Sunday, August 21, 2011

Review: The Serious Guide to Joke Writing: How To Say Something Funny About Anything by Sally Holloway (Book Shaker, 2010)

This is an incredibly generous book. Sally Holloway is a British stand-up comedienne who had to retire for health reasons and has focused on joke writing and teaching it ever since.

And in The Serious Guide to Joke Writing, she basically gives us her entire joke-writing course. All that is missing is a talented, charismatic teacher and a bunch of largely like-minded fellow students in the room with you.

The book outlines her course, which features a different technique for joke writing every week, starting from the simplest forms of puns and wordplay, all the way to subjecting the topic of your jokes to the Surreal Inquisition. Each of these practical chapters, complete with exercises, is interspersed with more introspective headings which delve into the mindset you need to succeed as a joke writer.

Ms. Holloway has a very enjoyable and clear writing style which makes the book a breeze and a delight to read. The classroom chapters are written as if they were the summary of an actual evening of teaching, which makes them come really alive.

Just when you think that all these 'jokestorming' techniques are well and good, but there's also the matter of how to get your jokes on paper in the best possible wording, and you'd like some information on that as well, up pops a chapter full of 'rules' (which, Ms. Holloway immediately points out, are often completely contradictory) on just this topic. The book finishes off with a case study where the author had to come up with a number of jokes on a very uninspiring topic, at a time she'd had to take care of her mother.

The Serious Guide to Joke Writing is an inspiring, insightful,entertaining and amusing book, and it's hard to see how it could ever be bettered. Anyone interested in being a joke writer or a stand-up comedian should definitely get it and use it. Sitcom writers may also benefit from the techniques though, as Ms. Holloway points out, in sitcom the laughs need to come from the characters, and this runs counter to many of the more cerebral joke writing techniques.

You can get the book here. Trust me, you'll be very glad you did (and so will Sally Holloway).

The Serious Guide to Writing Jokes

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