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Daniel Menaker

What's So Funny: The Art of Comic Writing

Daniel Menaker, photo by Katherine Bouton
Daniel Menaker, photo by Katherine Bouton
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workshop description

The overall goal of the workshop is to learn basic techniques of comic writing and to understand that nearly all great serious literature has comic elements. Some of the devices to be discussed: timing of humor within sentences, “callbacks,” use of series, contrasting Anglo-Saxon and Latinate word choices, endings that attempt to transcend a formula (like the following), and generously tipping the workshop leader.

We will address the general idea that humor serves as an easement for the unique human bafflement of existing and not knowing why. (Frogs don’t really care.)

Each session will consist of three or four basic segments:

  1. Viewing and discussion of short standup comedy videos.
  2. Discussion of the comic elements in such classic fiction as Pride and PrejudiceGreat Expectations, and Moby-Dick. (Don’t worry—we’ll be looking at only brief sections of these books.)
  3. Reading and discussion of short comic pieces from the New Yorker and’s humor feature “Grin & Tonic.”
  4. Discussion of participants’ writing.


This workshop is currently full. Please join the waitlist below. It is typical to have cancellations over the course of the year, and we draw from the waitlist when vacancies open.

•     This workshop is open to all levels on a first-come, first-served basis and requires no advance submission. The cost is $550. A deposit of $100 is required to register, with the balance due by December 1. Registration is now open.

•      During the workshop, each participant in the class must submit a humor piece of 500 to 1,000 words for discussion by the group as a whole.  It can be a be a short-short story, an essay, a parody, a personal experience, a dialogue, etc.  Also, before our first meeting, I’d like everyone to write a one-page comic piece about about food. It could be a restaurant review, a recipe, a menu, an ingredients label, etc. No more than 200 words, please.

•    All outside readings will be available online–excerpts from classic novels, mainly. There is no need to bring physical books to the workshop, as long as you have access to the Internet. If you can, you might keep track of The New Yorker‘s Shouts & Murmurs comic feature.

Financial Assistance is available to those who would not otherwise be able to attend—click here for guidelines and application.

about Daniel Menaker

Daniel Menaker worked for twenty-six years at the New Yorker as an editor and writer. He has contributed fiction, humor, essays, and journalism to the New Yorker, Harper’s, the Atlantic, the New York Times Magazine, and many other publications. He has twice received the O. Henry Prize for short fiction. From 1995 to 2007 he was an editor at Random House, serving as executive editor-in-chief for five years. He is the author of seven books, two of them New York Times Best Books of the Year, one an Editors’ Choice. His latest book, The African Svelte: Ingenious Spelling Mistakes That Make Surprising Sense, with illustrations by Roz Chast and a Foreword by Billy Collins, was published in October 2016.

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