What Makes Something Funny?

Your humble host.
your humble host

I have written a dozen bestselling funny books, and I love watching and learning techniques from great comedians. I know funny.

What makes something FUNNY?


But first I have to tell people about our writing contest because time is almost up and when they read this post later they’ll be pissed.

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You really should enter that. Now back to our post.

Stuff like this:


After a few minutes of watching Patrick, Mr. Krabs, and Squidward attempt to do . . . something to SpongeBob, I’d had enough. I was ready to push SpongeBob into a blender, but Sienna was happy, and Mattie was still chatting with Sam, so I headed back downstairs to my desk.

I picked up my cell phone and sent Sam a text. Internet access is supposed to be shitty a lot of the time over in Italy, especially in Tuscany. So I reset all the passwords to my email and voicemail and everything else to your first name and the last four digits of your social.

Even though she was still talking to my wife, her reply was quick. That’s handy.

I nodded. I thought so. I need you to check on things in case I can’t.

After a moment, Sam’s reply came back. Ok. Is my bonus paperwork in there, too, boss?

I smiled, typing. No. My wife’s friends say Facebook and Twitter work great, I think, but that my email will be nonexistent. Go figure.

I could ask her. She is on the phone with me.

My fingers pounded out my message. Thanks, but no.

Okay. Expect a lot of angry co-workers when you get back.

I frowned. Why?

A second later, her message appeared. I’ll be accessing your voice mail and email under your name. I plan on telling a lot of people what I think of them. As you.

Or do you need it spelled out with numbers? Because we can do that.


  1. Funny Is Unexpected

In a story, FUNNY is something happening that is unexpected. Often, it’s based on pain or implied pain, like Mike getting back and finding a lot of angry co-workers – because his loyal assistant dared do something outrageous, something we’d all like to do, and had the brass to tell him she was gonna do it. Yeah, she’s teasing, but she still thought of it. And no, she likes him, so she won’t do it. Probably.

See? Sticking that “probably” in there made you smile a little inside.

  1. Commonality

We share an experience when one of us makes the other laugh, and we share it more easily when we both identify with the topic. In the above example, who hasn’t wanted to tell off a bunch of co-workers, or take a shot at the boss?

  • When Jerry Seinfeld talked about a stray hair on the shower wall and how you cup some water with your hands and try to wash it away – a few inches per splash – we knew what he was referring to.

  • When Mel Brooks as the 2,000 year old man said he has 42,000 children and not one comes to visit him, we’d heard that from our parents, too.

  • When Chris Rock talks about the guy who cheats on his girlfriend, we all roll our eyes because we know somebody like him or her.

Familiar territory makes us relax. Being relaxed allows you to be surprised.

  1. The Intent Is Not Actually Mean Or Cruel

They say all humor is based on pain, so we can get away with a lot if the audience knows the person telling the joke or story doesn’t mean to be an @sshole. We wanna like the person involved. Sam likes her boss. She’s teasing him the way siblings tease. Okay, maybe not, because my brothers sent each other to the emergency room a few times. Maybe we should find a different example. And stop looking at me like that.

  • Dick Van Dyke falling over the ottoman in his living room was funny because we didn’t expect a guy in a suit to crash to the floor tripping over his own furniture, but also because we didn’t really think Dick was hurt. (Blood and a broken arm = not funny.)

  • Equally, Dan Akroyd as Julia Child slicing her hand was funny because of the outrageous amount of blood spurting forth and her staunch refusal to act anything other than her prim and proper, stuffy self – until she keeled over from blood loss.
  • Lucy stuffing the conveyor belt candy into her mouth and shirt was completely unexpected.

  1. Outrageous

This next example is a bit long, but it’s totally worth it.

I picked up the gown. I’d rather wait naked than wear a paper dress, but my trip now rested on good results from the doctor. I stripped and put on the glorified lunch bag, waiting for the poking and prodding to begin.

The door flew open with a bang. “Surprise! Look who’s here!”

“Jan!” I jumped up. “What are you doing here? Where’s Doctor Fischbaum?”

