The Secret to Writing a Successful Humor Column….

The Secret to Writing a Successful Humor Column….

… is something I know nothing about. Nevertheless, I can’t count the number of times people come up to me on the street, at the unemployment office or in the women’s locker room at my gym and ask me about my column. Why just last week, there must have been almost two people who approached me. Now that I think about it, he was holding a cardboard sign and seemed more interested in a cash donation than my column.

My point is that people ask me all the time about my column and how I accomplished all my success. In full disclosure the two most frequently asked questions are “How did you get my email address?” and “Will you please take me off your distribution list?” But a close third is “Tim, how do you write your weekly humor column?” In retrospect, I think the majority of them were not asking “how” I write my humor column so much as “why.”

Why do I write this column? As most of you know, I’ve been cranking out this crap, I mean column, since the mid-1980’s – about 12 years before Al Gore invented the Internet. Back then I just made photocopies of my column and taped them onto people’s computer monitors. It was hard work, particularly when the person got annoyed with me because, say, they were in the middle of inputting their quarterly report numbers into a spread sheet.

Of course, the main reason I do it is for the love of writing and only secondarily for the money. As some of you may have forgotten, when you first clicked on the link in your email pointing you to my latest column, my blogging software surreptitiously inserts a tiny piece of code – hardly worth mentioning – onto your computer which links my article directly to your online checking account. Each time a reader clicks on the link to read my weekly post, fifty cents is discreetly deducted from their bank account. A small price to pay for the gift of laughter, if you ask me. And I never deduct this fee more than once per week, even if you read my column multiple times, as that would be unethical.

It’s not easy sticking to the discipline of writing a weekly humor column. Every week I have to start from scratch and think up an entirely new way to embarrass my wife. Where do I get my ideas? Well, mainly from old newspaper columns written in the early 1960s which I calculate most of my readers have never read or long ago forgotten. I simply update their article by dropping in current references to things like Kanye West, COVID 19, and Tik Tok, so people won’t notice that it was actually written by Art Buchwald back in 1971. But every once in a while I have an original thought. Fortunately, it usually it passes in a few minutes, and I stick with the stuff that works – updating something Erma Bombeck penned in 1975.

Cynics have advised me that, since most people just skim and don’t actually read columns anymore, I should just write an opening paragraph and then insert Latin boilerplate for the rest of the piece. “Nobody will know the difference,” they tell me. Personally, I find that notion insulting and offensive. In fact, if you ask me, lorem ipsum dolor sit amet, consectetur adipisicing elit, sed do eiusmod tempor incididunt ut labore et dolore magna aliqua. Ut enim ad minim veniam, consequat more than I ever could have imagined.

Sometimes, I take short cuts. I’m not proud of it. Like the time, in 1992 when I titled my post for the week “My Thoughts on the Civil War” and then copied and pasted the entire Gettysburg Address as my commentary. Many people graciously posted that it was my best humor writing they’d read in years.

Still, the more time I spend writing, the more I realize there actually is a system to my creative madness. It mainly involves staring blankly at my computer screen … for long stretches of time. Writer’s block is a common challenge for almost any gifted writer – not to mention writers like me. I sometimes find myself spending hours of my employer’s time sitting idly at my desk waiting for inspiration to strike.  Usually it never arrives, and the result is the weekly humor column you have become familiar with. But every once in awhile, an idea comes to me that I find brilliant and hysterical – but then I decide  “nah!” since I really don’t want to be sued by the Stephen Colbert for stealing his writers’ great material.

Much of my time involves taking an original idea I came up with, pounding out a rough first draft, massaging it repeatedly, editing exhaustively, re-writing it a third or even fourth time, before arriving at the most important step in my creative process: realizing the idea is totally lame and starting over. I often read my rough drafts to my kids as punishment when they misbehave.

Below is a detailed breakdown of the critical tasks I take on whenever I begin work on a new article:

Writing a humor column is also a great way to get my laundry done, mow my lawn, work out, pay bills, or organize my sock drawer as a way of effectively avoiding the bleak reality that nothing even vaguely funny can be located within a 5-mile radius of my cranium. If you’ve read one of my articles that you felt was particularly weak, chances are the storage shelves in my garage were very well organized that week.

Creative humor writing demands a sustained mental focus and inspiration – the kind I get by watching You Tube videos of drunk people slamming into the diving board, checking out my Face Book feed, and playing with my Giant Purple Magic Happy Fun Ball (see photo).

You might ask, “Has it all been worth it?” When I first started this column back in the late 1960’s, I had very few readers – particularly since there was no such thing back then as desk top computers – or humor. But over the years, my readership steadily grew (and by “grew” I mainly mean “grew taller,” because they were growing up – something I have yet to accomplish). Below is a chart comparing the readership growth over the years compared to the readership growth I had forecast for this column:

Pretty impressive, eh? Especially the grey section.

Writing a weekly humor column can be a gut-wrenching, soul-searching experience – riddled with agonizing mental blocks and tortuous dead-ends where sometimes my only escape is a bowl of mint chocolate chip ice cream and a vintage Wallace and Gromit video. But it’s the feedback from thousands of imaginary readers like you that keeps me writing week after week.

How long will I continue doing this? Hard to say. I guess it depends on how long before people start noticing those weekly fifty cent deductions I’ve been funneling from their checking accounts. To me, it’s been worth it. Hopefully, those of you who are bad at balancing your checkbook feel the same way.

That’s the view from the bleachers. Perhaps I’m off base.

PS: If you enjoyed this week’s post, let me know by posting a comment, giving it a Like or sharing this post on Facebook.

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© Tim Jones, View from the Bleachers 2021.

BREAKING NEWS! TIM JONES IS NOT FUNNY!

BREAKING NEWS! TIM JONES IS NOT FUNNY!

Read all about it. Newspapers and magazines all over the USA are joining forces in asking Tim Jones to PLEASE STOP SUBMITTING YOUR WRITING SAMPLES! In other news, the stoplight at 5th and Main has finally been repaired. Frustrated drivers say “It’s about time.”

It’s hard to believe I have been at this humor blog for more than 25 years. That may be in part because it’s actually been less than ten. See what I just did? I made a joke. Didn’t find it funny? Join the club. That’s been the reaction so far from just about every newspaper, magazine and online news site in response to my submissions of humor articles over the past year.

I have reached out to publications ranging from The Huffington Post to Field and Stream, and have pretty much received the same response: Who are you and how did you get my email address?

Over the history of this weekly humor blog, I have commented on everything from how to become a Tiger Mother parent to my fleeting friendship with an internet scammer; from my recent colonoscopy to my solution for the US debt crisis; from how the iPad compares to Jesus Christ to my exploration of why the state of Montana hates me. And there is one thing all of these brilliant pieces of satire have in common: NO PUBLICATION WANTS MY MATERIAL.

I’ve been collecting a list of reasons publications have given for rejecting my humor submissions. Below is just a sampling of some of the more common responses:

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