Learning how to be funny is an essential people skill.

Most people don’t realize you can learn how to be funny. In fact, I want to convince you that the funniest people hone their witty craft.

And being funny matters.

You’ll be more successful if you know how to make people laugh.

…but only the good kind of laugh, not the awkward kind:

Learning how to be funny can make everything easier. Let me tell you a story. 

A year ago, I was having dinner with my favorite person. But I hadn’t said anything remotely funny in the last hour. 

The dinner was great. The company was great. The awkwardness was great.

I wanted to impress this guy. And yet, all I had been saying was, “Wow…Cool” and “OMG, that’s SO amazing…” with overly dramatic dropped-jaw expressions. My heart was beating. My inner self was mocking me, “Such a loser!” 

I wasn’t able to come up with anything clever on the spot.

The next day, I woke up knowing I had blown it completely. I’m sure he thought I was boring–heck, I thought I was boring!

Feeling stupid, I asked Uncle Google “How to be funny?” I got some interesting, but not all that helpful, answers. Things such as, “Listen carefully,” “Appreciate irony,” and “Be surprising.”

I’m sure those funny tips are all true, but HOW EXACTLY DO YOU USE THEM??

I set out to find actionable and easy-to-use-by-anyone ways to be funny. I went to the best:

My goal was to uncover exact lines and formulas ANYONE can use to be funny in daily conversations. I wanted to go beyond the vague instructions that still leave me wondering what to say. Let’s change that for you too.

Using the research just mentioned, I have put together a post on how to be funnier. If you want to know how to get funnier in your personal and business life, here are the exact lines, formulas, and practical strategies.

Give the opposite answer to yes/no questions

The easiest way to be funny, even if you are not, is to give the opposite answer to yes/no questions.

Yes, it is that simple. If people are expecting you to say yes, you say no; if people are expecting you to say no, you say yes. The more obvious the better. Let’s look at why this works:

This is Jennifer Lawrence’s go-to strategy.

This clip was filmed just after Jennifer shot to fame with The Hunger Games. Don’t forget, at that time she was only around 20 years old.

Given all these factors, the reasonable and expected answer to “Are you used to it (all the attention and publicity)?” is a big fat “No.”

I bet 99 out of 100 people would have answered Ellen’s question with “NO! It’s overwhelming/amazing/crazy,” with their head shaking, modesty taking control, and giving you chapter and verse about how lucky they are and who they want to thank.

You expected Jennifer Lawrence to answer with “No.” So, when she didn’t, it became funny.

When people expect you to say yes, trying saying no.

A yes/no question is your cue.

Let’s see another example of J Law — you will know how much she loves this tactic!

Jennifer was the guest host on The Jimmy Kimmel Show, interviewing Kim Kardashian. That was a first time for Jennifer. So, Stephen Colbert asked Jennifer about her first-time experience of being a talk show host: “Not that easy, huh?”

Guess what Jennifer said?

“Pretty easy! Not that hard!” 

Seeing Stephen’s shocked face was when I fell in love with this tactic. Of course, the truth is, it wasn’t easy. Jennifer went on to talk about why it was difficult immediately afterward. 

A ‘How to Be Funny’ Tip: When people ask you a yes/no question where you think they already know your answer, try giving the opposite first. Then, of course, laugh and give your real answer, which is what Jennifer did after pausing for raucous laughter.

The magic is that the moment you give the opposite answer, you have surprised your audience, so they laugh. Then you can move on to your real story.

I tried this technique myself the other day.

At a dinner, a group of newly acquainted friends were talking about each other’s background. Knowing that I’m a scholar from China, a guy teased, “So you must be one of those one-in-a-million smart Chinese students selected by the government, huh?”

I said, “OH, YEAH!”

Raucous laughter! Of course, I’m probably not. 🙂

Special Note: Give the opposite answer for yes/no questions when there is a strongly expected answer. Otherwise, neither “Yes” nor “No” is gonna be funny for questions such as, “Is the weather good?” 

The best part? You don’t need to be naturally funny to come up with any clever stuff. Just throw out a “yes” or “no,” and there you go. 

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Play with Numbers 

Uncle Google says that “be surprising” is the way to be funny. It’s true. But how?! One way to be surprising is to play with numbers.

For those of you who dread numbers: fear not. Numbers are your best friend when it comes to being funny.

Why? Because numbers are specific. When something is small, numbers tell. When something is big, numbers tell. When someone is a jerk, numbers tell. (Please forget the last sentence, but the first two are true). 

Therefore, to be surprising, all you have to do is build up people’s expectation to be the opposite of what that number suggests. For example:

Amy Poehler - Opposite with numbers - Eg. 3

Amy did a phenomenal job prepping Ellen to believe that the prize money was very small. But then she decided to be funny about it, so she dropped $10 million, which is a huge number! And that’s why everyone was surprised and laughed so hard.

Most people would think a party with 150 people is not small. Sofia also led people to believe that she was gonna say a very small number by 1) first saying “It wasn’t that big.” and 2) using the word “ONLY.” Both are very convenient ways to build up people’s expectations in the opposite direction.

