Tag Archives: humour

Being hilarious

We’re re-launching the Carphone help site in a couple of weeks. In preparation for this, I’ve been writing and re-writing reams of copy. And one of the things I’ve been trying to do is make it more amusing. We had a survey of the current site done you see, and a common piece of feedback was that it was dry and lacked personality.

This is a mobile phone retailer’s help and support site remember. Humour isn’t exactly a natural bedfellow. And corporate humour is a very difficult thing to pull off. If you make cheap beer it’s just about possible, but there are thousands of terrible attempts for every half decent ‘Carlsberg don’t do nightclubs’ gag.

A big part of the problem is that anything even remotely risqué is bound to offend someone. And the last thing you can afford to be is offensive. Which traps you in the tricky region between cracker jokes and coming up with something genuinely witty. Regular readers will realise I’ve got no chance of the latter.

The following example illustrates the problem eloquently. I needed to write a strapline for a page explaining what happens if a customer isn’t at home to receive a delivery. I wrote:

What happens if I’m not at home when my delivery comes?

We’ll break a window to get in.

Naturally I was delighted my effort. I strode over to my fellow copywriters to show them my good work and was met with the snotty, short-sighted and probably entirely correct response that I couldn’t write that in a million years. Our target audience is not 20-something drinkers of Danish lager. It’s absolutely anybody, and there’s always a risk that one of these people might get the wrong end of the stick and start taping up their windows using methods unseen since the blitz.

In the end I settled on ‘Don’t worry – we won’t break any windows’, which isn’t nearly as funny (though I’m aware my first idea was hardly something to have Jimmy Carr fretfully turning over to the cold side of the pillow).

Ultimately I hope I can persuade the company that the (slightly) edgier tone is the way to go. I’ve been working a lot on our tone of voice over the last few months, and I think it’s the companies who take the risks that manage to develop a real ‘personality’. There’s a big difference between saying ‘let’s be spiky and out there’ and actually meaning it.

This post doesn’t really have a conclusion. It just goes to show the travails I’m going through to bring you the funniest mobile phone site in the world. Hopefully I’ll be able to bring you a more considered solution in a few weeks’ time.

The five funniest books

joke-book1

Deciding whether one book is funnier than another is, of course, a completely subjective judgement. I’m aware that no two people have same taste and that anyone – myself included – could easily come up with a list of five other books that are equally funny. But this is the definitive list, and it is correct.

Unreliable Memoirs – Clive James

James’ stories of growing up in Australia. Everyone used to tell me how funny this was but I refused to read it because I thought I’d be disappointed. Believe the hype.

Best bit:  James and a couple of schoolfriends are watching a couple get it on in the long grass when one of his friends decides to fire a home made bow and arrow:

‘It would have been bad enough if the man had stood up with one hand holding the arrow and the other holding his behind. Unfortunately it was the woman.’
 

Catch 22 – Joseph Heller

World War II madness. Pretty much everyone in the world has this on their favourite books list and they’re all right.

Best bit: Milo Minderbinder (of the US airforce) has agreed a contract with the Germans to bomb his own base.

‘Milo, this is Alvin Brown. I’ve finished dropping my bombs. What should I do now?’
‘Strafe,’ said Milo.
‘Strafe?’ Alvin Brown was shocked.
‘We have no choice,’ Milo informed him resignedly. ‘It’s in the contract.’
‘Oh, ok, then,’ Alvin Brown acquiesced. ‘In that case I’ll strafe.’
 

England, Their England – Archie Macdonell

A Scotsman is commissioned to right a book about the English. He researches his subject by hanging with the 1920s upper classes – probably the funniest of the lot.

Best bit: The hero Donald Cameron is invited to play cricket alongside the famous Boone, a Cambridge Blue at cricket.

‘Off his first ball the massive Cambridge Blue was easily stumped, having executed a movement that aroused the professional admiration of the Ancient who was leaning upon his scythe.

‘Donald was puzzled that so famous a player should play so execrable a shot until it transpired that a wrong impression had been created and that the famous Boone had gained his Blue at Cambridge for rowing and not for cricket.’
 

Adolf Hitler, My Part In His Downfall – Spike Milligan

The first of Milligan’s epic war memoirs. Not the best of the series, but the funniest.

Best bit: ‘How it all began.’

‘The last minutes of peace ticking away. Father and I were watching mother dig our aid raid shelter. “She’s a great little woman,” he said. “And getting all the time,” I added. Two minutes later a man called Neville Chamberlain who did Prime Minister impressions spoke on the wireless; he said, “As of eleven o’clock we are at war with Germany.” (I loved the WE).’
 

Bear V. Shark – Chris Bachelder

America becomes obsessed with a fight between a bear and a shark in a fantastic satire of modern media.

Best bit: The book’s premise tells you all you need to know…

‘Given a relatively level playing field – i.e. water deep enough so that a Shark could manoeuvre proficiently, but shallow enough so that a Bear could stand and operate with its characteristic dexterity – who would win a fight between a Bear and a Shark?’