She strode toward me, beaming. “I’m Doctor Fischbaum.”

I backed away. “No, you’re Doctor Waters.”

Jan waved a hand, walking to the counter. “I changed my name back after the divorce.”

“But . . . Fischbaum’s not your maiden name.”

“What, go back to Pratt? That’s so plain. Blah.” She studied the chart. “Don’t you think Dr. Fischbaum has a nice ring? It was my second husband’s name.” She glanced at me over her shoulder. “I think you missed that one.”

I stepped behind the examining room table, keeping it between us for safety. “I missed the wedding and the marriage, both. How long were you guys hitched, like three months?”

“Two, but it seemed like ten. For a guy who was so into golf, his putter never got near the right hole.” She set the file down and folded her arms. “Besides, as Jan Fischbaum, maybe I’ll meet somebody who wants a nice Jewish girl.”

“You’re not Jewish.”

“But he won’t know that, will he?” She placed her hands on her hips. “So why are you still wearing that thing? Aren’t we doing your physical today? Or did you want to get physical?”

I swallowed. “Now, Jan, you and I had an agreement that after I got engaged—you wouldn’t be my doctor anymore.”

“Oh, shush. Who else could’ve squeezed you in on such short notice? Now come on.”

“Don’t make me file a complaint with the AMA. Flirting with patients is against the rules.”

“Well, it shouldn’t be for cute ones. Anyway, we have a history so it’s different. Maybe I can go to a few board meetings and get that rule taken care of . . .”

I crept out from behind the examining table. “Just . . . no funny stuff. Seriously.”

“This will be strictly business.”

I sat down, holding shut the back of the hospital gown. “Let’s get this over with, shall we? I have a busy day and I’m not much in the mood for any antics.”

She stifled a laugh. “Have I ever told you how good you look in a blue paper dress?”

“Okay, I’m leaving.” I started to get up.

“Oh, stop. I’m kidding!” She put her hands on her hips. “Can’t a girl have a little fun? Boy, are you in a sour mood. If you had your sense of humor surgically removed, you should have at least consulted us first.”

She stretched a blue latex glove over her French manicured hands and let it go with a loud snap. “You know the best part about conducting a physical on you, Mike? I get to fondle your genitals and stick my finger up that cute little tushie of yours, and you have to pay me for the privilege.”

I tried to tuck a little more of the paper dress under my behind. “Let’s keep things professional, okay?”

“And I am! What’s a little joking around between friends? Geez, when did you become such a fuddy-duddy?”

“Probably after I got married and started a family.”

“Spoilsport. Okay, stand up and slide down your boxers. Or do you wear briefs now?”

“Aren’t we, um . . . gonna start with a stethoscope on the chest or something like that?”

“Who’s the medical expert here? There’s plenty of time for that later. Let’s go. Drop ‘em.” She sat down on a small stool and wheeled herself over as I slid off the table.

“Hold up the gown, please. Boxer briefs—how stylish. As always, Michael, thank you for manscaping.”

“Uh, my pleasure.”

“And there’s the little guy!”

“Hey! It’s not that little. And . . . it’s cold in here.”

“I was kidding!” She peered up at me. “Would I be fantasizing about you in Cabo if it wasn’t something to be proud of? Geez.” She resumed the exam. “Let’s see here. Well, Mike Junior looks clean and healthy. And there they are—hello boys.” She gazed up again, smiling. “Honestly, Mike, I’ve always said you have a wonderful penis but these balls of yours are simply amazing. You should be very proud of them.”

“Okay, see? You—that’s skating right past the safety zone again there, Jan.”


NOBODY expects that from their doctor. Nobody.

But… it’s funny.

And why?

Because of stuff like the paper dress (we’ve all had to do that and we all agree it’s unpleasant), the boldness of the doctor flaunting all the rules and not caring – she is the definition of outrageous , and hardly what we expect from a doctor. A sober one, anyway.

And again, it’s fun to see the guy being teased. He’s obviously up to it, and not being harassed, but she’s a bit on the crazy side. Larger than life. Outrageous.


