How Traveling Helps With Humor Writing

By Katie Hiegel, a professional writing major at Taylor University

Yeah, I think it’s safe to say they do.

Take a trip to Ireland and you’ll quickly learn a new word, craic (pronounced like the street drug, yes, or that awful noise you can make with your knuckles). It’s a colloquial term for fun, amusement, or even news or gossip. On a list of Irish slang, “Where’s/what’s the craic?” will more than likely make the top ten or so. The Irish like a good laugh.

Honestly, almost everyone responds well to good humor—that is, stuff that’s actually funny. Humor transcends genres, time periods, and styles; when you use it correctly, it’s one of the most potent devices in your writing toolbox. But how do you come up with enough good ideas? How can you consistently generate things to make people laugh? Living in Ireland for a semester gave me some new insights on how to strengthen my funny bone that I’d love to share with you.

Butter Slip
“May be slippery.”

The thing about travel is that it forces you to see the world with new eyes. And often, when it comes to humor writing, that’s half the battle: being able to view things in a new light and find what’s funny, even in the mundane. I made it a habit to take pictures of anything that brought a grin to my face, whether that was an unusually creative “No Littering” sign, some hilarious graffiti, or a group of street performers. Once you get in the habit of looking, the hilarious stuff will snowball; you’ll start seeing jokes everywhere! And they can all be filed away for later use.

I think my favorite part about this photo is that there’s an actual litter hotline. Like, what?

Travel also tends to give you plenty of opportunities to realize just how weird cultural norms are—including how weird yours are. I can pretty much guarantee you’re going to make an idiot out of yourself at some point when you’re in foreign territory. Awkward and frustrating though those situations might be in the moment, why not turn them into great, entertaining stories? Good writers never let any material go to waste.

Ouch indeed.

Finally, when you travel, you’ll find that different countries have different ideas of what’s funny. Let the culture seep into you. Other countries’ humor tends to differ not only in content but also in tone and style. Irish jokes, for example, emphasize wit and wordplay, and are often more subtle and self-deprecating than American-style humor. (Consider the many famous quips of Oscar Wilde, one of my favorite being “I can resist everything except temptation.”)

Sheep jokes abound in Ireland, but you don’t see many in the U.S. Too baa-d.

What if, like me, you’d love to travel more but your budget says “Nope”? The good news is that somewhere, something quirky and/or interesting is just a short drive away, waiting for you to find it. Try exploring a town you haven’t spent much time in before, or go people-watching in a popular public area. (On foot may be best, at least once you get there.) Don’t forget a photo-taking device and/or a notebook!

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