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Daniel Menaker

Good Humor: How to Write Funny

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

Each session will consist of three basic segments:

1. 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.)

2. Reading and discussion of short comic pieces from the New Yorker‘s humor anthology, Fierce Pajamas, and’s humor feature “Grin & Tonic.”

3. Discussion of participants’ writing. 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. Before our first meeting, I’d like everyone to write a one-page comic description of a dog—any kind of dog. No more than 150 words, please. Make hard copies to pass around.

There will also be brief in-workshop exercises, such as smashing cliches (e.g., “a stitch too late”), timing of jokes, and avoiding formulaic structures. The overall goal of the workshop is to learn some basic techniques of comic writing and to understand that all great writing, except maybe the sermons of Jonathan Edwards and Das Kapital, has comic elements, which tend ultimately to ease the human predicament of existing and not knowing why.


•     This workshop is open to all levels on a first-come, first-served basis and requires no advance submission. The cost is $550. Minimum deposit of $100 is required to register, with the balance due by September 30.

•     Participants in the workshop should have available—though they may not all be used—paperback copies of the three novels mentioned above and the New Yorker’s anthology of humor, Fierce Pajamas (also available in paperback).

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 26 years at the New Yorker, as an editor and writer. He has contributed fiction and humor and essays and journalism to the New Yorker, Harper’s, the Atlantic, the New York Times Magazine, and many other publications and has twice received the O. Henry Award for short fiction. From 1995 through 2007, he was an editor at Random House and was Executive Editor-in-Chief there from 2003 through 2007. He is the author of seven  books, two of them New York Times notable titles. His latest book, The African Svelte: Ingenious Spelling Mistakes That Make Surprising Sense, with illustration by Roz Chast and a foreword by Billy Collins, is forthcoming in fall 2016.