Feminist Jokes and Co-Writing Tips
Q&A with the co-authors of the new humor book Jokes to Offend Men
This month I talked to Allison Kelley, Danielle Kraese, Kate Herzlin, and Ysabel Yates about their new co-authored feminist joke book Jokes to Offend Men.
Congrats on the book! What is the book's origin story?
Thank you! Back in February 2020 we co-wrote a piece for McSweeney’s called “Jokes I’ve Told That My Male Colleagues Didn’t Like,” which was inspired by something Michael Bloomberg said at a presidential debate. When pressed about the multiple harassment lawsuits filed against his company by former employees, and the NDAs they were forced to sign as a result, he essentially blamed those workers for their inability to “take a joke.” This didn’t sit right with us, as people who have been told all their life to “lighten up and take a joke” by unfunny men behaving badly.
Once the McSweeney’s piece took off, we saw how it resonated with readers and we started thinking about ways we could expand our jokes beyond the workplace. We put together a book proposal outlining 11 chapters that included other areas of life where sexism is pervasive, including: at home, in the doctor’s office, in politics, in Hollywood, and in academics.
Throughout that process, we sought the guidance of other humor writers we knew and we were consistently blown away by how willing they were to offer guidance and resources (note: Julie included!). After finding a fabulous agent who believed in our vision, getting a publishing deal with a wonderful press, writing and rewriting and rewriting the book some more – and a mere two and a half years later, here we are with our very own book!
Any favorite jokes in the book?
It’s like choosing a favorite child! Here are a few that we like in particular:
“Why is the sun the center of the solar system?
Because his dad owns the universe.”
This was definitely a group effort joke involving some light planetary research. Also, this takes us back to our high school science classrooms and how we wish we were clever enough to give this punchline back then. We offer it up to any teen who has the opportunity…
“Why did the duck cross the road?
You don’t have to be a chicken to leave a situation that’s not right for you.”
We love the empathy, layers, twist, hopefulness, and humor of the above–we’re pretty sure it’s unlike any other “chicken crossing the road” joke told before.
“What’s the best Godfather movie?”
You’ve Got Mail
At some point we all bonded over the fact that we love the movie You’ve Got Mail. In the movie, Tom Hanks’ favorite movie is The Godfather and he defends its supposed brilliance to inspire Meg Ryan to fight for her beloved bookstore (which, spoiler, he eventually is responsible for shutting down). He quotes from The Godfather so often in that movie that we consider it a spiritual successor to the franchise.
And finally, needing no explanation…
“Did you hear about the writing workshop with just men?
It disbanded after one meeting because they all agreed their writing was perfect.”
How did you logistically work out co-writing the book?
Save for one “writer’s retreat” weekend, we wrote this book without ever being in the same place. During peak manuscript crunchtime, we were writing on our own during the week, adding new jokes and idea fragments to a shared Google Doc. Then, we’d do a three-hour Zoom call during the weekend where we’d read everything out loud together and decide what to keep, what to punch up, and what to cut.
What really helped us get in a groove (and on the same page) was deciding on clear criteria for our jokes, and what we wanted them all to accomplish. At the top of the Google Doc we worked in, we had a list of questions that we’d ask ourselves while reviewing every joke: Does it empower the reader? Is it rooted in a societal critique? Are we putting our own spin on it? If it uses gendered terms, are they necessary or can we get the same point across without them?
This made it easier to be a little less precious when deciding what made the cut.
Do you have any tips for writers who are wanting to co-write but haven't tried it yet?
With co-writing, it’s even more important to establish a clear premise/POV in whatever you’re working on. Also, trust in your co-writers is huge. No one’s first drafts are impressive, and with co-writing, you’re trusted with the massive privilege of seeing someone’s unpolished stuff. A good collaborator knows how to reserve judgment and see the potential in rough ideas so they can build off them. They also know when and how to acknowledge that something isn’t working.
It can be helpful to experiment with different routines with your collaborator(s) to see what works for you. We tried out a lot of different methods and were honest with one another about what was working and what wasn’t in order to find the rhythm of drafting and writing that worked for us.
One of the things we love is that when we go through the book, we might be able to identify who had the original idea for one, but most jokes were edited and tweaked and pitched on and punched up by all of us such that they’re a combination of all of our styles.
What is something you can recommend to readers that makes you laugh?
Currently, we’re really into the show Reservation Dogs. Also South Side (it’s so goofy, the writing is sharp, and all the characters are fantastic). Abbott Elementary is another great one for the humor, the characters, the mockumentary format, and the Gritty guest appearance.
For books, we love the newly released I Love(ish) New York City by Ali Solomon–it’s a hilarious, honest, and painfully accurate representation of New York in all its glory-ish. [Julie’s note: read an interview with Ali about her book here].
Thank you! Buy Jokes to Offend Men for yourself and several of your friends — perfect for the holiday gift season! And check out more from these funny authors follow Allison Kelley on Instagram, Kate Herzlin on Instagram and Twitter, Danielle Kraese on Twitter, and Ysabel Yates on her website.
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