A ‘How to Be Funny’ Tip: When you’re about to say a very big number, add “only” before it. When you are about to say a very small number, say something along the lines of “it’s a huge amount” beforehand.

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Use The Rule of 3

At its most basic level, the Rule of 3 establishes a pattern, then ends with something unexpected. For example, I say red, white, and blue. But what if I say red, white, and barf. It’s kind of funny, and your brain perks up because it was an unexpected turn to the Rule of 3.

This breakaway 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 / odd / different.

When you are talking, see if you can give an unexpected answer for 3. This is especially funny in writing. For example,

  • I want to teach you how to be more charismatic, more captivating, and more words that start with c.
  • I love hotdogs, hamburgers, and handsome men.
  • I am so thrilled, happy, and terrified to be here!

You can see some examples from the world of TED here:

Three ideas. Three contradictions. Or not. | Hannah Gadsby

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Use a Character Switch

When we tell a story, there are usually multiple characters in that story. More often than not, those characters have very distinct personas that people will make assumptions about. For example, Little Red Riding Hood is the vulnerable one, and the Big Bad Wolf is the dangerous one. But what if you switch personas around and the Big Bad Wolf suddenly is vulnerable? That’s when people’s assumptions are overturned and things become really interesting and funny.

Obviously, Ellen was talking about Sofia’s English since Sofia is the foreigner with the thick accent here. But Sofia just pretended that Ellen wasn’t talking about her, but about Reese. This unexpected character switch is funny.

In the story of Jennifer Lawrence getting into a bar fight in Budapest, two characters are involved: Jennifer and the aggressor.

Seth implied that Budapest was a dangerous place for Jennifer to get into a fight. But Jennifer pretended that Seth was not referring to her, but the other character in the story — the aggressor.

A ‘How to Be Funny’ Tip: If you and your friends are talking about an experience or a story where at least two characters are involved (that’s just about any story isn’t it?), then it could be your chance to be funny. Switch the character traits for an unexpected twist.

Bonus Example: Fifty Shades Freed

In the movie Fifty Shades Freed, Ana asked Christian, “If you are not coming with me to the forest, what if I run into a bear?”

“Too bad for the bear!” quips Christian.

Christian substituted Ana with the other character in the story — the bear.

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Use “Whatever” as Your Secret Weapon

In my opinion, Sofia Vergara is one the funniest actresses in the business. She has a go-to word: whatever.

She uses whatever especially when people ask her awkward questions.

Example 1: Sofia was sharing that she ate a lot of pizza in Italy. Jay Leno saw an opportunity to tease her, so he asked how much weight she gained. It all was getting kind of awkward. Sofia didn’t want to answer, but Jay kept pushing…

Boom! By throwing out a “whatever,” Sofia turned things around. She made it look as though it wasn’t her being made fun of; it was those who tried mocking her who were being ridiculous.

We all have a friend like Jay, who’s bubbly and funny, but also can be a little too much sometimes–such as when you are the butt of their jokes. Instead of secretly feeling annoyed and dampening the mood for everyone else, just say “whatever” like Sofia.

Here’s another example of using “whatever” to turn a mistake into a funny opportunity. Ellen was teasing Sofia about her pronunciation of “pyramids.” Did Sofia get mad? No. Was Sofia angry? No. Was Sofia annoyed? Probably a little! 

But “whatever” made it funny instead of staying as the butt of the joke herself.

A ‘How to Be Funny’ Tip: Did your parents tell you that difficulties are blessings in disguise? Turns out it’s true for being funny and charming too.

When people tease you, mock you, ask you difficult questions, those moments can be your golden opportunities.

If everyone expects you to lose your cool, and you actually turn things around by being funny about it, you immediately become a star.

So, don’t fear the annoying questions. Be a star, exuding confidence, wit, and charm. Shout out a “whatever.”

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Use real-life stories, not jokes

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 stand-up comedy, but also to create two award-winning comedy shows (NBC’s Seinfeld and HBO’s Curb Your Enthusiasm). 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.

The easiest way to be funny is highlighting actual funny things that happen in your everyday life. This is much easier than trying to come up with jokes on the spot. Exceptionally funny people track everything they find funny and then practice sharing it. 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 phone. 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 to craft stories on a daily basis. All you have to do is document the stories and then tell someone.

A ‘How to Be Funny’ Tip: Tell Stories not Jokes

You might think that the story of you tripping and falling at the grocery store doesn’t qualify as a joke. Actually, jokes are harder to tell in real life than stories. A joke is a fake story that sets up for a punchline. If the punchline 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, then all the better.

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Delay the funny

When you have a funny quip or idea or joke, it’s hard not to share it right away. But the best-placed pun is actually at the end. 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:

President Obama's Salmon Joke w/ Brendan Fraser

An easy way to delay (and replay) the funny is to use callbacks. Callbacks bring together everything in the end. This is where you go back (callback) 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! 

