How to Be Funnier Online
The editor-in-chief of ClickHole break downs internet humor
Do you ever find yourself scrolling through Instagram, Twitter, what-have-you, and all of a sudden, BOOM! You stop dead in your tracks laughing — I’m talking about literal LOLing…as in making audible noises — at some joke slash satirical headline slash meme? And then think to yourself, I wish I could be that funny? But where to even start?
Right here, as it turns out!
I chatted with Steve Etheridge, editor-in-chief of ClickHole, one of the most popular comedy sites on the internet, with clickbait-satirizing stories like “Heartbreaking: The Worst Person You Know Just Made a Great Point.” He gave me some tips on how to be funnier online. (I should’ve asked him about how to be funnier in emails.)
NEIL PATRICK HARRIS: Hi Steve. How do I help people do the ha-ha on the interwebs? I can’t take much more of people thinking they’re funny saying “I did a thing!”
STEVE ETHERIDGE: A good joke catches you off guard and makes you look at something through a lens that you haven’t previously. It subverts the notions that your brain has already established. When we write jokes on a timely topic at ClickHole, we try to anticipate the obvious things that other people on the internet will naturally arrive at, and come up with stuff that is completely different. People probably won’t laugh at things that their brains could’ve easily assembled on their own — but if you surprise them with a joke that would’ve never occurred to them, they’ll laugh.
NPH: Gimme an example?
SE: Well, on Twitter you’ll see thousands of people making jokes that, at their core, are saying the exact same thing…like, “Elon Musk is bad!” in slightly different ways. Most of the time, humor like that is tedious. If you’re gonna make an Elon joke, try to come at it from a fresh angle — comment on something that everyone else isn’t already commenting on. Or if you don’t have any unique insight, just skip Elon and joke about something else. If there’s one thing there’s no shortage of online, it’s snarky topical takes.
NPH: A good lesson on the internet, and in life. So, is there, like, a formula people can use to be funnier online? Like “take a picture of X, write a caption that says Y”?
SE: There aren’t really any specific formulas that you can use as a blueprint…overthinking is the death of comedy. So much lies in the unexpected.
NPH: Speaking of unexpected, as a Disney devotee, I’ve gotta say, I was not expecting your “5 Times the Animatronic Fox on Splash Mountain Addressed Me By Name and Told Me He was Going to Marry My Dad.” Loved it.
SE: Yeah, one thing we’ve learned over the years is that if something is funny to you, chances are it’ll be funny to someone else, no matter how absurd or illogical it might be. If you think about the times you’ve laughed the hardest in your life, you probably weren’t laughing at witty one-liners. You were likely laughing at something silly and ridiculous a friend did late at night when you were feeling giggly and slap-happy.
NPH: So, sounds like the tips are 1) don’t be mean, 2) be surprising, 3) don’t think too much and 4) post stuff you find funny yourself.
SE: Yup. Also, it’s worth keeping in mind that even if you’re not funny in person, that doesn’t mean you can’t be funny online. Some of the most brilliant comedy writers I know are quiet, bookish people who you’d never guess make a living from crafting jokes.
NPH: Sounds like a skill anyone can hone!
SE: Well, the thing with social media is that you get pretty immediate feedback from your followers on whether something is resonating. If no one’s tapping that heart button, that’s probably a sign the joke isn’t working. When a joke hits, you’ll know.
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