You find it funny, but your readers cringe. Don't let this happen to you.
So, I'm reading the front page of The Onion and will confess it has some pretty funny stuff" "Court Summons Comes With 1,025 Free Hours of AOL" "World's Last Bob Hope Fan Dies of Old Age." Yes, I'll admit it's clever.
But even The Onion falls flat every once in a while. There's a piece on Matthew Perry's publicist's "nightmarish years trapped in the grip of [her client]," which I'm not sure I understand. And the story on the gym teacher who secretly hates nerds is, well, not truly laugh-out-loud stuff.
My point? The Onion offers just about the funniest content on the Net today, and even it slips up from time to time. So, why do the mere mortals among us who write Web site content think we can be comedians? It's a profound question, and those who ignore it often suffer the tragic consequences -- they make truly unfunny attempts at humor.
Let's face facts. If you're in charge of providing content to a site, your humor skills (and your pay) probably aren't at the level of, say, Jerry Seinfeld. In my opinion, you should leave the humor to the professionals and focus on good communications instead.
The truth is most humor on the Net is overreaching and pitifully unfunny. Need evidence? A search for "funny content" led me to the painful Jokelist.com and a bizarre site devoted to third nipples, which appears to be the work of some Caltech students who obviously don't get out much.
Now I know there are those of you who are going to say, "Susan, don't be such a stick in the mud. A little humor never hurt anyone." We all know that's not entirely true. Those seemingly "harmless" jokes can sometimes have the nastiest outcomes. And I've seen supposedly hilarious spoofs sink careers.
At the risk of sounding like a schoolmarm sucking on lemons, here are my tips for interjecting just the right amount of levity into your content without offending, turning off, insulting, or risking the legal wrath of your readers:
Now, if you'll excuse me, I have some snappy one-liners to concoct for my next piece (as in "Take this column... please"). See what I mean? It is not easy (and is often risky) trying to be funny.
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Susan Solomon is the executive director of marketing and public relations for Memorial Health Services, a five-hospital health system in Southern California. In this capacity, she manages promotional activities for both traditional and new media. Susan is also a marketing communications instructor at the University of California, Irvine; California State University, Fullerton; and the University of California, Los Angeles.
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