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How to Be Funny: 5 Things to Try

Since completing university, Paul has worked as a bookseller, librarian, and freelance writer. Born in the UK, he now lives in Florida.

A sense of humor and the ability to make people laugh are great things to have in life. Not only can laughter can make people feel better emotionally, but there is also some scientific evidence that laughter may even help with physical healing process too.

Knowing how to be funny can also help you to improve your social, romantic, family, school, and work life, as well as providing you with a way of dealing with some of the trials and tribulations that life can throw at you.

The ability to be funny and find something amusing is actually quite an advanced social skill. Although a few other animals, such as certain primates, rats, and dogs emit laughter sounds, none have the sophisticated social systems of humor and amusement that humans have. Human babies typically develop the ability to laugh at things between the ages of 2 and 6 months.

How to be Witty: 5 Things to Consider

In this article I will look at the following:

  1. The Advantages of Being Funny
  2. What Makes People Laugh
  3. Techniques and Subject Matter
  4. Use Material From Your Own Life
  5. Learn to Be Funny From Others

I examine each of the five points in more detail below.

There's only one true superpower amongst human beings, and that is being funny. People treat you differently if you can make them laugh.

— Jeff Garlin

1. The Advantages of Being Funny

Being funny is entertaining. Some people are so good at it, people pay to see them and they make a living out of it, an example of this being a comedian. Others use being funny more indirectly as a part of their working lives and as a way of communicating, for instance, humor is often used in advertising as a way of engaging the viewer, or potential customer.

It can win you attention in a group situation, enabling you to make an important point, or just get yourself noticed.

Being funny can help you in social situations. For instance, making a joke can help to break the ice when meeting new people, it can facilitate bonding between people, or it can alleviate the effects of a stressful situation.

It can help you win over members of the opposite sex. Humor can often form an important part of the courtship ritual. Sharing a joke and laughing together can be an intimate way of bonding.

Being funny can help you or others to deal with difficult situations. Sometimes bad things don’t seem quite so bad when you are able to laugh at them.

It doesn’t cost anything. You can be funny even if you have no money. You don’t necessarily need any props or materials either, just a sense of humor and a mind, a voice, or a body to express yourself.

Be warned however that being funny isn’t always good for you. Sometimes your behavior may be interpreted by others as inappropriate and upsetting, especially in places like a school or at work, or at events such as weddings, or funerals.

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Some (many?) people do not like being laughed at and can get agitated if they think that you are poking fun at them – you should therefore be cautious when it comes to telling jokes around authority figures such as teachers, bosses, preachers, policemen and judges.

It is also sadly the case that some people will be envious of you if you know how to be funny and they don’t.

Being funny is one of my greatest strengths. I can make girls smile when they're down, and when they're having a good time, I can carry on the joke.

— John Krasinski

2. What Makes People Laugh

One of the key things that make people laugh is when they are shown someone who behaves foolishly that they can feel superior to.

Another key element of being funny is surprise. Many jokes work by the teller leading the listeners to expect one thing and then hitting them with a surprise punch line which demonstrates that they have been cleverly misled.

Relief from anxiety. Sometimes people laugh out of a sense of relief. You can see this with young babies. When a parent hides or disguises their face in some way, the baby becomes anxious, when the parent shows the baby who it is, the baby laughs out of a sense of relief. This style of humor is used in more sophisticated forms by older children and adults.

Another source of humor can be pointing out the absurdities that we all encounter in everyday life, but don’t normally think about, as we are so used to them. Some funny people carry notebooks around with them and write down all the material they find, it can be surprising how much funny stuff that you can find this way.

I find being funny very hard work. I am always asked about it, and I feel guilty saying that, but it's the truth. I love my work, but it ain't easy.

— Madeline Kahn

3. Techniques and Subject Matter

While it is true that some people are naturally funnier than others and were probably born that way, there are definitely techniques, strategies and concepts that you can learn in order to be funny.

Most comedians actually spend many years learning how to be funny, so don’t expect to become a comedy genius overnight. As I mentioned earlier, the ability to be funny often requires the learning and use of some complex social skills.

Everybody knows that timing and rhythm are important parts of music, but they can also be crucial in being funny too. As mentioned earlier, surprise often forms a big part of comedy, with a joke or scene apparently heading off in one direction, before the punch line hits and surprises us by throwing in something that is unexpected.

The timing of this surprise is often crucial to the joke being funny. If a joke goes on too long, then people will often guess the surprise before it happens, if it goes on too short then not enough tension will have built up before the punch line.

It sounds a little odd, but often the most serious moments in life can also be potentially the most funny if handled correctly. Other situations that can be made funny is where people’s roles are reversed or mixed up – an army officer who is very timid, for instance, of an explorer who keeps getting lost.

Talking of situations, one of the commonest forms of comedy on tv is situation comedies, where the main characters find themselves trapped in funny situations that they have problems escaping from.

If you want to be funny, it also helps a lot if you know who you are trying to make laugh. Something that is funny for one person or audience might not be funny to another group, or vice versa. The better you know your audience and what makes them laugh, the more chance that you have of success.

Each person often has a different sense of humor and that can make things a little complicated – although it has to be said, even the greatest comedians can’t make everybody laugh.

I think maybe I became funny because as a kid, I was a Jew in a town of no Jews, and being funny just instinctively came about as a way to put people at ease around me.

— Sarah Silverman

Actually being funny is mostly telling the truth about things.

— Bernard Sahlins

4. Use Material From Your Own Life

You don’t have to look far to find one of the main sources of humorous material, as many, if not most funny people tap into their own life as a source of material. Think of funny things that have happened to you and write them down – then try to turn them into jokes or funny stories later.

You will have to allow yourself to be silly, if you are going to be funny - so be prepared to laugh at yourself, your eccentricities and some of the things that have gone wrong for you in your everyday life.

Apart from funny things that happen, you can use yourself in others ways too, by pulling funny faces, doing silly voices, gestures, or dressing up in a way that will make people laugh.

I don't really find things funny unless they're deeply tragic at the same time. I think if you're funny just for the sake of being funny, it's just frivolous nonsense. To me, all the best comic plays have been written about really serious and rather bleak things.

— Lee Hall

5. Learn to Be Funny From Others

Think of people that you find funny and watch them to see how they do it. Once you think that you have grasped how they manage to be funny, you may wish to try copying them, or better still, come up with your own funny ideas using their techniques, but your own material.

There is a wealth of funny stuff out there to access, things like funny movies, tv shows, music, cartoons, or stand up comedy.

There are also books and videos on how to be funny that you can buy, or borrow from libraries. Some colleges even run courses on how to write comedy, or how to be a stand up comedian.

Remember, though, that no matter how good you are, there will always be occasions where you will try to be funny and nobody laughs. It is important not to get upset or downcast when this happens, but to move swiftly on and try something else, a new joke or story. Nobody can be funny all the time.

People want me to be funny all the time. They think I'm being funny no matter what I say or do and that's not the case.

— Christopher Guest

© 2014 Paul Goodman

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