Many people believe that they don’t have the so-called “funny bone.”
But the truth is, humor is a social skill like any other. It’s perfectly possible to develop a sense of humor.
What Is a Sense of Humor?
A sense of humor is an intuitive understanding of what’s funny and not. A person with a good sense of humor might say funny things and see funny things that others might not.
That’s right! You don’t have to create 5 jokes in 5 minutes to be “humorous.” Laughing 5 times in 5 minutes might be the way to go, too! Check out Merriam-Webster‘s definition of “sense of humor”:
1. You’re likely to make widely appealing jokes in the appropriate situations, know when to joke and when to stay serious; and
2. You laugh at the humorous efforts of others.
We can take both approaches with the tips below.
How to Develop a Sense of Humor
Remember how Picasso mimicked many other “conventional” artists of his time before he could invent his abstract style?
It’s the same with developing a sense of humor—it starts with watching good examples.
Step 1. Be a Consumer of Humor
Consume funny content from comedy movies, talk shows, and Saturday Night Live. Try to identify the 12 types of humor from them. Try to remember some of the one-liners from them. And try to find the particular funny content types you enjoy most.
For example, if you like Sofia Vergara’s humor style the most, watch as many of her interviews as possible. Immerse yourself in the “Sofia Vergara World.”
Step 2. Understand the 12 Types of Humor Below
Read through all 12 types of humor below and pick the one or two that resonates most with you.
Then practice, practice, practice. As much as we’ve synthesized, distilled, and simplified those tips, you need to apply them in your own life. After 2 or 3 trials, those tips will become part of you.
Along the way, you will develop a deeper understanding of what makes people laugh and what humor may be your favorite!
If you want to learn some of the easiest ways to be funny, even if you weren’t born funny, check out our How to Be Funny article! You will find seven easy tips distilled from analyzing hundreds of talk shows. Anyone can use them to be funnier in everyday situations.
The 12 Types of Humor
There are several types of humor. By understanding the different forms of humor, you can find the kind that appeals the most to you, know when to use each one in different scenarios, and understand where people are coming from when they say something funny and expect you to laugh.
So, let’s take a speedy journey through a few different humor categories!
Taking shots at yourself can make you appear self-aware and witty.
This style of humor is a great way to come across as personable and humble. Examples might be making fun of how clumsy you are, how forgetful you are, or what your haircut looks like.
Jennifer Lawrence is the queen of self-deprecating humor. In the example below, Jennifer Lawrence’s intestine was bleeding, but she described the situation as if she was blessed, poking fun at her “weirdness.”
Vanessa Van Edwards also does this in her speeches and books by confessing to people she is a recovering awkward person. It builds vulnerability and makes people laugh.
While it can be an easy and non-offensive way to make a good joke, don’t overdo it. And make sure you’re showing confidence in delivering the joke!
Pro Tip: Don’t use self-deprecating humor for a “deadly” weakness. For example, if you’re in a working environment valuing leadership, self-deprecating your lack of leadership may not be a good idea.
Self-enhancing humor assumes people’s (sometimes unkind) comments to be compliments.
Self-enhancing humor is lesser known than self-deprecating humor—it may be because many people feel uncomfortable “bragging” about themselves. But self-enhancing humor can be incredibly powerful when others are teasing you, especially if that teasing is getting a little too far.
Sofia Vergara is the queen of self-enhancing humor. Because of her accent, talk show hosts often tease her English. In the example below, when Chelsea “complained” about Sofia’s accent, Sofia pretended that it was a compliment and said, “So jealous of my accent!”
The self-enhancing humor Sofia used resolved the otherwise awkward situation and portrayed Sofia with shining confidence and positivity.
Of course, you don’t want to overuse self-enhancing humor and always brag about yourself. Self-deprecating humor is still generally safer, but the occasional use of self-enhancing humor can be very powerful, especially when people make fun of you.
Here are ways to try this in person:
- When someone says, “So glad you could come.” Respond, “Me too. I was hoping you would look forward to seeing me.” Then laugh and add a just kidding.
- If someone compliments you, act unsurprised and jokingly say, “I thought you would like that.”
Deadpan or Dry humor
Dry humor works in almost every situation, thanks to its casual tone.
The key to understanding dry and witty humor is noticing the delivery: the mismatch between a funny statement and a completely straight, deadpan face and tone.
Ryan Gosling is the king of deadpan humor and an amazing storyteller. He often tells funny stories with a completely straight face. See the example below:
Notice when the audience was laughing hard at “It’s a cut-throat business,” “They were the ones to beat,” “Twins from the shinning,” and so on, Ryan just kept a straight face?
Pro tip: Next time you tell a story you already know is funny (maybe because you’ve told the story many times), presenting a straight face makes the whole thing even funnier.
Some personality types who are more logical and analytical may find this type of humor comes to them naturally!
This works off the concept of ‘when life gives you lemons, make lemonade.’
This is an underrated weapon in the humor toolkit! Here’s how you can train yourself: emotionally distance yourself from a sticky situation and find a lighter side. Or just make a general comment on life based on the situation at hand.
Rebel Wilson is a master at this type of humor. Check out her comment about “Life is hard,” which can be a witty go-to line for when you have a mishap:
Dark humor doesn’t have to be offensive, but examples you see can be.
Dark humor discusses taboo topics, such as death and violence. These may be considered offensive or disturbing. One way to avoid triggering disturbing feelings is not to discuss taboo topics about a specific person or a situation that may feel too real.
The comic below, by @Toothy.Bj, is an example of dark humor that doesn’t rely on shock factors or aggression towards a group:
Don’t try to be funny—be fun.
