The title of your book is maybe one of the most important things about it, aside from the cover.
It’s got a lot of work to do: the title needs to be memorable, it needs to fit in with other books like yours, it needs to catch your reader’s eye, and it needs to represent the book as a whole. It seems unfair that one single title should represent tens of thousands of words, but such is the job of an author.
Writers use tons of different gimmicks to make their titles catchy or trendy. You may already know about the “blank of blank and blank” trend in fantasy, especially YA fantasy, which some readers criticize because it makes the titles all sound the same. This is one example of writers using a specific trend to slot their book in with their contemporaries, focusing on unique nouns to add a creative twist.
Another way writers might make their book title stand out is by making it funny.
In this article, we’re going to talk about funny book titles, why you might use one, when you should avoid using one, which types of books use funny titles, and we’ll give you some examples of funny book titles in different genres.
What is a funny book title?
Humor is subjective, so it’s difficult to say with absolute certainty which book titles qualify as ‘funny’ book titles. But that doesn’t mean we can’t take a stab at defining funny book titles.
A book title that tries to make a joke, advertises a funny story, or generally is worded in a way that tries to evoke laughter from the reader is considered a funny book title. It might not make you laugh, but you can tell it’s supposed to.
These titles are often a little wordier than your standard title, and they usually include a play on words of some sort. They might have a subtitle with a more serious explanation about what the book is about, or they might have a subtitle with an additional joke—it depends on the book.
There are also book titles which are funny without meaning to be funny. For the sake of this article, I’ll refer to these as ‘embarrassing’ book titles. Unlike a funny book title, an embarrassing book title isn’t trying to be funny. The reaction it gets isn’t what the author likely intended.
In this article, we’re talking about titles that are funny on purpose. And I understand that sometimes it’s tricky to tell—again, humor is subjective. But we’ll walk you through a few examples in a minute to give you a better idea of the difference.
Why use a funny title for a book?
There are plenty of reasons why an author might use a funny title for their book, even if it doesn’t seem like an obvious choice at first.
You’re writing a comedy
Most obviously, funny titles are perfect for comedies! If you’re writing a comedy, why not prove to your reader before they’ve even opened the book that they’re in for a laugh?
This also lets you give the reader a sense of what kind of comedy they’re in for. If it’s a dark comedy, maybe the title reflects that, for example.
If you want your reader to also have a sense of what the book will actually be about, you can use subtitles to explain further. This gives you more space to crack jokes and advertise your book. “Oops, Dropped It: Things You Don’t Want to Hear From Your Surgeon,” (a title I made up) both tells us what the book will be about and gives us an example of the kind of comedy we can expect moving forward.
You want to hook the reader
Jokes make for a fantastic hook because they’re memorable. Think about all of the Netflix specials that have been memed to death—people quote and remember these snippets because they made them laugh.
Humor is also a great way to invite a reader into your story. People are generally attracted to content they find funny, and if your title catches their attention, they’re more likely to want to read the rest of the book.
To maximize the effectiveness of a funny title as a hook, keep it short, punchy, and catchy.
You’re writing with a comedic tone
Maybe you’re not writing a comedy, exactly, but you are writing something with a lot of humor in it. This might be a memoir about your life told in a light-hearted way, or it might be a fun action-adventure romp full of quips.
Basically, it doesn’t have to be a comedy to have a funny title. If you’re writing something that involves a lot of humor, you’ll want to reflect that in the title. Making the title funny is an effective way of doing that—it lets the reader know what kind of tone they can expect for the rest of the book.
You want to be relatable or casual
Jokes are also a powerful tool when it comes to relatability. Comedy is a fantastic tool for bridging different communities for exactly this reason—jokes just make people feel comfortable, and they make people understand one another better.
If one of the goals in your book is a relatable, casual tone, you’ve probably got a fair amount of humor in there. It’s hard to maintain that kind of tone without it. And a funny, catchy title will help advertise that relatability to your reader.
When you should avoid using a funny title
While there are more chances than you might think to try a funny title, there are also still plenty of times you should avoid it and opt for a more serious one instead.
It doesn’t match the tone of your book
Most importantly: you don’t want a funny title if the book itself isn’t comedic or casual in tone.
