Tag Archives: Joke

A Cure for Exploding Head Syndrome

Dear Twitter,

We need to talk. See, there’s this thing you do, not all the time mind you, but on specific occasions that is getting really irritating.

I’m talking, of course, about your practice of trying to be humorous about current events. This is on the whole, not a terrible thing. But two things cause it to become tedious in the extreme.

First, most tweeters aren’t that different.

Second, most tweeters aren’t that funny.

So what you end up with is a tweet stream filled with people making the same exact joke over and over and over again.

Let us take for example the recent non-event that was “The Rapture.” It might behoove us to ask why such a ridiculous notion gained such widespread interest in the first place, but such questions are beyond the scope of this letter. Instead, let me just say that if I had seen one more, “Well, I’m still here guys, hur, hur, hur” tweet on the twenty-first, my head very well may have exploded.

Can you imagine the mess that would have made, Twitter? Can you imagine the look of shock on my wife’s face if she had walked into the room and found my body crumpled on the floor amid the shattered wreckage of what had once been my shapely and brilliant head? Not so funny now is it?

I suppose that in some ways this phenomenon is an inevitable part of developing an ecosystem of information between individuals that all live on the same planet, but it is irritating all the same. This is why I’m send out a call to you to do your part to prevent head explosions.

And just how can you do this? Why, by using the Double Bass Test of course.

What’s that? You’re not familiar with the Double Bass Test? Well then allow me to enlighten you with a quote from the best time-traveling romantic detective ghost story ever written, Douglas Adams’ Dirk Gently’s Holistic Detective Agency.

“I’m a private detective.”
“Oh?” said Kate in surprise, and then looked puzzled.
“Does that bother you?”
“It’s just that I have a friend who plays the double bass.”
“I see,” said Dirk.
“Whenever people meet him and he’s struggling around with it, they all say the same thing, and it drives him crazy. They all say, ‘I bet you wished you played the piccolo.’ Nobody ever works out that that’s what everybody else says. I was just trying to work out if there was something that everybody would always say to a private detective so that I could avoid saying it.”
“No. What happens is that everybody looks very shifty for a moment, and you got that very well.”

The essence of the Double Bass Test is in asking yourself, “Is this joke so obvious that thousands of other people may be making it even as we speak?” If the answer is yes then don’t make the joke.

The Double Bass Test can also be useful in everyday life as our quote illustrates. Of course there will be times when a Double Bass Joke slips through the cracks, but on the whole you will be well served by following this principle, and thousands of beautiful heads everywhere can be saved from an awful and gruesome demise.


Albert Berg

P.S. My book is on sale in the Kindle store for 99 cents. I’m not very good at promoting these things, but if you were on the fence because of the price (and believe me I know what it’s like to balk at paying three dollars for a book because you just don’t have the expendable cash) then maybe this is a good time to snatch it up. I’ll probably keep this sale going until the end of the week. So there’s that.


Yesterday was National Towel Day and nobody told me. This makes me sad.

The Top Secret Guide to Storytelling

Once upon a time I used to have way more free time. Back before I grew up, got a job, and got into this writing thing, I had to look around and try to find things to keep me occupied.

I’m kinda hating the former me, just thinking about it.

Anyway, one of the things I used to do to flush my valuable time down the toilet was to watch the directors commentaries on DVDs. I don’t know what it was that compelled me to do this. On the whole listening to directors commentaries is about as interesting as watching paint dry. But one of them taught me something that has stuck with me to this very day.

It was the commentary for Top Secret that unveiled this incredible revelation. If you’ve never heard of Top Secret it’s a comedy made by the same guy who made Airplane If you’ve never heard of Airplane then you’re dead to me.

The guys on the commentary were talking about what made Airplaine such a success and what it was about Top Secret that had resulted in its relative failure. Now keep in mind that Airplane and Top Secret are both off-the-wall joke-a-minute comedies. Their worlds are completely nonsensical constructs that allow for the most bizzare situations imaginable to pass unremarked upon by the rest of the characters in the world.

So what was the difference between Airplane and Top Secret? Where the jokes funnier in Airplane? Did it have a better production value?

According to the directors it was none of these things. The thing that made Airplane a better film than Top Secret was story.

“Story?” you ask. “That’s the crucial element? In an unbelievably off the wall movie like Airplane? Surely you’re joking!”

I’m not joking. And don’t call me Shirley.

See, Top Secret had some semblance of setting and there were tons of jokes, but there was nothing memorable about the characters, and no real sense of what they were trying to accomplish.

Conversely in Airplane, we know exactly who the characters are and what they’re trying to accomplish. The former pilot with a fear a flying has to fly a plane with hundreds of sick passengers and his stewardess ex-girlfriend on board and land it safely.

It’s not an original story by any means. In fact it was based scene for scene off of another movie, and even stole some of its dialogue. It doesn’t even come close to taking the story seriously. But the story is there.

And even back then, when being a writer was the farthest thing from my mind, I latched on to that concept.

Story matters.

Special effects, fancy writing style, bizzare characters, none of those things come close to being as important as story. It doesn’t even have to be an original story. I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: you’re never going to write a completely original story.

Characters are not stories. Worlds are not stories. Concepts are not stories.

Nothing wrong with those things, but they can’t be central in your mind. Got a great idea for a surreal world, filled with fantastic creatures, where logic works differently, and everyone eats cupcakes? Good. Now push all that to the back of your mind, and figure out the story.

In the end, it’s the only thing that matters.


I realize I’ve been somewhat vague about this idea of the “story.” If you’re interested in specifics I recommend you check out Kristen Lamb’s Blog. When she isn’t preaching the gospel of social media she has great posts detailing how to craft a story that works.