How to Write Humor
by Jim Foreman




When you decide to write something humorous, which part do you have to come up with first, the story line or the punchline. Actually, it makes no difference. The writer can have the world's dullest and most mundane story to start with, but by seasoning it with the proper bits and pieces of humor, it can be turned into something totally different for the reader. It is sort of like eating grits. Grits, for those of you who have never spent any time south of the Mason-Dixon line, is the worlds dullest food. It is made by boiling mature corn, from which every part of the kernel which contained the slightest amount of flavor was removed, and what's left is called grits. Not only is it a dumb food but it also has a stupid name. One would think that anything which is spelled in the plural form would require a plural verb, but not grits. There is only one grits and believe me, one grits is plenty for anyone. The only way to make grits even slightly palatable is by adding something to it. Since grits has absolutely no taste, it will take on the flavor of whatever you put on it.

I once received an assignment from the editor of a woman's magazine to write an article about the cheap carpet which is usually installed in most of today's tract homes and the fact that it was so difficult for the owner to replace it with something better once they have moved in. It was to be a sidebar or companion article to one dealing with what one should look for when shopping for a new tract home. Not only was the article to be about something exceedingly dull, but it had to be written from the viewpoint of a woman. That assignment rated right along with another one which I received several months before from this same editor. This time she wanted me to write an article about chili peppers. At least chilies are used in southwestern cooking which gave me a basis from which to work. I wrote a straightforward article on the history and commercial use of the chili, included a few recipes and it was done. She was evidently happy with what I did with the chili article and was hoping that I could do the same with ugly carpet. I knew that if I turned this assignment down, I'd never get another one from her, so I took the bull by the tail and stared the situation straight in the face. With no recipes for strange or spicy food to hold the reader's attention, making it humorous would be the only way to get anyone to read it.


By: Jim Foreman

"That ugly green carpet has to go," I said emphatically to my husband the moment we stepped through the door. While the predominate color of the carpet was somewhere between the olive drab of his old army fatigues and forest green, random strands of blue, gold and rust were also scattered about in the shag. It was the sort of color which would clash with just about anything which could ever be placed in the room. Later, I read in a magazine that particular color combination was used by builders because it made empty rooms appear larger.

We had decided that with the arrival of our first child, it was time for us to leave the apartment life and buy our own home. We had selected a three bedroom ranch style in a newly-developed neighborhood where the only differences between the cookie-cutter houses was the number on the mailbox and the color that they painted the shutters. In their efforts to keep the cost of the houses to an absolute minimum, the builders had opted for the lowest cost materials that they could find. This included the cheap shag carpet with its own thin pad attached, commonly known as "builder's special", which sold for about two dollars a yard.

"I suppose so," my husband replied, "but that will have to wait for a while because the down payment, closing and moving costs will clean us out."

"How long do you think that it will be before we can buy new carpet?" I asked him.

"I don't know, but from the looks of its quality, it will either wear out or get so dirty that we will have to replace before very long," he replied.

The escrow was paid, the papers signed and we reluctantly moved our furniture onto the ugly carpet, thinking that it would be only a matter of time before it would be replaced. Little did we realize that the carpet would have the tenacity of a third- world despot and would resist our every effort to depose it.

During the first year that we were in the house; furniture was slid across it, feet trampled it and even those little wheels on our daughter's walker pummeled it, but those twisted strands of nylon took the abuse without showing the slightest signs of wear. That ugly green carpet didn't look a bit worse after the first year, but neither did it look any better. It was still just as ugly as the day when we first saw it.

"We'll buy new carpet when spring comes," predicted my husband but the same day that we were to look at carpet samples, the doctor told me that our second child was on the way. So much for new carpet that year.

Not only did the carpet refuse to show even the slightest signs of wear, but it had the uncanny ability to assimilate and digest anything and everything which was dripped, dropped or dumped onto it. Over the next several years, it absorbed the contents of leaky diapers without showing the slightest stain. It soaked up dozens of bottles of that sticky purple syrup which doctors prescribe for children but which they spit out when you try to force it down them. There is no way of estimating how many bottles of formula leaked out and were slurped up by that carpet.

Finally there came the day when I was sure that we had beaten that ugly carpet. The washing machine began to made a funny, clunking noise and urped up about ten gallons of soapy, bleach-laden water which soaked into the carpet.

"I think that I've finally killed that ugly carpet," I shouted with glee the moment that my husband arrived home that night. We celebrated its demise by dancing on the sodden mess.

"Not only did you bring that ugly green monster to its knees but since it's water damage, the insurance company will have to pay to have it replaced," he replied.

Both the insurance adjuster and the washer repairman came three days later. The insurance man couldn't find the slightest indication that the carpet had ever been soaked while the repairman could only shake his head as he peered into the innards of the washer. We had suffered defeat once again, because instead of getting new carpet, we bought a new washing machine.

