The Scott Adams Humor Formula

The video The Day You Became a Better Writer — Writing Tips from Dilbert Creator Scott Adams is worth watching from beginning to end. The section about the Humor Formula stood out to me (starts at around 21:30).

Here’s some quotes from Adams that explain the Humor Formula:
“I realized there was a formula to that makes something funny. Specifically, the formula is this: You need at least two of what I call the six dimensions of humor.”

  • Clever: “You recognize clever when you see it. It’s just combining things that people didn’t think you were going to combine, but yet you somehow made it work.”
  • Naughty: “Naughty is usually just sex or bathroom jokes.”
  • Bizarre: “Bizarre just means two things out of place.”
  • Cruel: “Cruelty is a staple in humor. Cruel just means something bad happened to somebody or you said something unkind to somebody. You know cruel when you see it.”
  • Cute: “Cute is usually just kids and animals.”
  • Recognizable: “Humor usually requires that you recognize something about the subject of the joke being like your experience or like yourself. It’s either like somebody you know, like you, but has to be familiar. Something you recognize.”

This quote stood out:
“If you look at the comic strip Calvin and Hobbs, there was a cute kid, and a cute animal, and the animal talked, and sometimes it was a stuffed animal, and sometimes is was a real tiger. So, he had bizarre and cute in every comic. And here’s the key: before he even started writing, he had cute and bizarre covered.”

I won’t audit the comic strip written by artificial intelligence (AI) software and online dating profiles known as Robonk, but I will note that a typical Robonk strip has clever, naughty, and bizarre, at least to some degree. When Robonk debuted in March of this year, a surprise was a person who found Robonk amusing in part because they had a friend with a series of disastrous online dating experiences. For them, it was recognizable. I didn’t think of that possibility, but there it was, at least for part of the audience.

I do recommend watching the whole Scott Adams video. Informative and not excessively long.