Four Exercises to Use the Unexpected to Create Humor


Two elements commonly used in humor is the expected and the unexpected. Comedians and comedy writers often use repetition and lists of three to create familiarity and then break it. Below are some techniques I have compiled that I like to use in my writing. When I am writing a novel like “Wrath of the Tooth Fairy” or “Silent Moon” and I want to lighten the mood, develop a character who is likable, or make the tone fun, I go back to these techniques.

How to use the Unexpected

Juxtapose two unlike words or say the exact opposite of what the reader expects, or misdirect to create a surprise. Do this by comparing two unlike things but add a twist, make a list and ensure the last one is a surprise, or use repetition of an idea or word but change it to something we didn’t see coming the last time.

Examples: My boss was as squeaky clean as a bar of soap—after it had fallen in the sewer.

He tortured his enemies by pulling out their fingernails and feeding them Papa Murphy’s take and bake.


Exercise 1:

Use a metaphor or simile to make a comparison, only throw in something unlike what you want us to first imagine.


Exercise 2:

Make a grocery list of fairly banal and everyday items. Based on the tips you learned on page 1, where should the most out of place/funniest/strangest item be in the list?


Exercise 3:

Substitution of a word in a sentence/Mad Libs/”Eat Poop You Cat” Game

(See previous post titled Picture Sentence to play this game.)


How to Identify the Expected/Familiar

Some ways people draw on the familiar are parody, satire, running jokes, and repetition. Parody and satire need something people can relate to and understand without lengthy intro—a current issue everyone knows about or something a target market knows about. The purpose of parody is to entertain by exaggeration, the purpose of satire is to ridicule, provoke disapproval, or improve humanity.

Good examples of satire: Animal Farm, Steven Colbert

Good examples of Parody: Harry Potter

James Austen:

Dear Jezzy:

Good example of a running joke:                     

Awkward Avoidance Viking Video 1:

How is repetition used?
What other techniques do you notice were used?

Awkward Avoidance Viking Video 2:

What did you think would happen at the end of the second video?
What happened at the end of the second video that made you laugh?
What technique was that?