If you’re writing a dark fantasy, for example, featuring lots of beheadings and very few bouts of laughter, having a joke title won’t work. It’s false advertising, and not only does that mean a reader might be upset when the book doesn’t live up the title’s promise, but it also means readers looking for a dark fantasy might pass up your book because it looks too light-hearted and silly.
Most adult fiction books don’t benefit from having a funny title—we’ll talk more about this in a little bit.
It’s corny or too overdone
There are also times when you could use a funny title, but probably shouldn’t.
This is where we get into subjective territory again. A joke that I think is corny or overdone might be funny to you, and vice versa. We could talk all day long about what makes a joke unfunny, but instead, I’ll leave you with a few guidelines.
Dated jokes, like memes or contemporary slang, generally don’t age well. The title should be funny to people in your target audience—adults might not think Captain Underpants: Attack of the Talking Toilets is funny, but for most little kids, it’s a knee-slapper (and they’re right). A funny title that looks like every other quirky self-help title probably won’t age well and will probably be forgettable.
Run your title by some people in your target audience, take a look at other contemporary titles in your genre, and avoid dated phrases if at all possible.
Types of books that use funny titles
There are a few different types of books that might use funny titles—let’s look at a few.
First and most obviously, comedies might have funny titles. Like I said earlier, this makes sense: what better way to advertise a funny book than to give it a funny title?
Memoirs might also have funny titles. This is usually to signal that the memoir will be relatable and laid-back. Comedians might also use funny titles because, well, they’re comedians, and the book to come is going to be full of their humor.
Kidlit and Middle Grade Novels
Children’s books also use funny titles. They might do this because, again, the book to come is a comedy (like Captain Underpants or Diary of a Wimpy Kid), and they might also use them for relatability. Kids respond really well to humor, and they want to have fun, so a funny book title is often a promise that they’re about to have a blast.
Self-Help and Motivational Books
Self-help books and motivational books use funny titles to get their tone across to the reader. Usually, a self-help book with a funny title is trying to tell the reader that this is going to be a no-nonsense, no-B.S. approach to dealing with a given problem or circumstance.
In other words, the funny title is meant to be relatable. Someone might see that title and think to themselves, “haha, yeah! Finally, someone who gets it. This isn’t going to be like those condescending, boring self-help books—this person understands what it’s like for real people to go through these real issues.”
And once they think that, they’re infinitely more likely to pick up the book and hear the author out on whatever ideas they’ve got.
Examples of funny book titles in different genres
Let’s take a look at some funny book titles across different genres.
Not only is this title genius for its use of ‘diary,’ which promises a personal, secretive experience (kind of like putting ‘don’t read this’ on the cover—it’s foolproof in getting kids to read it), but it also describes the narrator as a wimpy kid. This is self-deprecating humor done flawlessly.
For starters, ‘Captain Underpants’ is a genius idea for a superhero. Additionally, each subsequent Captain Underpants book has a different and stellar title. I gave you the Attack of the Talking Toilets example earlier—they’re all great.
Here’s an example of a funny title used for a memoir. Here, Kaling uses a relatable situation to hook the reader. Who hasn’t wondered if their friends were hanging out without them? The parenthetical adds a punch of humor, and the entire thing makes Kaling, a celebrity, seem more approachable and relatable.
This title is a great example of having a title that matches the tone of your story. This title perfectly mirrors the funny, unusual prose to come, and it’s incredibly catchy, which makes it memorable.
This is a nonfiction book wherein Doughty discusses death and its surrounding processes. But this punchy title promises us that despite the heavy subject matter, this isn’t going to be a super heavy reading experience—for one, we know she’s talking to children, and for another, we know she’s funny.
This title is a great play on words, right? A devotional on the Gospel of John that, once you look at the cover, you realize has some toilet humor built-in. It’s something new, something fresh, something that’s honestly, a bit out there. Who has ever thought of mixing Bible commentary with dad jokes and toilet humor? But alas, dads are loving it.
Grab a copy of one of these books and you’ll learn how authors use humor in innovative ways! And if you have a favorite humor book, post it in the comments and let us know.