Writing Topical Humour


The man who founded America’s famous 99c store has passed away.  His last words were ‘Let’s close down the 99c Chemists Department.’  (CA)

A true, timely and topical joke and no doubt there will be many variations on the theme as the news gets around.  Whatever kind of communicator you are your presentations should contain humour and topical references.  Just mentioning a name that is in the newspaper is enough to get you halfway to a laugh with most crowds.  They’re thinking ‘Boy, this guy is hip.’  Well they are if they’re in their sixties with a comb-over and a Beatles’ jacket.

I started out writing topicals for radio shows.  Great training.  All I had to do was study The Sun every morning; the set ups were already there I just had to add the laugh.

I’m being deliberately glib but it was an excellent way to learn how to write.  If somebody was going to perform your writing it had to be good.  That goes double if you were going to perform it yourself.  Often there was no time for the performer to edit on the hoof so each line had to be perfectly constructed.  No superfluous words, no reference that would distract the listener’s attention, no allusion to a place or person nothing to do with the subject, oh, and a big laugh at the end, please.You write forty or fifty of those a day and in no time you’re doing it in your sleep.  25 years should do it.

My after-dinner speech starts with 5 or 6 minutes of topicals followed by another 5 or 6 minutes of jokes that once were topical where I’ve just changed the names.  Today you throw in a reference to Simon Cowell or Ian Dungheap Smith or Prince Charles watching a video of the Dutch King’s Coronation wearing his Mum’s crown and crying his eyes out…

You’ll be home before they stop laughing.



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