Last time, I acknowledged how difficult it is to come up with a biting, yet hilarious comment that isn’t just an insult, veiled or otherwise. Carrie Fisher was the master of these, but obviously, none of us are Carrie Fisher.
So how do we come up with a witty comment in the spur of the moment?
I can’t guarantee that you’ll always be able to. But I do have a technique that you can use to hone your wit. It takes a decent amount of practice, but it can definitely be learned.
So here we go …
If there’s something you want to comment on in a witty manner, this is what you do:
- Draw an analogy.
- Connect the analogy in an indirect way.
At this point, most of you are probably staring at your screen like so:
The strategy bears a bit of explanation, so I’ll illustrate the concept by breaking down one of my all-time favorite tweets:
At its most basic, the observation Reynolds is making is that his baby daughter’s diaper is utterly gross and disgusting. So let’s break down how he conveys this observation:
First off, notice that he doesn’t just come out and say that his daughter’s diaper is utterly gross and disgusting. While he might very well get a bunch of people liking the tweet, there would be nothing clever or witty about such a comment.
Instead, he draws an analogy:
What his daughter did to her diaper = murder.
But again, he doesn’t just come out and say, “My daughter’s diaper was so utterly gross and disgusting that she may as well have committed murder.”
Notice that incorporating the analogy does make the comment slightly wittier than before. But we’re still not quite there, because we’ve only completed the first step.
Now, we have to connect the two in a not-so-obvious way:
Soiled diaper = ??? = murder.
Let’s imagine how Reynolds might have thought it out from this point:
Ugh, my daughter’s diaper is disgusting. What she’s done is akin to murder …
Okay, so if someone has committed murder, what might be an indication of that?
Oh! When a gang member murders someone, they might get a teardrop tattoo on their face. There we go. My daughter’s diaper = a teardrop face tattoo = murder.
Of course, this isn’t the most immediately obvious connection, and in fact, some people may not even get it at first. But ironically, that’s exactly what makes the joke funny. You see, witty comments are most effective when they make you think for a split-second, when the joke isn’t too immediately obvious. And this one does exactly that. Our brains have to ponder the connection between the diaper and the teardrop tattoo for a brief moment, but once we get it, we realize the hilarity of the analogy.
It also helps that the reference is just obscure enough that if someone does get it immediately, they get a tiny boost to their ego. Like, they get to pat themselves on the back for being hip enough to get the joke.
Of course, it can’t be so obscure that most people won’t even get it. It’s funny if you make people think about it, but it’s not funny if no one can figure it out.
And finally, the analogy has to be one that makes people go, “Oh yeah, totally!” It can’t be so obtuse that everyone thinks it makes no sense.
It’s a fine line to walk, and this is why it takes some amount of practice. So this is how you can start:
First, make an effort to notice things around you — observations that others might have missed. And then, instead of coming right out and saying whatever it is that you observe, draw an analogy and connect it in an indirect way.
When you first start practicing this, you’re going to fail quite a bit. You’re going to come up with miserable analogies, and your connections will often be too obvious or too vague. Or your observations themselves may not even be all that … well, observant.
But keep at it, and you’ll find the right analogies coming to you more and more quickly. Before you know it, you’ll be coming up with perfectly witty comments on the spot in any conversation.
Of course, this is just one technique you can use to improve your wit. I’ll be writing about plenty of others in posts to come. In the meantime, If you’re intrigued by the complexity of thought that goes into this type of joke, check out the incongruity theory of humor.