City University of Hong Kong


Vivek Mahbubani

  • BA Creative Media


  • Vivek Mahbubani is a Hong Kong-bred bi-lingual stand-up comedian (www.funny performing in both Cantonese and English. Having been crowned the Funniest Person (in Chinese) in Hong Kong in 2007 followed by his victory in the English category at the Hong Kong International Comedy Competition in 2008, Vivek has had the opportunity to take his sense of humor all over Asia including Hong Kong, Macau, Singapore, Malaysia and India. When not doing comedy, Vivek is a freelance web designer running his own business ( and plays drums for his loud, metal band Eve of Sin ( One of Vivek's passions is reading and his favorite book is Sun Tzu's Art of War. Oddly, his favorite color is hot pink.

Vivek Mahbubani (BA Creative Media)

What if… you are funny

In our previous article, we talked about the art of observing interesting things and turning them into something funny.

The biggest challenge for this process is the part where you add your creativity and convert interesting to funny. Very often you may face what is called “writer’s block”. This is the condition where you can’t seem to produce anything creative.

In fact, most times when you suffer from writer’s block, it’s really just your subconscious blocking yourself without you realizing it. Similar to our previous exercise, when we shifted from “find something funny” to “find something interesting”, the task suddenly didn’t seem as difficult and your creativity opened up. In the same way, when you’re staring at a blank sheet of paper and have diagnosed yourself with a bad case of “writer’s block”, your best medicine is simply shifting your objective a bit.

What if…

Whenever I’m stuck creatively, I take whatever I’m writing and ask myself what if… For example, I may be writing something about a taxi driver who couldn’t speak English. Then I ask myself what if this taxi driver was learning English? This opens up a whole new world of ideas because it allows me to imagine the methods the driver may take to improve his English. For example, when someone is learning a language, a common exercise people use is to stick labels all over their house with the foreign language’s word of the object. For example, if I was learning French, I would stick labels all over my bedroom. My computer would have the label “ordinateur” which means computer in French. So every time I used my computer, I’d remember the French word for it. You can imagine my whole bedroom would have labels all over it. My bed would have “lit”, my table would have “tableu”, etc. So if this taxi driver took this same approach, he’d stick labels all over his car! You can imagine a label near him with “seatbelt”, another one beside him for “mirror” and yet another one in front of him for “windshield”. Quite an interesting scenario.

Remember what I said in the previous article, funny = interesting x creativity. So let’s get creative.

Now we can add another what if… here. When learning a language sometimes we may make mistakes when doing such translations, so what if the taxi driver made a mistake? Instead of “windshield”, he put “window”. The window at the front of the car is indeed made of glass like a window, but it’s technically called a “windshield”.

Another what if… is what if a person that taught English took the taxi and noticed the mistake? Would he/she correct the driver? Let’s say I took the taxi and noticed the mistake, I will point it out and say “windshield, not window.” The taxi driver may be deeply grateful for my assistance. He may want to thank me from the bottom of his heart. So perhaps he would say “thank you” and point at his chest, where I find a label that says “heart”. And in return, I point at him saying “you’re” and point at my grocery plastic bag that says “wellcome” (author’s note: the phrase you’re welcome is spelled w-e-l-c-o-m-e, however the supermarket is spelled w-e-l-l-c-o-m-e with an extra L). This would make for quite a funny situation.

The process that we just went through is often called Automatic Writing. This is a method where you just keep writing whatever comes to mind without trying to control it. In the above taxi driver example, the idea acted as a seed and I just kept combining what if questions with automatic writing and eventually made up a story. Mind you, this is not a guaranteed process, but it has helped me scamper around different ideas that made something funny out of something seemingly quite boring.


Now you may ask, what if you have “writer’s block” for the what if… questions? When thinking of your what if… questions, think of SCAMPER:

  • S = Substitute
  • C = Combine
  • A = Adapt
  • M = Magnify
  • P = Put to other uses
  • E = Eliminate
  • R = Reverse

Take your situation and randomly pick a letter from above, then use that to ask the what if… question. For example, for my first what if question, instead of the taxi driver making a mistake, I may change my what if… question. Let’s use R for reverse. In this case, instead of the driver learning English, he/she may decide he wants to teach all his passengers Cantonese. So imagine a foreigner steps into the car, and throughout the whole journey, the driver is teaching the passenger how to say things like 鏡 or 安全帶 ,etc. With that twist, the driver is now an entrepreneur who has combined 2 businesses into one! Your story may unfold with the driver starting a mobile tutorial center where he/she teaches 5 students at a time while driving them to school.

As you can see, the above techniques help you open up your imagination and improve your creative flow. Again, at no point did we expect to write something funny, it’s always the combination of something interesting mixed with your creativity that ends up being funny.