Monday, 29 October 2012

I'm not being funny... by John Dougherty

Firstly - sorry for the late arrival of this post! We usually like to get our blog entries up first thing, but sometimes life gets in the way.

Now - about not being funny:

Funny is what I do. I'm one of those irritating people who has a witty quip for almost every occasion, even when something a bit more thoughtful might be more helpful. I love it when someone reviews one of my books with the words "I laughed as much as my kids did". I don't, generally, find being funny all that difficult.

Except, of course, when that's what's expected of me.

An editor at an educational publisher recently asked me to write a funny book. Most of our books have an element of humour, she told me, but we want this series to be really laugh-out-loud funny. Send me some ideas.

Could I think of anything? Like heck I could. I racked my brains, I thumbscrewed them, I jammed them into the iron maiden... all I got was instantly rejectable ideas. Being funny is like being in love - as soon as you start focusing on the state itself, or trying to analyse it, you're no longer doing it; you're doing something else instead. Indeed, a potentially funny idea loses all its potential to amuse as soon as you start trying to make it actually funny.

Well, I came up with some ideas in the end; and of course I came up with them by forgetting about thinking up funny ideas and doing something else instead, for several days in a row. And one by one I jotted them down, making sure not to worry about whether they were any good. And then I rather apologetically sent them off unfiltered, and got a reply back that began: "Wow, you’ve given us loads of great ideas here!"

Rob Brydon once said something to the effect of, "People say, Oh, my mate's really funny, you should have him on your panel game. But the question is not Can you be funny down the pub? but  Can you be funny at 7.30 every Tuesday evening for at least half an hour?"

There's a lesson in there. And for me, it's: When you appear at the Cheltenham Comedy Festival, make sure to have some funny things to say prepared in advance. 

Oh, and: Don't worry about trying to be funny. Just write. If you're funny, it'll show.

John's website is at
He's on twitter as @JohnDougherty8 
He will be appearing at the Cheltenham Comedy Festival on November 17th 2012.

His most recent books include:

Finn MacCool and the Giant's Causeway - a retelling for the Oxford Reading Tree
Bansi O'Hara and the Edges of Hallowe'en
Zeus Sorts It Out - "A sizzling comedy... a blast for 7+" , and one of The Times' Children's Books of 2011, as chosen by Amanda Craig


Penny Dolan said...

Great advice, John! Nothing brings such paralysis to the imagination as a request with that kind of expectation. Glad you managed to sidle sideways at the funny - as ever! :-)

Anonymous said...

Arh it's so true. I find I'm funniest around people when I am the most relaxed and not under pressure.

I also find the same with writing in general - expectations can be stifling.