Humor can help you connect with other people and make unpleasant situations a little more bearable. This is part two of a four part blog about how to be funny. Being funny might seem like it takes a lot of work, but it’s actually not that hard once you tap into your inner sense of humor. Even if you don’t think you’re naturally funny, there are things you can do to make yourself and other people laugh.
Take yourself less.
Remember the most embarrassing moments in your life so far, the monumental stuff-ups, the times you refused to make changes, the breakdowns in communications that you played a major part in, and maybe even the time you tried to be funny around your friends and only crickets chirped. These things can be hilarious.
- Telling other people about very embarrassing moments in your life is a great way to get them to laugh. Take a page from famous improv comic Colin Mochrie, who said: “He had the kind of face only a mother could love, if that mother was blind in one eye and had that kind of milky film over the other… but still, he was my identical twin.”
Put yourself under the spotlight.
Tell self-depracating jokes rather than making jokes at the expense of others. More people will be more willing to laugh. Rodney Dangerfield made fun of both his sanity and his looks with this one: “I went to the psychiatrist, and he says ‘You’re crazy.’ I tell him I want a second opinion. He says, ‘Okay, you’re ugly too!'”
- Redd Foxx had this to say about his silly devotion to drugs and alcohol: “I feel sorry for people who don’t drink or do drugs. Because someday they’re going to be in a hospital bed, dying, and they won’t know why.”
- A great joke from Henry Youngman: “I was so ugly when I was born, the doctor slapped my mother.”
Know your audience.
Different things make different people laugh. Some people find that sensationalism causes them to laugh; others find that satire does the trick. Learn which is which, and deliver your jokes and anecdotes so that they apply to many different categories of humor and emotion at once.
- Not everyone knows what it’s like to ride in a helicopter or be a millionaire or have a baby. But most people know what it’s like to go fast, fantasize about money, and love another person deeply. So make your jokes cover more ground by utilizing really basic, but profound, human emotions.
- When you’re in a group of people you don’t know, listen to what subjects they’re talking about and what’s making them laugh. Are they the witty banter type? The slapstick, or physical comedy type? The better you know someone, the easier it will be to make them laugh.
Mislead the mind.
Misleading the mind is what we referred to earlier as surprise. This is when you create a difference between what someone expects to happen and what actually happens. Verbal jokes use this element to the greatest level possible, trying to misdirect your attention in the same that magic tricks do.
- For example: “What happens to liars when they die?” Answer – “They lie still.” This joke works because you have to interpret the joke in two ways, and the brain is temporarily confused by its inability to draw on usual experience.
- Consider Groucho Marx’s clever one-liner, “Outside of a dog, a book is man’s best friend. Inside of a dog, it’s too dark to read,” or Rodney Dangerfield’s line, “My wife met me at the door the other night in a sexy negligee. Unfortunately, she was just coming home.”
Strike while the iron is hot.
Good timing is really important, because if you give the brain too much time to work out a situation or joke, the funny moment will pass by. This is probably why jokes people have heard before don’t work, as recognition dulls the humor because the brain is already primed by experience. React quickly and strike while the humorous moment exists.
- One liners, or comebacks, can be good fun. Someone says something that, by itself, isn’t funny. And you whip back with something that makes what they said really funny. Timing is crucial here. Your humorous statement needs to come out quickly and fully-formed. For example, your friend is thinking about hair, for some reason, and he says: “Isn’t it weird that we only have hair on our heads and in our pubic areas?” The friend is not really even expecting a response. You say: “Speak for yourself.”
- If the timing is all wrong, don’t mess with the joke. The worst you can do as a funny person is try to deliver a joke after your window of opportunity has passed. Don’t worry, you’ll have plenty of opportunities to crack through the silence with your whip of a wit.
Know when not to be funny.
Be especially careful about cracking jokes or pulling pranks during funerals and weddings, places of worship (or religious events), and whenever your humor could be mistaken for harassment or discrimination, or if your humor might physically harm somebody, as in a physical prank.
Jerry Seinfeld and other comedians have made millions of dollars deploying a basic style of comedy known as “observational” humor, making observations about everyday occurrences and experiences. While knowing a lot can increase your capacity for humor, there’s no substitute for ”seeing” a lot. In fact, many very knowledgeable people fail to see the humor in things. Look for the humor in everyday situations, and see what others don’t. Often, the unnoticed humor that is standing right in front of our eyes has the most impact.
Memorize some one-liners.
One liners can steal the show. Dorothy Parker was brilliant with one-liners; for example, when told that Calvin Coolidge had died, she replied: “How can they tell?”.
- You’ll need quick wit and readiness for delivering good one-liners but studying other people’s can inspire your own. Or think of Calvin Coolidge himself; a woman came to him and said: “Mr. Coolidge, I made a bet against a fellow who said it was impossible to get more than two words out of you.” Coolidge replied, “You lose.”
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