Those jokes don't cut it in the age of Twitter.
But over the past few years, there's a new narrative device: Lists. Sometimes, instead of referring to the dated "blogosphere," I refer to the "Listophere" because some many things are written up as lists. It certainly makes sense to tell jokes via lists.
Here are top five things I've learned (so far) about telling jokes as lists.
- It's all about the concept. And then you need to have a great headline. For sites like McSweeney's Internet Tendency's lists, it's important to set up the joke/concept in the headline, clearly and concisely. By the way, having a clear concept isn't the only hurdle, but if you don't have that, you're lost. A good place to get ideas for what works as headlines would be to check out native ads, which often raise the stakes for readers: "You won't believe what's in your food", "(Fill-in number) signs your (addiction, whatever that is, like clickbait) addiction is out of control"; or "This (fill-in-the-blank) will leave you speechless."
- It's also about the visuals. You can have a terrific concept but if you don't have the visuals to accompany the joke, you won't get on Buzzfeed or other sites. Make sure you edit the artwork to be a consistent size and format. Adding graphics to your piece definitely changes the pacing of the joke, and as a writer, can take time to get used to. In fact, it can just take time. Even when I had a good sense of the graphics to accompany a fairly simple list with a complicated title (BuzzFeed's Community:
"20 Days That Either Served, Shouldn’t Have Served Or Should Never Serve As A Major Plot Point In A Hollywood Movie") posting and finalizing the graphics took an hour longer than planned.
- The length of the captions for lists depends on the site. Some sites, like Buzzfeed, generally limit the accompanying text to one sentence. Other sites like TopTenz often have a couple of paragraphs accompanying the graphic. If you're targeting a specific site, follow its style in terms of tone, approach and length. If you're writing for your own blog, consider which works best for you.
- The number of items in your list depends on the site. Not surprisingly, sites like TopTenz want lists with 10 items. McSweeney's, BuzzFeed and others have no strict limit to the number of items in the list. But odd numbers like 5 or 7, or even numbers like 10, 15 or 20, work well when you're developing a numbered list. (Please note: not every list has to be numbered.)
- The most important items in your list are the first and the last item. The first ensures readers get the joke. The last one should be the funny but with some unexpected twist or surprise to give the piece a sense of closure.
This list isn't intended to be comprehensive or funny. I've written a couple of (what I think are) funny lists, and expect one to appear shortly in McSweeney's. (The article has been accepted; I just don't know when it will appear.) I decided that since funny lists-with-graphics is a "thing," I would try it. I don't necessarily think graphically, which is why I tried
"20 Days That Either Served, Shouldn’t Have Served Or Should Never Serve As A Major Plot Point In A Hollywood Movie" on BuzzFeed.
I know, I know -- the headline is neither as clear or succinct as I would like it. Basically, it's a movie lover's list of movies based on days or holiday observances -- some of which are great movies, some of which are terrible movies (and shouldn't have been made) and some of the days don't lend themselves to being made into movies, ever, and I hope Hollywood never tries to turn Tax Day into a movie. (Perhaps it would be a good slasher movie, if Grover Norquist or Rand Paul got to it. ) Or tries again to turn Earth Day into one. (As for the equal-opportunity joke against Democrats, Al Gore already turned Earth Day into a documentary, which was stiff, a bit dry, and not followed by a sequel.)
Let me know if you have other suggestions for making joke lists work.