It’s no coincidence that when you point out an amusing fallacy as a child in the presence of an adult, they used to say, “Don’t get wise with me.” Humor and wisdom are ultimately linked by the fact that humor is little more than coming to a realization that shakes your preconceived notions and makes you smile or laugh, while wisdom does the same thing, only the realization makes you feel older.
I’m not trying to toot my own horn, but I think my thing is humor. I don’t think anyone would mistake me for being wise, but that might be because I don’t want to be taken seriously. And yet, the formulas for saying funny things is little different than the formula for saying wise things. Really, the only difference is the desired outcome; you have to perform the same processes, whether you are going for humor or wisdom.
The easiest way to sound funny or wise is to flip a phrase around. For example: people often talk about the “meaning of life,” but flip the nouns around and the whole thing changes. “Rather than seeking the meaning of life, people should pursue a life of meaning.”
Now, that isn’t funny. I also believe it’s not wise, but it sounds wise. It’s like politician speak, or a pop song: it sounds good, but there is no substance behind it. You have to fill in the blanks yourself, which is part of why it sounds wise, if you say it with serious conviction. It almost begs the listener to fill in the blanks themselves… and that is what wisdom is really all about. Wisdom isn’t just a witty saying, it’s something that does the impossible: it makes people think.
Humor makes people think, as well, which is why I love it so much. This is basically why explaining a joke kills it. Like wisdom, humor is poetry that is meant to be internalized and interpreted by individuals differently, so explaining a joke is like pulling a toy apart to see how it works, but then being left with a broken toy. We share so many experiences in this life, but the more vague you can be, the more people can fill in their personal details and relate to something on a level you could not have deliberately achieved.
I don’t know about anyone else, and I’m no professional comedy writer, but I can’t just sit down and be funny. Sometimes what I come up with is too serious to be funny, and most of what I write is pure, unadulterated shit (I mean… consider this: what I post is supposed to be the good stuff…).
So anyway, another approach you can take is to begin mundane and take a sharp detour. Like… I snore really loudly, so my wife got this special pillow. When she can’t sleep at night, she just rolls over and smothers me with it. It started pretty normal, but you didn’t expect where it was going (a similar trait to the “meaning of life” example above: begin with the familiar and move into the novel).
I think my favorite thing to do, however, is to just play on language. Much like the first one, you can just alter the implications of words (rather than their order) and you have a whole new perspective on a phrase you’ve heard a million times before. For example, people say private high schools provide a better education, but I went to one, and I find that they’re really just all smoke and mirrors… by which I mean, everyone there does pot and cocaine.
But what I think is most annoying about writing funny or wise expressions is that you have no control over when these ideas come to you. I carry a pad and pen where ever I go. I generally come up one or two things worth noting while doing the laundry or dishes. I have written down words with my finger on the glass shower door so I can jog my memory later. Over the years, I think I have written several dozen pages of notes while walking the aisles of grocery stores. And all of it is random, so the best I can do is make note of it and see if I’ll use it later.
I don’t think anyone is born funny, and I know no one is born wise. I think that those who are very funny got that way by making a conscious effort to be funny, and that in the process they were unfunny quite often, but that’s how it works. I wouldn’t know how someone goes about becoming wise, but it’s easier to sound wise than to actually be so. If you only want to appear wise, however, just try to be funny, fail, and appear to have been serious all along. Worst case scenario: no one takes you seriously, they laugh at you, and you become a comedian.