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The Comic Toolbox by John Vorhaus (1994)

Book review: The Comic Toolbox: How to Be Funny Even When You’re Not by John Vorhaus (Silman-James Press, 1994)

Comedy is not magic, not inspiration, not “a gift.” Mostly, it’s simple rules and structures – the logic of the illogical – tools that anyone can use.

The Comic Toolbox is a straightforward, often humorous, workbook approach to comedy writing as creative problem solving. In it, veteran Hollywood comedy writer John Vorhaus offers his tools of the trade to writers, comics and anyone else who wants to be funny. Among these indispensable tools are Clash of Context, Tension and Release, The Law of Comic Opposites, The Wildly Inappropriate Response, and The Myth of the Last Great Idea.

Readers will learn that comedy = truth and pain (the essence of the comic situation), that fear is the biggest roadblock to comedy (kill your ferocious editor within and rich, useful comic ideas will flow), and much, much more.

With Vorhaus’ tools in hand anyone can be funny.

Crikey, does getting a book like this make you sound desperate! However, when I was flicking through it in a charity shop in Leicester earlier this year, I thought it seemed to have some good advice about writing in general, and bought it.

As a book, it’s quick and easy to read, and it’s full of useful tips about writing. Yes, the focus is on comedy, but it has other uses too. Also: it’s funny. Some bits really made me chuckle, and if the subject is comedy, I suppose that’s a good thing.

If you think you’re not very funny, or could do with learning a sure-fire way of making people laugh, this book will teach you a lot. Even if you think you’re okay in the comedy department but that you’re always open to new ideas, this will also teach you a lot. If you think you’re bloody hilarious, you should probably read this book too, because odds are you’re not as funny as you think you are.

I’ve not yet tried the little practice tasks you’re given throughout the book, but it’s still giving me a general idea of what to do and how to do it. Even if you’re not wanting to write pure comedy, it’s handy to learn a bit about plotting.

The Comic Toolbox is a useful tool in your writing inventory, if you’re into writing, that is. I’d thoroughly recommend it – not just because it’s useful, but also because it’ll make you giggle.

5 out of 5 juxtapositions, even if I didn’t necessarily get all the references.


An easily distracted and over-excited introvert who never learns to go to bed at a reasonable time. Enjoys traveling (when there's not a plague on), and taking photos of European architecture. Cares for cats, good coffee and Boardwalk Empire. A child of her time, she did media studies in school and still can't decide what she wants to be when she grows up.

2 thoughts on “The Comic Toolbox by John Vorhaus (1994)

  1. Hmmm! At first I thought that someone who needs to read a book about how to be funny must be a pretty sad person. But then you wrote the part about some people think they are funnier than they are…. So perhaps everyone could use some help in the funny department! The world certainly could use some more laughs.
    I’d love to read some quotes from this book.

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