I once thought you were either funny or you were not.
Either you have the personality and natural wit to make people laugh, or you were just one of the crowd laughing at the naturally witty people.
Nothing is more cringe-worthy than someone who's trying to be funny.
They tell a joke that falls flat. They say something inappropriate in hopes of getting a laugh. Their timing is off, or they completely misread the audience.
For those who aren't “naturally” funny, the fear of being this cringe-worthy jokester is enough to keep you in the role of the straight man forever. You can be the appreciative audience, but you're not going to risk looking like a fool.
But the thing is — everyone has a little funny in them. Even the most shy, introverted, and socially awkward have the ability to entertain others with their wit.
If you have a sense of humor (and most of us do), then you have what it takes to be funny — and there are all kinds of funny . . .
The dry wit.
The class clown.
The great story teller.
The sarcastic observer.
The off-color jokester.
The highbrow humorist.
The absurd appreciator.
The wordplay expert.
The edgy, politically incorrect risk taker.
You don't have to be constantly cracking jokes and making faces to be funny. The Jim Carrey's of the world can be hilarious, but no more so than the more subtle, well-timed humorists like Johnny Carson or Jerry Seinfeld.
There are so many paths to being funny and making others laugh, and whether or not you were born with a natural funny bone, you can develop and refine your ability to use humor to entertain others, become more sociable, and boost your confidence at the same time.
Here's how to be funny even when you think you're not.
You may appreciate slapstick humor or off-color jokes, but if you are uncomfortable clowning around or being suggestive, then your humor will seem inauthentic and forced.
Your comfort level with various types of humor may expand over time, but begin stretching your humor muscle in the direction that feels the most “you.”
If you are more introverted or quiet, begin with more subtle forms of humor like dry wit or fun wordplay. If something funny happened during your day, tell the story to others in your own words, building up to the funny moment and creating anticipation with your audience.
Sometimes the those who are more subtle and quiet can surprise their listeners with their unexpected wit and humorous observations.
Know your audience.
There's nothing worse than wasting a great joke on the wrong audience. What is hysterical to one person may be deeply offensive to another.
Telling a dirty joke at the church social might not be the best idea. Being sarcastic with someone who is literal or insecure can be hurtful and off-putting.
Before you attempt to entertain with your latest joke or funny story, get a feel for the people or person you're socializing with. If you are just meeting these people or don't know them well, stick with safer, more subtle humor until you're confident they will appreciate your real zingers.
Timing is everything.
Says author Joshua Harris, “The right thing at the wrong time is the wrong thing.” Nothing could be more true than with humor.
A funny story told at a funeral becomes an awkward moment. A rushed punchline becomes a lost opportunity for a good laugh. A joke shared in a noisy bar gets diluted in the din of chatter and music.
Good timing is more than waiting for the right moment. There are nuances to timing that can make a funny situation or story downright hysterical.
“You can magnify a funny line by using the pause to accentuate your physical delivery,” says writer John Kande in an article for Toastmasters. “For example, you might raise your eyebrows. Sometimes the pause can be used to do a ‘take' — a physical reaction to the situation. Johnny Carson and Jack Benny were masters of a slow take or glance to the right or left to make a line even funnier. Some stand-up comics pause to extend the laughter by making a slow, sweeping eye contact with the audience, from one side of the room to the other.”
Choosing the best moment to you share your humor, pacing your delivery, and using facial expressions at the right time can mean the difference between a few awkward chuckles and full-on belly laughter.
Be a keen observer.
Start paying more attention to the humor and absurdities of life. Notice how people interact and talk. Pay attention to the crazy stories going on in the news and world affairs.
Look for the humorous, bitter truths or common pitfalls in the areas of life where you most often find them: money, sex, politics, marriage, family, and the human condition.
Comedian Jerry Seinfeld is a master of noticing the humor in the ordinary, beginning many of his jokes with, “What's the deal with . . . .”
He zooms in on some of the most mundane aspects of life, finds the commonality we all experience, and points out the obvious but absurd aspects of it. Then he presents it with a deadpan tone of voice and expression that somehow makes it even funnier.
If you find something strange, non-sensical, or ridiculous, it's likely others will too. Begin to notice some of these humorous subtitles of life and practice sharing them with an appreciative audience.
Watch comedy and comedians.
If you want to improve on anything, study those who are already successful at it — and that includes comedy. You can easily follow a variety of comedians on YouTube, other social media, and television. Pay attention to what makes you laugh and dissect why it was funny.
Was it the subject matter, the context, the presentation, the style of humor? Why did it tickle your funny bone, and how can you emulate it while still making it your own?
Look for comedians whose style and demeanor reflects your personality and sense of humor. This goes back to being authentic with your wit. Then build off of what you observe and develop your own style.
Be able to laugh at yourself.
A few weeks ago, I was at a concert and had to use the restroom. After leaving the stall to wash my hands, a woman tapped my shoulder and said, “Honey, you don't want to go back out there like that. Your butt's hanging out.” A corner of my dress was tucked into my underwear, revealing my backside.
Of course it was totally embarrassing, and fortunately someone was kind enough to tell me before I further humiliated myself in front of hundreds of people rather than a handful of women.
Since I love a great story and appreciated the humor in my situation, I was quick to share my butt reveal moment with my friends. We all had a good laugh, and my freedom in sharing the story allowed others in the group to relate similar embarrassing but funny stories.
The ability to laugh at your own foibles and flaws with confidence is a hugely attractive quality. Being self-deprecating with your humor doesn't mean you are pitiful or insecure. It means you can share in the humor of the human condition which is inherently flawed and absurd at times.
Practice and refine.
Humor, like anything else, gets better with practice. As you test out some of these strategies, notice what works and what doesn't. Start with a “safe” audience of family members or close friends with whom you can bomb and not completely lose your dignity.
Practice enough that telling the story or joke becomes second nature. You don't want to stumble to remember parts of it or screw up the punchline.
Refine the humorous stories or comments by changing up your timing and delivery style, using facial expressions, or expanding the set-up to build anticipation.
With practice, you'll master your own style of humor and delivery that is uniquely your own.
There are plenty of great reasons to practice being funny. Being funny makes you more interesting and entertaining. It boosts your powers of observation and creativity. It makes you more confident in social settings. It also reduces stress and improves your state of mind.
To be funny is to invite others to share in your inner world in a safe and happy way. A creates a connection that few other human attributes afford. “I love people who make me laugh,” says actress Audrey Hepburn. “I honestly think it's the thing I like most, to laugh. It cures a multitude of ills. It's probably the most important thing in a person.”