Writing Funny Copy: Do’s and Don’ts
Everyone’s trying to write funny these days. Funny web copy. Funny Instagram captions. Funny out-of-office messages.
I’ve been a comedy writer for years, and used to fear that my humorous stylings on Twitter could be an impediment to being hired. But lately, my experience in comedy has morphed into a serious asset for my resume. People associate humor with wit, intelligence, and relatability—and they want all that in their copy.
Alluring as it is, writing funny copy is also challenging. It’s like ordering Domino’s—it seems like a good idea, but once you actually have that Loaded Meatlovers pizza in front of you, you can lose your appetite.
With that beautiful image in mind, here are some DO’s and DON’TS:
DON’T: jump on the comedy bandwagon without a good reason
“Just because everyone else is doing something doesn’t mean you have to do it, too.”
-Your mother when you were 9, me now
Why do you want funny copy in the first place? Do you honestly think humor is the most effective way to convey your message? Or do you just enjoy other comedic websites and have dreams of your hilarious content going viral?
If the tone of your brand is sincere or serious, suddenly spicing it up with random jokes and memes will ring false to your audience. Not everything has to be funny to work—look how successful Two and a Half Men was!
DO: think of comedic writing as a conversation
This season, Reese’s released the “peanut butter tree,” which spawned an internet controversy over its…unappealing shape.
After many, many social media posts criticizing the trees, Reese’s decided to respond with its #alltreesarebeautiful campaign.
By piggybacking on the comments and responding with humor, Reese’s humanized their brand voice and showed that they were in on the joke. The internet horde was satisfied, and the great peanut butter tree debate of 2015 was over.
DON’T: devalue the work it takes to write funny
Great funny copy is SHORT. That doesn’t mean it took a SHORT amount of time to create. A three-sentence paragraph on your website that brims with wit while also clearly conveying your company’s message probably took some major rewriting and a gallon of copywriter tears to achieve. Be respectful of their work.
DON’T: get too cute
When it comes to wordplay, tread carefully.
Look, I’m not a monster—I know how strong the siren song of a pun can be. Puns are magical arrangements of words that can be engaging and groan-inducing all at the same time. But they’re the ghost peppers of the comedy world: a little goes a long way. So take the heat off yourself and steer clear.
DO: run your copy by someone other than yourself
If I had run that horrifying ghost pepper pun by one of my trusted readers, they absolutely would have made me remove it. Yes, humor is subjective. It’s never going to appeal to everyone all at once. But running comedic copy by an array of different people can definitely clue you in on whether it’s making sense and connecting on a basic level. Sometimes, “I don’t get it,” can be the most valuable piece of feedback you can get.
DO: establish a clear comedic voice
To write funny copy, creating and defining the comedic voice of your business is key. First, identify the words and concepts you want customers to associate with your brand or business personality. Let’s take look at Charmin toilet paper, shall we?
Charmin has established their comedic voice as highly referential, slightly gross, yet also somehow charming. It works for them—but unless you plan to answer customer questions about bathroom etiquette through the comedic persona of a cartoon bear, you’ll need to establish your own comedic voice through brainstorming, trial, and a decent amount of error.
How many hashtags do you think Charmin went through before they landed on #tweetfromtheseat? I personally don’t want to know.
DON’T: let humor take precedence over clarity
If one joke is good, five jokes must be five times as good, right? Nope. Your witty observational humor about SEO might be pure fire, but if it’s obscuring your overall message, you need to put it out fast. Remember, as Abraham Lincoln once said, “never overemphasize humor over clarity in your marketing materials.”
DO: enjoy the process
Even if you end up not going with comedic or funny copy, trying your hand at humorous writing can help you form a stronger point of view, clarify your thoughts, and show you which unnecessary details you can cut out. Oh, and nail your out of office messages forever.
Caitlin Kunkel is a comedy writer, copy connoisseur, and college professor who teaches satire for Second City in Chicago and Pacific Northwest College of Art. She lives in Portland, OR, where she studies ironic yoga and the role cat jokes play in the universe. Read more of her musings @KunkelTron or at the more professionally named www.caitlinkunkel.com.
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