Definition and Examples of Humorous Essays

Glossary of Grammatical and Rhetorical Terms

humorous essay
"The world likes humor," said E.B. White, "but it treats it patronizingly. It decorates its serious artists with laurel, and its wags with Brussels sprouts" ("Some Remarks on Humor," 1941/1971). (Henrik Sorensen/Getty Images)

A humorous essay is a type of personal or familiar essay that has the primary aim of amusing readers rather than informing or persuading them. Also called a comic essay or light essay.

Humorous essays often rely on narration and description as dominant rhetorical and organizational strategies.

Notable writers of humorous essays in English include Dave Barry, Max Beerbohm, Robert Benchley, Ian Frazier, Garrison Keillor, Stephen Leacock, Fran Lebowitz, Dorothy Parker, David Sedaris, James Thurber, Mark Twain, and E.B. White—among countless others. (Many of these comic writers are represented in our collection of Classic British and American Essays and Speeches.)


  • "What makes the humorous essay different from other forms of essay writing is . . . well . . . it's the humor. There must be something in it that prompts the readers to smile, chuckle, guffaw, or choke on their own laughter. In addition to organizing your material, you must search out the fun in your topic."
    (Gene Perret, Damn! That's Funny!: Writing Humor You Can Sell. Quill Driver Books, 2005)
  • "On the basis of a long view of the history of the humorous essay, one could, if reducing the form to its essentials, say that while it can be aphoristic, quick, and witty, it more often harks back to the 17th-century character's slower, fuller descriptions of eccentricities and foibles—sometimes another's, sometimes the essayist's, but usually both."
    (Ned Stuckey-French, "Humorous Essay." Encyclopedia of the Essay, ed. by Tracy Chevalier. Fitzroy Dearborn Publishers, 1997)
  • "Because of fewer constraints, humorous essays allow for genuine feelings of joy, anger, sorrow and delight to be expressed. In short, in Western literature the humorous essay is by and large the most ingenious type of literary essay. Every person who writes humorous essays, in addition to having a lively writing style, must first possess a unique understanding that comes from observing life."
    (Lin Yutang, "On Humour," 1932. Joseph C. Sample, "Contextualizing Lin Yutang's Essay 'On Humour': Introduction and Translation." Humour in Chinese Life and Letters, ed. by J.M. Davis and J. Chey. Hong Kong University Press, 2011)
  • Three Quick Tips for Composing a Humorous Essay
    1. You need a story, not just jokes. If your goal is to write compelling nonfiction, the story must always come first—what is it you are meaning to show us, and why should the reader care? It is when the humor takes a backseat to the story being told that the humorous essay is most effective and the finest writing is done.
    2. The humorous essay is no place to be mean or spiteful. You can probably skewer a politician or personal injury lawyer with abandon, but you should be gentle when mocking the common man. If you seem mean-spirited, if you take cheap shots, we aren't so willing to laugh.
    3. The funniest people don't guffaw at their own jokes or wave big "look at how funny I am" banners over their heads. Nothing kills a joke more than the joke teller slamming a bony elbow into your ribs, winking, and shouting, 'Was that funny, or what?' Subtlety is your most effective tool.
    (Dinty W. Moore, Crafting the Personal Essay: A Guide for Writing and Publishing Creative Nonfiction. Writer's Digest Books, 2010)
  • Finding a Title for a Humorous Essay
    "Whenever I've written, say, a humorous essay (or what I think passes as a humorous essay), and I can't come up with any title at all that seems to fit the piece, it usually means the piece hasn't really congealed as it should have. The more I unsuccessfully cast about for a title that speaks to the point of the piece, the more I realize that maybe, just maybe, the piece doesn't have a single, clear point. Maybe it's grown too diffuse, or it rambles around over too much ground. What did I think was so funny in the first place?"
    (Robert Masello, Robert's Rules of Writing. Writer's Digest Books, 2005)
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Your Citation
Nordquist, Richard. "Definition and Examples of Humorous Essays." ThoughtCo, Feb. 16, 2021, Nordquist, Richard. (2021, February 16). Definition and Examples of Humorous Essays. Retrieved from Nordquist, Richard. "Definition and Examples of Humorous Essays." ThoughtCo. (accessed March 25, 2023).