Humor: How to bring the funny without embarrassing yourself
When we made the move to stop allowing satire articles on Bleacher Report about a year ago, it felt like a bummer.
I’ve always wanted B/R to be a good home for all kinds of quality sportswriting, including humor. With sites like The Onion and The Brushback, there’s clearly an audience for sports satire, but I quickly learned to embrace this change because it’s clear that satire just needs to be kept separate from “non-fake” journalism.
You really can’t mix it in. It doesn’t look right, and the precedent of doing so invites risk for confusion.
Newspapers don’t do it, and sites like ESPN.com don’t do it. Once you factor that all Bleacher Report articles get treated as news by search engines like Google News, it becomes pretty obvious how out of place satire can be when featured by a publication that isn’t at least primarily devoted to humor writing.
Plus, satire is hard. Few things can fall as epically flat as a weak attempt at any kind of humor.
But we do welcome submissions that rely on or feature humor that doesn’t present fake information as if it were true. We’re not militaristically stiff destroyers of fun. So with that in mind, your boring and no-name Content Standards moderator would like to go over some advice on what works and what reeks more than the Dallas Stars’ locker room when it comes to comedic sportswriting on Bleacher Report.
No satire, please. We just went over this. If you skipped down to the shiny boldfaced sections here, please go back and read my long-winded preamble.
Avoid sensitive topics. Don’t be the jerkface who tries to make jokes about death, serious criminal activity, vulgar acts or drug use in a piece of sports journalism. It may go without saying, but we see writers attempt these sometimes. Shortly after a pair of shootings at a Raiders-49ers preseason game in August, a writer attempted to make light of things with a series of jokes including this: “There’s been talk with the Raiders and Niners of a joint stadium. These people need to chill—sounds like a JOINT stadium is a great idea.” Two puns and two jokes about sensitive topics, jail and drugs, all in one word. Hey, at least it gave me a good example for this blog post. And the writer learned from it, too.
Don’t be cute. One of the reasons that “joint” joke fell flat? Besides being a bit hackneyed, it was forcing the pun. The introduction of “need to chill” is almost done artificially to set up the pun followed by a drum fill. Puns and plays on words are OK once in a while, especially if they’re clever and organic, but they’re generally best left for headlines or rare turns of phrases for rhetorical effect. Don’t aim to make them, and be skeptical about how “worth it” it is if one occurs to you while writing. If a family member might read it and sarcastically say, “You’re such a card,” ditch the Hallmark moment.
Don’t try to “tell jokes.” I have no idea who the heck she is, as I stumbled on her in my attempts to find coherent advice to put before you, but blogger Annie Binns says, succinctly, “The rules of good writing also apply to humor. Show, don’t tell.” Don’t rely on clear punch lines—those often need a proper spoken delivery to work.
Binns also has fantastically simple advice for anyone who’s been met with more negative reaction than positive in comments on humor articles: There’s a good chance “you’re trying too hard,” she says. “Stop that.” (OK, I manipulated that a bit since I think there’s also a chance you’re just being really lazy or inappropriate, but too bad. I still don’t know who the heck she is.)
It’s better to just write about a topic that lends itself to humor and let your own personality flow. If your funny parts are often separated by a few paragraphs, that’s totally fine. Don’t put pressure on yourself. This isn’t a monologue; cramming in jokes can make your humor writing seem desperate. It’s still an article.
One of my favorite humor writers on the site is also one of my copy editors—Ed “The Rattlesnake” Novelo. He does a great job of tackling good topics and just “letting it flow.” Not everything needs to be a “joke” or “surrounded by quotation marks” to be “funny.” One of my all-time favorites is his list of the 20 most spoiled animal mascots in sports. It’s a good theme with creativity that lends itself to keeping a goofy smile on your face as you read.
Swagger Featured Columnist Timothy Rapp is also highly skilled in bringing the funny. And “bringing” is apropos, as he’s a master of curating (and sometimes even creating) viral videos/pictures and/or memes either by featuring them in his articles or linking to them when appropriately relevant amid his own writing, which threads a narrative and claims laughs when it’s natural. It just works.
So even though you don’t know who the heck I am, trust me: Effective humor writing in this medium takes good sense, patience and effort, but it’s also not something you want to overthink.