Sometimes a writer just has to craft his work by way of the Hippo Gambit.
Writing humor is serious business.
I’m not saying that because it’s the current tagline for the site – Serious Humor is Serious Business – but because it’s true. Compared to writing fiction, it may like fluff, like all you’re doing is playing with words, mashing them like so much Play-Doh™ to create something with the potential to make someone smile, but the truth behind the chuckles and grins is, it’s not always easy to find something to write about.
It’s a grim world. And when the news stories are all about people losing their livelihoods in Baltimore’s riots or a dictator in North Koreastan airing out the throats of 15 officials in his own government – just for sharing their opinions! – or how a woman had to copyright her own breasts just to keep them from being shown on revenge porn sites, it becomes difficult to find the humor, to twist it around to locate some little giggle located in every arrangement of words.
Okay, maybe it isn’t so difficult to find the humor in a story about copyrighting boobs. But we’re staunchly against revenge porn here, so the whole bunch of us are soured on the subject.
The point is, sometimes the real world doesn’t give you enough to go on, not unless you’re Jimmy Kimmel and have a team of writers working on your monologue. Sometimes you have to make things up from scratch.
Or, in our case, most of the time you have to make things up from scratch.
Here’s the thing. There are days when you have a ton of material to work with. Some politician does something a little off-beat. A company helps create a niche with the sole intent of filling it with a new American excess nobody really needs – but everyone will be clamoring after. It’s easy to twist stories like these and make them funny. Then there are the days when all you have left is your imagination, because the stories on CNN don’t have an ounce of laugh juice in them.
Those days, you’ve got what? What do you do? You start with a hippopotamus, a chainsaw, and a can of Reddi-Whip™, and you have to ask yourself, “What in the world am I going to do with these?” Who does that? Who puts themselves through this level of strange torture?
I do. We do. (And by “we”, I mean me, myself, and I, along with all the other Knozzle writers currently residing in my noggin.) And I’m not the only one. Fantasy author Jim Butcher once created a whole seven-novel series when a reader challenged the notion that he could write a story using any two basic elements, Iron Chef America-style. He accepted. The two elements chosen for him? Pokémon and the Lost Roman Legion.
But because this article is about me (not Jim, he gets enough press of his own, dangit!), let’s call this the Hippo Gambit.
Hippo Gambit days are the most challenging. Those are the days when you have to make it up from whole cloth, and even when you’re writing it, it doesn’t sound like it’s going to be funny. It just sounds like you’re doing something obscene to the poor hippopotamus. Believe me, with how dangerous hippos are – see the Sharknado article for more info – you don’t want to try anything stupid! And then, just when you think the article isn’t going to be worth a read–
–inspiration hits and you’ve got a descending line of humor ending in a punchline you hope is witty enough to convince readers to come back tomorrow.
Those days, the Hippo Gambit days, are the ones ending with me worn out from trying to say something snickerworthy, where I dread writing the article because if I’m rolling my eyes at what I’m saying, I can’t imagine what you must be doing. Those days it feels like I’m trying too hard, at least until I hit Publish and don’t have to worry about the article anymore.
This is why I don’t do stand-up comedy; It’d be too much exercise dodging all the rotten tomatoes.
Don’t get me wrong; not everyone has this problem. Just like some rappers can freestyle, while others need to write their stuff and memorize it in advance, some people are just naturally funny, while others have to work at it. Some people can turn a phrase faster than you can say, “To get to the other side!” and others, well… others use words like LEGO™ blocks, building without a blueprint, adding one brick at a time until they have something remotely resembling a joke.
Guess which one I am.
But the Hippo Gambit works for me because it allows me to gather those building block and get an idea of what it is I want to craft. You want an article about a college fraternity being disbanded for not partying? I’ve written it. A story about President Obama summoning his patronus? Done. A smart watch with a secret time travel feature? You got it.
Just don’t expect anything with a hippo, a chainsaw, and a can of whipped cream any time soon.