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December 08, 2005

Scott (Dilbert) Adams' Rule of Humor

He's got a blog now.

This seems like a pretty good rule:

I wrote on this topic more extensively in my book, The Joy of Work. So I’ll just give you the highlights here. The core of humor is what I call the 2-of-6 rule. In order for something to be funny, you need at least two of the following elements:

Cute (as in kids and animals)




Recognizable (You’ve been there)


I invented this rule, but you can check for yourself that whenever something is funny it follows the rule. And when something isn’t, it doesn’t.

Check the Dick Cheney thread. The rules seem to be followed for most entries.

Not that I know as much about gag-writing as the Dilbert guy, but for longer pieces I always thought you needed two basic things: the premise and the tweak. The premise is just the basic strangeness or incongruity of a situation, like Donald Trump judging a poetry contest. The tweak is something unexpected and strange that doesn't derive obviously from the premise, like that Donald Trump is hung up on the lame eighties action show Riptide and gets real life and Riptide confused.

I've had to abandon a lot of pieces I thought had a decent premise but I coudln't come up with a suprising tweak for them.

Wuzzadem's recent Situation Room parody was okay, I thought -- decent premise, okay execution -- but only became genuinely funny when it got to the tweak, with Chris Matthews asking questions about Batman.

Premises are easy. Tweaks are often hard.

Oh, And... Irrelevant specificity always makes things funnier. Saying you maturbated on line in a sandwich shop is "eh." (Actually, depending on the speaker, it might not even really be a joke.)

Saying you masturbated on line waiting for a toasted meatball parm at Quizno's is 10% funnier, for some reason.

Colin Quinn is a big believer in irrelevant specificity. "JFK had Marilyn Monroe, Clinton goes after trashy women" isn't funny. But Quinn delivers it as "JFK had Marilyn Monroe, Clinton drops his pants at first sight of a Fuddrucker's assistant server in a B.U.M. sweatshirt." Which is funny.

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posted by Ace at 03:49 PM

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