How to Be Funny
How funny are you?
While some people are natural humorists, being funny is a set of skills that can be learned according to comedian, author and my friend David Nihill.
Afraid you can’t learn the skills? Fear not. Nihill spent over a year interviewing and studying comedians for his book, Do You Talk Funny? 7 Comedy Habits to Become a Better (and Funnier) Public Speaker
Bottom Line: You’ll be more successful if you can make people laugh.
…but only the good kind of laugh–not the awkward kind:
He has been so kind to put together a post for us with some quick tips on how to be funnier. If you want to know how to get funnier in your personal and business life, here are a few tips to guide you along the way:
#1: Keep a “Funny” File
Exceptionally funny people don’t depend upon their memory to keep track of everything they discover that they find funny. In the olden days, great comedians carried notebooks to jot down funny thoughts or observations and scrapbooks for news clippings that struck them as funny. Today, you can do that easily with your smartphone. If you have a funny thought, record it as an audio note. If you read a funny article, save the link in your bookmarks. The world is a funny place and your existence within it is probably funnier. Accepting that fact is a blessing that gives you everything you need to see humor and craft stories on a daily basis. All you have to do is document them and then tell someone.
#2: Tell Stories not Jokes
A joke is a fake story that sets up for a punch line. If the punch line falls flat, you end up looking like a fool. Rather than tell jokes, exceptionally funny people tell relevant stories that have humorous elements. If people don’t find a story funny, no big deal, because the story has a point beyond just being funny. If people laugh, even the better.
You can see this here in the most viewed TED talk at the time of writing:
#3: Use The Rule of 3
At its most basic, the rule of three establishes a pattern then ends with something unexpected. This break away from the pattern created by the first two items builds tension and creates surprise, usually resulting in laughter. Think of it as 1 normal, 2 normal, 3 funny.
You can see some examples from the world of TED here:
#4: Minimize your Words
Brevity is levity. Comedians are forced to get to the funny part as quickly as possible. Identity the key part to your story and get there fast. Cut all unnecessary elements.
#5: Delay Funny
Put the funny part at the end of the sentence. For example, if the fact it’s a cat is the surprise or twist in your story, don’t say, “There was a cat in the box.” Say, “In that box was a cat.” That way you’re not still talking when the audience is meant to be laughing. This also makes your timing look awesome.
You can watch President Obama doing this here:
#6: Intentionally Misidentify Things
“My sister Kat went to Stanford.” Your cat went to Stanford? Wow…your family must have a high standard of education. This technique is only limited by your own creativity.
#7: Repeat, Pause, and Play
If someone makes a silly comment simply repeat that comment. If it was obviously silly, by simply repeating it and pausing for effect your audience will likely laugh spontaneously.
#8: Add Act-Out
Conversational interaction between two characters gives you the chance to bring your story to life. If you can do different voices or different accents or speak another language, use it. Unless you are really, really good at it, keep it simple. As a guiding principle, think family members before foreigners! Even doing a familiar accent like your parents or partner will get you easy credit.
#9: Acknowledge the Obvious
If you’re visibly nervous, have a fresh stain on your shirt, or if there’s anything unusual about you, physically address it to get a laugh. Acknowledging the obvious is known in comedy as “calling the room.” It means vocalizing exactly what people are likely thinking. For example, if you’re doing badly in your presentation, reference it. If something you said was not funny, achnowledge it.
This is a great example from the world of TED:
#10: Compare and Contrast
Look at the flip side. What is the opposite of what you are talking about? What can you link it to? For example: “Asking them to complete this project without a fixed timeline or budget is about as effective as handing a MacBook Pro to a goat.”
#11: Use Callbacks
Callbacks bring together everything in the end. This is where you go back (call back) and reference items that just got a laugh or create something from items mentioned earlier in the conversation. This can be one of your jokes that worked or something funny or memorable from someone else. Remember, you don’t have to tell a new joke to be funny!
#12: Draw Upon Your Own Real-Life Experiences
Ever since the 1960s, exceptionally funny people have relied upon what’s called “observational humor” to make people laugh. The classic examples of this are Jerry Seinfeld and Larry David, whose experiences led them not just to do standup comedy, but also to create two award-winning comedy shows. The beauty of using personal experiences as fodder for humor is that your life experience is unique and therefore stories based on it are guaranteed to be original.
Jon Acuff here:
Bonus: Get it All
David was asked to do a talk at Google which he was willing to share. Watch his full presentation on how to be funnier here:
Now, I am going to end on something you know, but don’t want to know: Practice makes perfect. The more you practice your jokes, your stories and your timing the funnier you will be. Start small–with a few jokes in text, a few casual stories around the water cooler. If you are really brave, sign-up for an improv class or offer to write a wedding toast. Your funny is worth it.
Speaking of funny, here are a few jokes where I humiliated myself just for you:
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