It’s a question I hear a lot: “How can I make funny tshirts?”
This question reminds me of the old joke about an elderly comedian on his deathbed. Someone asks the old man if dying is hard. The dying comedian replies: “Dying is easy. Comedy is hard.”
Making funny tshirts is hard to do. But it’s a lot less hard if we keep the golden rule of comedy in mind: Know your audience.
Making funny tshirts requires knowing your audience. I have a lot of “funny” tshirts in my portfolio that aren’t necessarily funny to me. I wouldn’t even “get” some of the jokes if I hadn’t researched my niche. But they’re funny to the audiences I’ve targeted. And that’s why they sell.
Sitting down with the goal of coming up with funny tshirt ideas in general is one of the most futile activities and wasteful uses of a Mercher’s time and energy. The process of creating a funny tshirt involves 5 specific steps.
1. Define your niche (for example, coffee) and the niche subject/element that the joke or humorous comment will be about (for example, decaf coffee).
2. Define your niche audience. Who are you targeting that will find your joke funny? In this case, coffee drinkers, night shift workers, parents, college students, and caffeine junkies could all be appropriate targets.
3. Don’t try to make this audience laugh on your own. Research what makes them laugh or what frustrates them (more on this in a minute). These are your two sources of material.
4. Play it safe. When your research leads you to an idea for a joke, check for competition and compliance. If the joke you have in mind already exists on a tshirt or product, don’t make it (and don’t try to “make it better” either).
5. Don’t rely on one type of “funny.” Attempts at niche humor sometimes require a few attempts (involving dry humor, dark humor, puns, sarcasm, etc.) to discover which works best for your niche.
If you want to know how to make a niche audience laugh, there are two important Google search queries that can lead to fruitful insight. Let’s use the nurse niche as an example: “What makes nurses laugh?” and “What frustrates nurses?” are two search queries worth performing.
The first page of results returned an excellent Buzzfeed piece (https://www.buzzfeed.com/farrahpenn/jokes-only-nurses-will-understand) full of humor and joke-inspiring ideas that most Merchers haven’t considered. You can do this type of simple but effective niche audience research across an endless array of niches to help you get a better idea of what your audience find funny or frustrating.
Teachers, bartenders, and people or professionals from all walks of life post their brand of humor and daily frustrations on social media. They are providing — in large quantities — the type of research insight you need every single day.
Ultimately, no one but your target audience can tell you if your tshirt is “funny.” What’s funny to one person may not be funny to someone else. But if you tap into what makes niche audiences laugh, you’ll have an immediate upper hand on the legions of Merchers who try to make funny shirts by looking for the joke first and then a niche or audience second.