We all love a good laugh but behind every joke is a less hilarious, painstaking process: comedy writing. From the setup to the punchline, every word is meticulously planned, much like copywriting.
Comedy and copy have similar goals. They’re all about finding common ground with the audience and highlighting a pain point. A comic’s job is to make people laugh about it; a copywriter’s job is to convince people that Brand X is the solution.
Comedian and author, Caimh McDonnell, wrote an article on the “golden rules” of comedy writing. The thing is, these “rules” could easily act as guidelines for copywriting too. In this article, we pick out key quotes from McDonnell’s piece and dissect them through the lens of a copywriter.
1. Know your audience
“It is really hard for someone to get a joke if it relies on information they don’t have.”
A joke referencing an obscure fact about Star Trek may get tons of laugh at a science fiction convention but may be met with clueless stares from the man on the street. A comedian needs to know his audience and write jokes with references that they are familiar with. Likewise, a copywriter should write specifically for their target audience, and use language and references they are familiar with to establish a connection.
2. The importance of editing
McDonnell recounts an odd habit of his housemate in his article:
“He will move words around and around in a single sentence for hours to find the correct order for them…it is incredibly important. It’s the difference between a gag sort of working and ripping the roof off.”
McDonnell attributes his housemate’s hilarious one-liners to his meticulous editing. Comedians are constantly playing around with words and rewriting their material so that their punchlines really do pack a punch. Likewise, copywriters must develop a keen eye for detail in language and a patience for editing.
Words with the same meaning can carry different connotations; a good copywriter is hypersensitive to these connotations. One way to develop this “writer’s sense” is to read more and look at how other writers use words – take note of the contexts in which they are used. Try putting these words into practice in your own writing. Rearrange sentences and swop out words until you feel your copy has the effect you want it to have.
3. Always remember who you are
That subheading may sound like a cheesy line from a movie but it is important to remember it. Comedians, characters and brands have personalities. What they say, then, has to be aligned with these personalities.
“A really good line works two ways, it is funny in its own right and it reinforces the character.”
In copywriting terms, this sentence can be rephrased as such: “A really good copy works two ways, it is persuasive in its own right and it reinforces the brand’s personality.”
How do you craft such copy?
Start off with a draft. Picture your brand as a human being. Can you see it? Now, picture him/her saying what you’ve just written. Does it sound like something he/she would say? If it doesn’t, tweak it.
Here’s a specific example of this exercise:
If you’re Singaporean, you’ll be familiar with DBS Bank. Now, picture this bank as a person. You’re probably thinking a man in a smart getup carrying a suitcase with very neat hair. This man wants to express empathy towards a customer, how does he say it?
Get the point?
The next time you’ve got copy to churn out, put yourself in the shoes of a comedian and remember these three pointers. As with any writing skill, comedy included, copywriting skills are only developed with practice – so don’t put down that pen.
For more writing tips, check out our other article – The Importance of Copywriting and How to Write a Good Copy.