Gimmickry: The fifth deadly sin of storytelling

“I love to laugh,” sang Uncle Albert in “Mary Poppins.” Laughing made Albert lose his connection with solid ground and float up to ceiling height. Albert’s laughter was infectious. Eventually Bert and the children couldn’t resist. They too floated up to join Albert in laughter. Only the stern Mary Poppins was left on the floor.

We all like to laugh. Humor is a universal emotion. When we laugh at the same joke, we create an instant connection.

But we need to use laughter carefully in telling stories, especially in marketing, said Jonah Sachs in “Winning the Story Wars.” An empty gimmick, just for the joke, isn’t effective. People may laugh, but the laughter is fleeting. Or the joke may bomb.

“There’s a far more inspiring kind of funny,” Sachs said. It “comes from hearing something we know to be true told in a way we’ve never thought of before.”

The question we need to ask when writing a funny story is, “Is it funny because it’s true?”