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Building Your Income with Humor Legos
by Phil Truman

If I've heard it said once, I've heard it four or five times that writing humor is tough. Well, let me tell you, the only thing tougher than writing humor is selling it; assuming, of course, you don't count the T-bones at Bob's Big Barn of Beef out on Highway 51.

To be honest, it's a true statement. Writing and selling humor ranks in the top five on the difficult things to do list right up there with finding water on Mars, listening to the political opinions of entertainers, deciding who should go next at a four-way stop, and selling soap to a Frenchman. But not necessarily in that order. That's why I decided to write this article. It was either that or give you my political opinions. So the very fact that you're reading this proves that it can be done - the writing and selling part. All you have to do is believe in yourself, write funny stuff, and send it out. Of course, if you have some incriminating photos of the editor to whom you're sending, that helps too.

But let's suppose you don't have an editor you can blackmail, then what do you do? My advice would be to write confession stories or guy articles on how to fillet grizzlies. Not that these types of writing require any less skill and work, because they don't (require less). All writing is hard work. But, odds are, you're more likely to take something to the bank with those than you are humor writing for humor's sake.

Okay, now that I've filled you with enthusiasm for making a go at writing and selling humor, let's take a look at some of the things you can do to make a few bucks at it. In my book, Writing Humor for More than Laughs, I call these "Humor Legos," but I'm not exactly sure why.


"Anecdotes" is a fancy word for micro-short stories; usually those in two hundred words or less that relate incidents involving some type of behavior, human or otherwise. Those with humor in them sell better; those that have humor and a point even more so. The most readily available market to sell anecdotes is Reader's Digest. They even solicit them, promising to pay you $100 to $300 if they buy one. Everybody has a funny story or two. Why not write yours up and send them to RD.


Jokes and gags are almost synonymous. And some can be somnambulant, while still others should remain anonymous. Frankly, you put a joke and a gag next to each other and I can't tell them apart. A gag may be shorter like a one-liner or quip, or more physical like pants falling down or a pie in the face. And a joke traditionally has to have a set-up and a punch line. And some jokes can make you gag, and some gags are a joke, so. I don't know. It gets complicated. The important thing is, if you can write and sell them, you can call them anything you want.

Jokes-gags are the foundation of comedy and humor. Nobody knows for sure where they come from; they just show up, usually as a forwarded e-mail. Some say they came to earth on ancient alien spaceships; others say they evolved over billions of years from puns. But somebody had to write them, so why not you.

If you look in Writer's Market (I recommend the electronic version), using the keywords "jokes" or "gags," you can find several print periodicals requesting jokes or short humor (anecdotes?) willing to pay anywhere from $5 to $100. The key here is volume. Submit several (3-5) to each publication, and, remember, study the publication before sending them your jokes. You probably wouldn't want to send your "A Priest, a Rabbi, and a Radical Islamic Fundamentalist Walked into a Bar" joke to PC Review, or a Blond joke to Cosmo.


There is a market for this type of humor, a small, low paying market, but a market nonetheless. Usually when a publication says it wants light verse it not only means humorous, but also short - less than 10 lines. A good example would be the Haiku type poem - 3 lines of 5, 7, 5 syllables (See Mule Haiku - www.awoc.com/chickenwriter) or Limerick. Most periodicals that take light verse will pay $5-20 per.


These types of humor are all cousins. In Arkansas they're kissing cousins. Parody is work that imitates the characteristic style of a work for comic effect or ridicule. Satire is a piece in which human vice or folly is attacked through irony, derision, or wit. Lampoon is a broad, satirical piece that uses ridicule to attack a person, group, or institution. The markets for these types of humor are fairly good. The two best-known publications for PSL are Mad Magazine and National Lampoon. Mad, the granddaddy of PSL, still positions itself as "100% freelance written" whereas, National Lampoon, formerly Harvard Lampoon, will take submissions but only after you sign a lengthy, legalistic submission agreement, presumably written by Harvard Law students. Both are tough to break into, but both pay reasonably well.


You don't have to be a cartoon artist to make money in this area, but it wouldn't hurt. You'd be surprised how many cartoonists are looking for new and fresh ideas for gags. I know first hand how hard it is to come up with Chicken Writer gags day after day after day, month after endless freaking month. So look for these guys, some will be willing to pay you a buck or two for a gaggle of gags. The other most abundant market for cartoons (If it's artwork without a gag, it's just artwork. The gag makes it a cartoon, in most cases) is greeting cards. Most will accept a bundle of ideas (gags) without the artwork.

No two ways about it, you've got to do some serious labor to write and sell humor. Funny how that works.

© Copyright 2004, Phil Truman

Phil Truman's website is philtrumanink.com.

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