There's no shortcuts to being funny, unless you are a cat. I guess we're all naturally lazy, and we like to believe there's a simple formula or catchphrase we can count on for a laugh without putting in any effort or taking any risks. "That's what she said," I'm looking at you.
Now, people can do a lot of the stuff below and be very funny, but that's because they're not doing just these things. They're adding something, like a point, or a performance, or an observation, or a fart.
Again, I am not saying these things are never funny. I am saying these are things that some people think are an "easy" button they can push to automatically be funny. It is like trying to bake chocolate chip cookies with only the chocolate chips. Chocolate chips are great and pretty important in a chocolate chip cookie, but if you try to make cookies using only chocolate chips, as opposed to adding eggs, butter, flour, sugar or anything like that, you will get a pan full of burnt melted chocolate.
And that looks very similar to another substance I would use to describe these one-ingredient jokes.
(Hint: It's poop.)
Every one of these misconceptions comes from hearing actual jokes and taking away the wrong lesson. In this case, the humor in a lot of jokes comes from an unexpected twist or an incongruity or a mismatch. Like the most depraved sequence of sex acts imaginable being titled "The Aristocrats."
Having brought up "The Aristocrats," which sort of sucks, I should note that a lot of the "good joke" examples I list might not be funny to you, or even me, but the reason I put them in the "good joke" category is that you can at least see a reason why it is supposed to be funny instead of having no idea how it could be a joke. Like if aliens kidnapped you and threatened to kill you unless you explained why the joke was supposed to be funny, you would be able to come up with something for them, even if you disagree with it. As opposed to going "Oh God please don't kill me I swear I don't know."
Which is what would happen if you had to explain "RAWR moo zombie dinosaur mustache Lady Gaga I'm craaaazzzy! I like turtles!" I probably should put "randomness" in quotes, because it's hardly ever truly random. Most of the words consist of quotes from memes ("tiger blood," Chuck Norris, "over 9,000," "ceiling cat"), current names in pop culture (Justin Bieber, Ke$ha, a Kardashian), and this weird little list of words that almost everyone seems to pull from when trying to be random ("monkey" or "chicken").
I don't know why primates are the most popular go-to animal for instant humor. I mean, they seem quite dignified to me.
Anyway, the aliens would ask you why they are supposed to laugh at this, and even with your own life at stake, you would be able to come up with nothing and get shot.
The reason a lot of people think randomness is funny by itself is that they've encountered jokes or funny scenes where something random happens, like a naked Asian man bursting out of a trunk and running away in The Hangover, or King Arthur running into a bunch of knights who say "Ni" and demand shrubberies in Monty Python and the Holy Grail.
Demand shrubberies and get them.
What they're missing is that there's more to those jokes than just "randomness." There is a lot of physical comedy in the Hangover bit, starting from when Ken Jeong, or his stunt double, jumps crotch-first into Bradley Cooper's face (or his stunt double's face), and just escalating from there. Someone didn't just write "naked Asian" and dust his hands off and go to lunch. Someone wrote a ridiculous set of lines that Zach Galifianakis' desperate character uses to plead for his life, and the four actors added their comic performances and reactions.
And, let's not forget, tiny penis.
And the Monty Python bit wasn't just "random," either. Like most of the movie, this scene was getting its humor from the fact that the King Arthur legend is traditionally serious business, with Graham Chapman playing King Arthur as a straight man on a holy quest who is constantly exasperated by the silly adventures that get in his way. The Knights of Ni aren't just appearing out of nowhere and saying "Ni" to nobody, they're saying "Ni" (and later "Ekke Ekke Ekke Ekke Ptangya Ziiinnggggggg Ni") and demanding shrubberies when a legendary king is trying to pursue a quest to find the holiest artifact of Christendom. They're silly words and silly demands, all right, but it wouldn't be very funny and memorable if it wasn't frustrating the shit out of poor King Arthur.
#3. Negativity and Violence
A lot of very funny stuff out there is criticism or complaining, and there's reasons for that, reasons that are talked about to death. There's nothing wrong with lots of funny things being negative, but the problem is that tons of people only take home the lesson that being negative must, by itself, be funny. They don't notice that the comedian complaining about his marriage is a very good storyteller, or making some interesting observations, or tapping into universal experiences that ring true with his audience.
They just notice that he is complaining about his wife, and assume that all they have to do is complain about their wife (or the comedian's wife if they are really literal) and presto, instant laughs. They go, "My wife asked me to mow the lawn this weekend. What a dumb bitch!" Then there is an awkward silence and they wonder why nobody is laughing.
Least of all the wife.
Or maybe someone reads a funny blog review about how awful The Words was, and the conversational tone fools them into thinking that this reviewer just sat down and typed down the first thoughts they had after watching this turd, and it just came out naturally funny. So they sit down and basically type-blurt out some stream-of-consciousness rant about Battleship that is nothing more than a bunch of synonyms for "bad," and where a good scathing review might offer funny analysis or insights into why it was uniquely bad, they have none, and just fill in the blanks with self-centered talk about their own reactions (they vomited, they left the theater, they went into the projection room and pooped on the reel and everyone in the theater applauded).
When a person's got nothing to say other than to rephrase "It was bad" about 20 times, and they're out of self-aggrandizing stories about their reaction to it, the last resort filler is violence. If you tried to be funny during junior high and high school, you're probably familiar with this. I'm ashamed to say I am.
Back then, it was pretty much to take something well known and just add violence, and it was automatically funny and showed what a "twisted mind" you had, and this was your idea of biting satire or something. Like, you would do a parody of A Christmas Carol where instead of learning a lesson about Christmas, Scrooge blows up. Or you would draw a picture of Ariel from The Little Mermaid getting stabbed.
I mean, that's what the margins of notebooks are for, right?
And for teenagers, the concept that something you normally think of as innocent and wholesome being not innocent and wholesome is very mind-blowing, because three years ago or whatever, you thought a mermaid was something you could be when you grew up. As an adult, though, you kind of go, "And ...?" because you want some kind of point, like the violent thing happens to an annoying celebrity everyone wants to shut up, or the violence is ironic (Wile E. Coyote blown up by his own bomb), or just has some kind of context.
But you can't take a complaint as pedestrian as the difficulty of opening plastic CD wrappers and automatically make it a joke by saying you hope the inventor of the wrapper "gets ass-raped in prison." Maybe if you wished that one day he has a heart attack and the defibrillator is wrapped in the same kind of package he designed, and nobody can open it, maybe you could do something with that. It's pretty mean, still, but I guess at least there's a point!