Being funny can feel like heavy lifting, but being fun is much more accessible.
According to Stanford Professors, pursuing levity is perhaps more important than pursuing funniess.
Levity is a mindset. It’s an inherent state of receptiveness to—and seeking of—joy.
Find anecdotes about your life you can laugh at. Did you just take a flight with someone snoring beside you? Did your boyfriend gain 30 pounds during covid? Share those exciting experiences with your friends! Developing a sense of humor is to bring joy to yourself and the people around you.
Satirical humor usually pokes fun at human vibes and flaws.
People often say, “It’s funny because it’s true.” Or “Funny = Truth + Pain.” Satirical humor often brings out the (sometimes painful) truth that most people try not to discuss.
In the example below, Rebel Wilson made the audience at BAFTA laugh in 5 seconds by pointing out the truth…
Another example of satirical humor is: “I’m sorry to be late. I guess I didn’t want to come.”
Again, you’re pointing out a truth that most people won’t discuss. Satirical humor can be potent, but you need the right audience. The “I guess I didn’t want to come” line may be super funny with friends or fun-loving colleagues but may annoy a boss who has less funny bones.
Gauge your audience’s appetite before you let your satirical humor out—we don’t want it to be just pain and no fun.
Humor can be succinct but not necessarily simple.
Many famous writers are pros of one-liner humor. As its name suggests, one-liner humor usually consists of one line—perfect for expressing your perspectives on the “big topics” such as life, relationships, and money.
For example, Oscar Wilde said many well-known, witty one-liners:
- “Be yourself; everyone else is already taken.”
- “I have the simplest of tastes. I am always satisfied with the best.”
- “I am not young enough to know everything.”
Pay attention to witty one-liners you see in books, talk shows, and movies. Collect them in a notebook—you never know when one of them will become handy because you’re not young enough to know everything.
Slapstick is an inventive way of making physical acts and gestures funny.
Generally, slapstick comedy involves exaggerated physical activity, such as tripping on banana skins or slapping someone else in the face with a fish (Yep, this is what the Ancient Greeks did—now you’ve got a noble excuse to slap. You’re welcome.).
For example, Charlie Chaplin, one of the most famous silent film stars, was a master of slapstick comedy.
However, you might wonder, is slipping and falling on a banana skin the most hilarious icebreaker for a first date? How do I use slapstick humor in real life?
Ann Hale, an anthropologist from the University of Sydney, suggests that our love of slapstick comedy isn’t because getting nearly injured is funny—it’s how we react to it. Someone trying to stay upright on a tightrope looks very different from someone just standing on the ground.
The humor part of the brain understands contextual mismatches!
Therefore, applying slapstick humor in real life requires the following:
- physical moves, and
- a mismatch.
Check out the Jackie Chan clip below. People like to move their hands in a certain way whenever they see Jackie Chan. Jackie then made the same move when saying Robert De Niro—a mismatch! Therefore, a slapstick moment.
Pro tip: Use your whole body to express humor, especially when a physical move comes with a strong expectation. You can overturn that expectation by making that move but saying “mismatched” things (e.g., names, locations, and timing).
Show, don’t just tell.
You may think having a sense of humor is equivalent to saying funny things. However, oftentimes, it’s the delivery—the tone, the gesture, the expression…
Will Ferrel is someone we can learn from about hyperbolic humor. In the example below, when he realized Blake Lively likes him, he exaggerated his tone and voice, and that’s all it took to get a laugh.
Remember to act next time you tell a story or respond to a comment. This is an incredibly easy way to come across as humorous.
A callback is a line referring to a previously told joke.
A callback is one of the most widely used humor types and is also newbie-friendly. In one example, Julia Roberts teased David Letterman when his partner gave him a son when they were unmarried.
Once the joke “not married” came out, Julia Roberts called back the joke multiple times in the following conversations.
Once a joke, always a joke. It may even be more of a joke later.
If you want to become funnier but don’t know how to tell jokes, a callback can be your best friend.
Surprise & incongruity humor
You can deliberately set up the expectation of going one way and then going the other way.
Humor almost always includes some form of surprise. With Surprise & Incongruity humor, expectations are deliberately set up (e.g., with adjectives and numbers) and get completely overturned in literally seconds.
In the example below, Mindy Kaling described the cast of Ocean’s 8. The cast consists of big-name celebrities, but she used the “opposite” adjective—struggling—to get laughs.
Numbers can also help you create surprises easily. If you are about to say a tiny number, set up expectations making people feel it’s a huge number or vice versa.
In the example below, Amy Poehler set up the expectation that the prize money for the Master Makers competition would be tiny. She surprised the audience by dropping a massive number at the end…
Benefits of Humor
Humor links to competency, attraction, likeability, and intelligence. You probably already know that, given you’re reading this article. But humor may be more potent than you realize.
A famous Robert Half International survey found that 91% of executives believe a sense of humor is essential for career advancement.
Yes, 91%! Not 19%.
According to a study on courtships by Glenn Geher, Ph.D., men in the “humor” condition (those who were witnessed telling jokes) were nearly three times as likely to receive a phone number from female participants than the rest.
You might have to change phone numbers now and then due to unwanted attention. But it may not be a bad trade-off after all.
Finally, Albert Einstein attributed his wisdom to a childish sense of humor.
The point is—humor can make you luckier in love and smarter at work. If you’re wondering how to develop a sense of humor, you’re lucky because we have an excellent article for that—How to Be Funny: 7 Easy Steps to Improve Your Humor. (See, already making you luckier? 😉)