that are involved…

I’ve never seen it put that way before, but he’s exactly right! While cartoonists know the work involved in crafting cartoons, to pretty much everyone else it’s magic.


Halloween Cartoon Idea List

Every year when I sit down to write my Halloween cartoons (usually around June) I create a list of Halloween stuff to help generate ideas. And every year I think "I should keep this so I don’t have to do it again next year!" And then I never do.

But, this year I’m putting it all down here in this post. Partially for my own reference, partially to give you an idea how my head works, and partially to see if there’s anything I missed.

OK here goes:

Halloween –

  • Pumpkins – jack o’ lanterns, seeds, carving, knives
  • Costumes – masks, pirates, hoboes, superheroes
  • Trick or treat – candy, apples, x-ray, bags
  • Witches – brooms, cauldrons, spells
  • Frankenstein – bride, bolts, bodies, scientists, fire, angry mob
  • Vampires – blood, bats, fangs, coffins, mirrors
  • Werewolves – moon, howling
  • Mummy – wrappings, tombs, arms in front
  • Zombies – brains, decay
  • Ghosts – sheets, Casper
  • Skeletons – bones, medical
  • Devil – horns, pitchfork, tail, hell, fire
  • Haunted Houses
  • Spiders – webs
  • Graves – tombstones
  • Scary movies
  • Bobbing for apples

Lemme know if I missed anything…

Gag Writing – Just Say No

NotepadSaw this interview with gag writer Robert Rafferty and thought it was interesting.

I don’t personally use gag writers, although there are plenty of good cartoonists who do, but what struck me most in the interview was this bit of advice to folks looking to sell gags:

When it comes to gag writing, don’t do it. It is too hard to get started and the cartoonists that will usually look at gags have no sales record and you will spend a fortune on postage with no return. The cartoonists who are well established already have gag writers, so they don’t need them. I would not try to get into this business today. When I got into this it was fairly new. Unless you are very good and can come up with New Yorker-quality gags, one right after the other, you have no chance.


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cartoon writing wording

I love words.

And it’s a good thing since writing is really the crux of the whole cartoonist thing. You can be the greatest artist in the world, but if your writing stinks, believe you me, nobody is going to be buying.

One of my favorite tricks when I’m stumped is to hit the books. Actually, a few specific books. I’ve got a number of different reference volumes to kick start the writing process:

So if I’ve got a specific topic in mind, say for a custom cartoon, I’ll obviously start by looking for that specific word. Each book is organized a little differently, but they all make finding related content fairly easy.

If I’m just writing to write, however, I love to just leaf through and see what strikes my brain’s fancy. I try not to linger too long on any specific page, I just quickly skim and see if anything pops.

A favorite trick of mine is to look at phrases about and/or containing a word and seeing if there’s some way to combine them. It doesn’t always end up in a successful cartoon, but, if nothing else, you’re priming the cartoon writing pump.

Now remember, these books aren’t going to solve all of your problems. Nothing beats just sitting yourself down regularly, staring down a blank piece of paper and actively writing cartoons. (You’d be surprised how often I hear budding cartoonists complain about waiting for their muse to visit.) But used judiciously, they’re all great tools to have in your gag writing toolbox.

It looks like a few might already be out of print, but you should be able to pick them up cheaply on Ebay or Amazon.

Word up!