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Bonus Tips

If you’re not following up with good conversation after your jokes, you might end up ruining the night… Or even worse, being nicknamed “one-liner Larry.” Oof. Need a little help with your communication skills for self-improvement? Look no further! We’ve got you covered with this free goodie!

Communicate With Confidence

Do you struggle with small talk? Do you often run out of things to say or feel awkward and self-conscious in social situations? Our Conversation Mastery Course teaches you the secrets of master conversationalists and gives you the skills you need to have confident, engaging, and captivating conversations with anyone, anywhere.

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 written jokes, 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.

With these tips you absolutely can learn how to be funny. I know this because I wasn’t born funny. In fact, I wasn’t funny at all. I am still no comedian. But I can tell you that after analyzing and applying these tactics in my daily conversations, I became a much wittier person. 

I want to give a huge thanks to David Nihill and Siyan Li for these amazing tips. They have more great funny tips to share with you:

David Nihill was asked to give a talk at Google, which he was willing to share. Watch his full presentation here on how to be funnier:

Do You Talk Funny? | David Nihill | Talks at Google

Claire Siyan Li released her amazingly helpful course, Become Funny in 14 Days: Humor Hacks for Those Who Weren’t Born Funny, so you can fast-track your way to becoming funny!

Speaking of funny, here are a couple of jokes where I humiliated myself just for you:

Science Joke

45 replies on “How to Be Funny: 7 Easy Steps to Improve Your Humor”

  1. Lily

    i think they left out the part that it’s super funny when someone has a weird laugh or a wheeze. for example carmen.linggg tiktok she is literally the funniest person ever search her right now and she will change your life lol

  2. Luke Atmey

    This is HILARIOIUS!!!!!!! i was lafing two hArd so where my frinds i was life of the party! !!

  3. Christina Johnson

    You forgot the cackle! It is somewhere in between the evil laugh and the booming laugh. HAHA

  4. Nûnyã Bïznîż

    Honestly, I hated this article. Real advice: keep that goofy grin on your face. See other people’s words as a setup for a new joke. Lots of times in this you actually create an inside joke, which brings friends closer together or forms a new friendship. Trust me, I’ve been using these tricks for a really long time and people like me way better than before. Also, develop a new word or phrase and use it constantly. (Sometimes it helps to use an uncommon word backwards.)

    1. Jan

      Yes I was reading this and wondered is this why so many comedians are lame and not funny! Seriously! Not funny!
      Your comments may be better than this whole article, IDK I certainly did waste my time reading after the 3rd tip?😂

  5. Jared Poston

    Wow, so funny. I really love these videos and now that you’ve taught me how to be funny, I can get hose.

  6. Renaye Brown

    Wheezers. Astmatic laughs.
    Then there’s what I call “The Baby girl or Baby boy laugh” which is more a facial expression, and involves wrinkling the nose. It’s genuine, and seems to suggest, that worrying about what one looks like when laughing does not matter in the least. What matters is that something’s funny!

    1. Rosângela Araujo

      Legal saber tudo isso,só esqueceram que brasileiro não fala inglês nem muito menos entendi 😂
      Seria muito bom vcs colocarem legenda em português ou dublarem esses vídeos pra que todos consiga captar melhor a fala dos exemplos ok


      This is so fricking true! I literally never know what to say in a conversation, and end up making the worst jokes ever. This helped a lot for an anxiety ridden introvert like me 🙂

  7. Norma

    Great, easy to follow and wonderful videos to show how it works!
    I seem to always be so serious, except when I’m being really goofy, and this is a reminder that humor can be so simple.
    Thank you very much!

  8. Parth

    Well I did some sarcastic fun joke with my mom and …. Aah i can’t write coz my thumb is lying cut on floor.

  9. Srikant chaurasiya

    The second women from which I impressed after Priyanka chopra is you…
    Your book was awesome “captivate”

  10. Vera

    Vanessa, thank you for what you are doing. Your videos are inspiring. You are inspiring:) Not because you are funny, but because you are honest, kind, intelligent and persistent. And with a good sense of humor:)
    As for funniness – why are people looking for being or being with funny ones? Isn’t it because they are sad? They are actually very sad deep inside. Why? The answer is to be found by themselves. This has nothing to do with low salary, unpleasant neighbours or personal awkwardness, of course:)))

  11. Paula

    Love it Vanessa – I always find I am so serious in conversations and have always wanted to be that person that makes people laugh this information will be put into practice…thank you for sharing.

    P.S – loved your Udemy course on body language

  12. Ana

    There is also the laughter that could be ranked in the last category, when during laughter someon is hitting his thigh and when it hits the table or something nearby. 🙂

  13. Peter

    That was great. I like the ‘What do you get when you cross a joke with a rhetorical question”.
    I think it is all coming clearly now why I got strange looks by girls in middle school when they wore “Guess?” jeans. 😉 🙂

    The Freudian slip was a classic. 🙂

    1. George Benton

      Thank you. I realize my dating profile isn’t going as well as I like and I see humor could make a difference, and pictures of me.

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