#2. Forced Quirky Language
Certain funny people have a way with language that really adds to how funny they are, and slow, unobservant fans often get confused and think that these language quirks are what makes them funny.
For example, Seanbaby's writing is usually sprinkled with metaphors and analogies no one else would have come up with, like:
He was a nerd in every direction. He moved like space squids hollowed out a sex offender and were drunk driving him. (link)
She claims to be a supermodel and an actress, but she looks like someone tried to recreate their grandmother out of Turtle Wax and she's in fewer movies than Bigfoot. (link)
If the Special Olympics had a comedy writing event, this would be the only entry that didn't win a hug. John M. Byrne is so tragic that breast cancer walks to end him. (link)
"Wait a minute," you might be saying. "Are you trying to fill your column with quotes from Seanbaby, hoping it will make it automatically funny?" Well, I would if I thought I could get away with it. Damn tight-assed editors.
I would do a LOT of things if I thought I could get away with it.
Anyway, the point is that there are a lot of people out there who do not know how hard it is to come up with an insulting analogy that is actually funny. They just figure that if they compare something to poop, disease or sexual deviancy, then bam! Joke magic! "Watching the Raiders-Dolphins game was like watching a polio patient rape a piece of poop!" No! You are not doing it right.
Movie or book reviews have a special subcategory of wannabe-funny language, like when people give every character a wacky nickname. Like if they're making fun of Twilight, they might call Edward "Darkness McEmo" and Jacob "Abs McGee." You could get off to a worse start, but it's always incredibly depressing when you realize that this is the extent of the humor the person has brought to their review and that it's basically a straightforward plot summary with the names replaced and nothing else. Again, the funny names are the sprinkles on the cupcake. People like it when you give them cupcakes with sprinkles. People do not really enjoy having handfuls of raw sprinkles thrown at them sans cupcake.
People have been blinded that way.
Along the same lines, there's a really popular trend to replace character names with actor names, like "The Narnians think all their problems will be solved when Liam Neeson returns." Or you replace a character's name with another character the actor has played, like "In A Walk in the Clouds, Neo returns from World War II to find a series of plot twists that conveniently let him dump his wife for a more attractive woman while still being the good guy."
Once again, people saw this used in a funny way somewhere and took home the wrong lesson. Usually when it's done right, it's done to make a point, like the fact that the actor fails so badly at disappearing into the role that you never see the character because the actor is so obviously himself. Like I don't even remember Arnold Schwarzenegger's character names in half the movies he was in because you just look at him and see Arnold Schwarzenegger. If the writer spent any time or effort writing a personality for the character, they'll probably never make that mistake again, because on screen the character is just "Here's Arnold Schwarzenegger if he happened to be a spy/doctor/scientist."
So when you say, "Here's the scene in Junior where Arnold Schwarzenegger is about to give birth," it's not some forced formula joke, it's an accurate way of describing how the scene comes across to most viewers -- Arnold Schwarzenegger giving birth.
His character was named Dr. Alex Hesse. Anyone who remembers that probably worked on the film.
#1. Asking if People Are Familiar With Something
Many good stand-up routines start out with "Anyone ever notice [something you may have noticed]?" but a surprisingly large number of people seem to think they also stop there. "Ever notice that women enjoy shopping?" they say, or write. Or "Hey, who remembers Charles in Charge?" And then they sit back and wait for the laughs to roll in.
In a perfect world, an impeccably timed tumbleweed would roll by, but first of all, this usually happens indoors, and secondly, and most sadly, people will quite often laugh at these things, so that these people are encouraged and will not stop.
There just aren't enough tumbleweeds in the world for the work that needs to be done.
After you get the audience on board with their mutual recognition of women's fondness for shopping, you are then supposed to make some kind of additional observation, maybe hyperbolically compare it to a drug addiction, maybe tell a funny story about a specific shopping adventure you had with a woman, or one you had yourself, if you are a woman. After you remind everyone that Charles in Charge was a sitcom that once existed, maybe your actual joke would be speculation about why the writers refused to reveal Charles' last name. (Nazi war criminal?)
Reincarnation of Holy Roman Emperor Charlemagne?
A lot of people accuse Seth MacFarlane cartoons of doing exactly this, just mentioning some pop culture nostalgia item and waiting for a laugh, but I don't know if that's totally fair. Like when a Family Guy character referenced The Facts of Life, they cut to a scene from The Facts of Life where it was revealed that Jo had both male and female genitalia, which, needless to say, did not actually happen on the original show. Is this a good joke? I don't know, you decide. But whatever the result, they put in a little more effort than merely cutting to a Facts of Life title screen and going, "Eh? Eh?"
Anyway, as mentioned before, audiences are often complicit in these awful charades, going "I do remember Pogs! What a hilarious joke!" or "It's true, Asians often get better grades! This man is a comedy genius!" I think it is just a natural human tendency to want to belong. If you do not know what the Safety Dance is, but it is clear that the author/speaker and other members of the audience do, you feel sad, like you are not part of the club. If you do happen to know what it is, you are so happy you laugh almost in relief. It's not so much a laugh of "That sure was funny!" as "Yeah! I'm with it! I know things!"
If you do that, stop it. Print out this Remembering Badge and pin it to your shirt.
See, now you and everyone around you know that you have been recognized by the International Council of Remembering for being good at remembering. You no longer need to be desperate for validation from some cheap-laugh comedian. When he asks if you remember Growing Pains, you can calmly say to yourself, "Yes, of course I remember it, because I am an expert rememberer. Continue," and stare silently at him until he makes an actual joke.
Check out more from Christina in 8 Words the Internet Loves to Confuse With Other Words and 7 Phrases That Are Great Signs It's Time to Stop Talking.