Monday, October 11, 2010

Around the Word: the Humor Edition

In honor of the long weekend, the BloGG is having a Funday Monday with today's writerly roundup. To wit:
  • Humor is a political speechwriter's secret weapon—and an ideal way to warm an audience to your cause. So argues the late Liz Carpenter, former speechwriter to President Johnson, who kept her funny bone in working order, as Vital Speeches of the Day notes. Watch Carpenter speak at the National Book Festival, where she synthesizes the wisdom from her book Start with a Laugh: An Insider's Guide to Roasts, Toasts, Eulogies, and Other Speeches. In the book, she deconstructs the pattern of successful speeches and offers tips on creating laugh-inducing material for sensitive topics. Her credo, she says, is "Start with a laugh, put the meat in the middle, and wave the flag at the end." In her talk, she flashes her wit and also shares humorous yarns about LBJ's speechwriting tricks and techniques, including his solution to embedding a quote by Aristotle when he worried his audience wouldn't get the reference: instead, he started, "As my dear ol' daddy used to say..."
  • "It's on sale!" might seem like a no-brainer for revving up online sales. But there's something else going on at Groupon, a deal-of-the-day service that sold over 7,000 discounted subscriptions for Time Out Chicago in 24 hours, according to Business Insider. The golden ticket? Clever, intelligent writing and a sense of humor, observes Columbia Journalism Review writer Lauren Kirchner. Kirchner takes a gander at Groupon's recent advertisement for a marketing writer, which lists some good guidelines for avoiding clichés and writing humorous advertising material without squeezing the cheese onto customers. Their instructions include using "absurd, unexpected imagery that reacts to actual details" and refraining from "devices such as quotes, parentheses, and adding language that draws attention to the joke." Curious, we stopped by Groupon to see today's deal—a restaurant with a "menu that's ever-changing, like the time signature of a prog-rock song." Do you have any experience-based tips for keeping selling points fresh?
  • Humor is a great social leveler—and comedy, legally, belongs to everyone. Comedians cannot copyright joke content, explains NPR's On the Media, although the particular delivery (or a comedic persona) can belong to a specific person. So what happens when a brouhaha brews over "stolen" jokes, such as the recent "Tiny Hats" scuffle? And, more importantly, what incentives do comedians have to write new material if their jokes aren't protected? Law professors Chris Sprigman and Dotan Oliar discuss the informal codes that arise in the world of comedy (and cooking) that prevent freeloaders from stealing material. The "norm system" rats out known offenders, who are often ostracized by the community and have difficulty finding gigs or collaborators. The profs also point out that contemporary comedians like Sarah Silverman create stand-up personalities that make their jokes hilarious when spoken in character, but useless for most other comedians.
  • As writers know, hitting on the right idea can be serendipitous—but inspiration isn't created ex nihilo. In his book Where Good Ideas Come From: The Natural History of Innovation, released last week, bestselling author Steven Johnson offers a sevenfold path to fostering a creative, open environment that will stimulate new ideas. He discusses the value of cultivating your hunches, taking on diverse hobbies, and keeping your mental space slightly messy so that cross-currents can flow. "Being right keeps you in place," he writes, while "being wrong forces us to explore." In an interview with The Daily Beast's Josh Robinson, Johnson unveils the gradual growth of the ideas behind book itself, which have been circulating in his mind for over a decade. What are your strategies for nurturing ideas for books, articles, or other projects?

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