Here’s another outrageous example, compliments of Sam.

In a different story, Sam tries to assist her teenage niece with a problem while simultaneously letting the niece drive a car for the first time.


Sam threw her hands out. “What, do you blame your mom for killing your dad? By sending him a text? Or do you blame him for being so excited about the new baby that he read it while he was driving and accidentally blew through a stop sign?”

“No, I didn’t mean that.”

Sam lowered her voice. “Well, what then, sweetie?”

Gina sighed. “I just would like people to talk about him like they’d talk about anybody else, not like he walked on water. Like other kids talk about their dads.” Her voice cracked. She sniffled. “That they came home late for dinner or need to lose a few pounds or… just something normal.”

Sam nodded. “Something real. So he’d be more real.”


She sighed. “Well, that can be good things too.”

“Okay, you win. You can tell me all the good things about him you want.” Gina smiled. “Go ahead.”

“Okay, well- ”

“As long as you don’t make him out to be a saint.”

“Um, wow, you are so like your mother. It’s like you guys are secretly all lawyers or enhanced interrogation experts for the CIA or something.”

“You’re stalling. Tell me something real. Something mom would never tell me. Just say the first thing that comes to your mind.”

“He was a good lover.”

Gina’s jaw dropped. “What?”

“With a big penis.”

“Oh, my god.”

“Huge.” Sam shook her head. “Your brother will probably be pretty popular after he hits puberty. Now slow down, you’re speeding.”

Gina gripped the wheel. “You saw my dad’s penis?”

“No, no, no.” Sam swallowed. “Well, yes.”

“What?” Gina glanced at Sam. “How?”

“Um, we may have slept together. Watch the road.”


“Watch the road! You said you wanted to know things.”

Gina squeezed her eyes shut. “I didn’t want to know that!”

“Watch the road! You weren’t specific. Make up your mind.” Sam adjusted her seat belt. “I mean, that man made me hit some high notes.”


Sheesh! Talk about outrageous. (It turns out Sam dated Gina’s dad before her mom did. Nothing crazy there. Okay, well, not too crazy.)

Also, we go from being sympathetic to Gina for the loss of her father to shocked that Sam slept with him to laughing about how Sam won’t shut up.

Once you get an audience to experience a reaction you wanted, it’s easier for you to get them to experience the other emotions you want.

  1. Once Established As Humor, It’s Easy To Build.

The above scene is a joke that gets a capper, and the capper gets a capper. Piling on the funny.


  • Often, the funny stuff is what we wish we could say.

  • Often, it’s snappy and witty, precisely hitting the target in very few words.

  • Usually, we have kinda been there ourselves.


It looks at familiar things in a new way.

And the best funny scenes build on themselves and what’s been established.


You can’t tickle yourself, but you CAN write a scene that makes you laugh. That’s why writers are godlike.



Bottom line, funny is one, two… duck.

Set up a pattern or expectation, then deliver the unexpected.

A situation, not necessarily the words, and then doing it in a bigger than life way.


Sarcasm helps – that’s the way I do it – and that’s how YOU should do it, because it works every time.


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Dan Alatorre is the author of several bestsellers and the amazingly great sci fi action thriller “The Navigators.”  Click HERE to get your copy of The Navigators – FREE on Kindle Unlimited!

 Available in paperback and audio book formats, too!






Published by Dan Alatorre AUTHOR

USA Today bestselling author Dan Alatorre has 50+ titles published in more than 120 countries and over a dozen languages.

2 thoughts on “What Makes Something Funny?

  1. HA! HA!

    I love Sarcastic!!! In my first book, there’s a whole lot of it…

    I tend to laugh when I’m stressed, and make up jokes on the spot.

    I’m ABSOLUTELY SURE!!! God has a sense of HUMOR!!!

    Remind me to tell you of how I ended up with a OBGYN that sounds just like an Instructor I had a thing for. Hehehaha! Talk about an Uncomfortable Exam!

    Liked by 1 person

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