As our two children grew older, they discovered new ways to test the digestive abilities of the carpet. They found that it would soak up ketchup, chocolate milk, grape jelly, peanut butter, orange juice, strained peas, applesauce and even melted crayons. Its appetite seemed endless. Our children graduated from rug rats to yard apes but the ugly green carpet didn't change the slightest; it just lived on and on.

"You haven't been feeling well lately," said my husband. "My bonus just came through and new carpet might make you feel better."

"Oh, boy!" the carpet salesman said the moment that he stepped into the room.

"Oh, boy, what?" I asked with cold fear rising in my heart.

"That's the kind of carpet which sort of vulcanizes itself to the floor after it has been down for a year or so. It will cost an arm and a leg just to get it up so we can install the new carpet," he replied. "I'll have to call you with an estimate after I get a price from my installer."

When my husband came home from work that night, I told him, "I have some good news and some bad news. It will cost more to remove the old carpet than it will to install the new one. Also, the doctor called today and said that the frog died."

"So what's the good news?" he asked.

"I suppose that the only good news is that we're having a tuna casserole tonight."

The lifestyle and eating habits of the carpet changed to accommodate our growing children. It withstood the onslaught of slumber parties where it digested seventeen different brands of soda and dozens of half eaten slices of pizza. The tag-team efforts of a pair of girls with their lipstick, fingernail polish and herbal shampoo couldn't faze it.

It proved to be not only girl-proof but just as easily took on the best efforts of our son who became world-renown for accidentally kicking things over on the floor. It slurped up his science project of a gallon of tadpole eggs as well as the entire contents of a "Young Edison" chemistry set, which was only one element short of everything needed to produce nerve gas or atomic fusion. Model airplane glue and tiny chips of balsa wood were no more of a challenge to the carpet than was an entire can of 3 in 1 oil the time that he brought his bicycle into the living room to oil the chain.

The only instance when we really felt that we had finally annihilated the carpet was the time that the neighbor was drying moose jerky on a rack in his back yard and our dog, Lucky, crawled under the fence and ate about ten pounds of it. It made him so ill that he came into the house and threw it up in a corner behind a chair. This happened on the morning when we were leaving on vacation and we were so sure that there would be no way that the carpet would survive that we just left it. When we returned two weeks later, there wasn't the slightest indication that anything had ever happened in that corner.

That ugly green carpet had always clashed with anything which was placed near it, but when our eldest daughter came into the living room wearing her lime green prom dress, the cacophony of colors would have drowned out Sousa playing the 1812 Overture.

"We're shopping for new carpet tomorrow," said my husband.

"Not on your life," I replied. "Every time that we've tried that before, I came up pregnant."

I'll have to admit that while our eldest daughter's pink luggage didn't look too bad sitting on the carpet while she waited for her ride to the university, the old army footlocker looked a lot better the following year when our son set out for the halls of higher learning. We hadn't gotten rid of the ugly carpet, but at least we had gained a certain amount of peace and quiet. We only thought that we had made progress in the noise department until our youngest began to push hard rock through a pair of stereo speakers the size of refrigerators. When she finally finished high school and left for college, I had to rent a U-Haul trailer so she could take her stereo speakers with her. Two weeks later, they were back because the college officials said that they drowned out the band while it practiced on the football field.

Years came and years passed. There were weddings and wars. There were presidential elections and grandchildren. New cars became old cars and were traded in, but that ugly green carpet lived on and on. Like a person who learns to live with a wart on his nose, we had learned to live with the ugly green carpet which still looked just the same as it had the day that we first set foot on it. We came, we saw, but it had conquered.

Once supple backs now creaked in protest when bent and it took my husband two days to mow the lawn. In the spare bedrooms, beds were seldom slept in and the closets contained nothing but clothing which had long since gone out of style. Some people become content in their golden years, but we just became restless. A new motorhome took up residence in our driveway and brochures for retirement communities with their sparkling swimming pools and rolling golf courses began to appear in our mail box.

A real estate sign sprouted from the front lawn like one of the dandelions with which my husband had waged a never-ending battle. One fine morning, we stood aside while an agent entered the house with a pair of prospective buyers.

"That ugly green carpet will have to go," the sweet young thing said emphatically to her equally young husband the moment that they stepped through the door.

"I suppose so," the husband replied, "but that will have to wait for a while because the down payment, closing and moving costs will clean us out."

"How long do you think that it will be before we can buy new carpet?" she asked him.

"I don't know, but from the looks of its quality, it will either wear out or get so dirty that we will have to replace before very long," he replied.

I cast a knowing smile at my husband.

This story proves that if one adds enough spice, even grits can be made to taste better.

So what do you do if you have a dynamite idea for a punchline and want to write a story around it. If this is the case, then you are in luck because the humor is always a lot harder to come up with than the basic storyline. All that one has to do is to write the punchline and work backwards into the story to support it.

So, it makes no difference whether the chicken or the egg came to you first, they are so common to one another that the humor writer can work the story from either end.

Oh, by the way, the editor liked the ugly carpet story so much that she asked for something else funny. I don't remember what I wrote but she never bought it. I suppose that I wasn't properly inspired the second time around.

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