This workshop was already conducted. (Click for upcoming workshops)

Daniel Menaker

Fierce Pajamas: The Art of Comic Writing

Daniel Menaker, photo by Katherine Bouton
Daniel Menaker, photo by Katherine Bouton
See all 2021 Workshops

This workshop is currently full. You can still apply to be considered as an alternate.

workshop description

The goal of the workshop is to learn the basic techniques of comic writing and to understand that nearly all great serious literature has humorous aspects. Some of the devices to be discussed: placement of humorous elements within sentences; picking up previous references in witty ways; use of series (as in this very sentence, which isn’t funny so far but may be getting there);  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 barnesandnoble.coms humor feature “Grin & Tonic.”
  4. Discussion of participants’ writing.


Apply via Submittable

•     This is a mixed levels workshop — it is open to writers of all levels, and requires no advance writing submission in the application. Please upload a cover letter (500 words or fewer) via Submittable that states your interest in this workshop and gives an overview of your writing background and prior workshop experience, if any.

•     The cost is $600. If you are selected to participate in the workshop, a deposit of $200 is required to register, with the balance due by September 30.

•     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 a bad relative (parent, sibling, aunt, uncle, cousin, grandparent, whatever). It could be an anecdote, a description, a single characteristic, a crime report, a doctor’s diagnosis, a eulogy, etc. No more than 250 words, please.

•    All outside readings will be available online. 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.