How to Be Funny: 9 Essential Tips
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Funny Enough1 of 10
By Denise Wolfe
As any comedian will tell you, the number one rule of comedy is "Be funny." That might work for stand-ups, but for the rest of us, there are certain tips and tricks that can help you hone your wit. While you may never be ready for open-mic night, you can bring a little ba-dum-bump-ching into your everyday.
Keep It Brief2 of 10
Yes, it takes time to set up the joke, but plenty of great comedians spend hours, days, months shaving a word from a bit, crafting a tighter, quicker punch line. Consider this classic one-liner from comedy legend Henny Youngman: "Take my wife… please." Another of his gems? "I take my wife everywhere I go. She always finds her way back."
Be Self-Deprecating3 of 10
Take yourself less seriously. Personal humiliation can be a comic goldmine. Think of Phyllis Diller, who called herself "the world's worst housewife" and was constantly making cracks about her own marriage, her appearance and her domestic talents, as with this one-liner: "I do dinner in three phases. Serve the food, clear the table, bury the dead."
Think in Threes4 of 10
Whether you're telling a one-liner or a funny story, remember the "rule of three" (think: set-up/intro, premise and punchline). It's about rhythm and pattern, repetition and surprise. It's the ching in the ba-dum-bump-ching.
Use the Callback5 of 10
Late-night hosts are masters of the callback, mentioning something in their monologue and then "calling it back" over the course of a show. A callback is a reference made to an earlier joke. You're not repeating yourself; you're building on a comment, using it in a different context. By recalling a certain laugh line or bit of information, you allow the audience to be in on the joke. And, again, three is the perfect number. If you say something only twice, you risk sounding redundant; four times quickly becomes too many.
Get Physical6 of 10
No, you don't have to slip on a banana peel. Facial expressions (raising your brows, curving your mouth, a deadpan look), vocal variations and gestures, can all add to your comic arsenal.
Work on Your Timing7 of 10
Timing refers to two things: how a joke is told, and when a joke is told. For example: Fred says, "Ask me, 'What makes a good joke?'" Ned dutifully asks, "What makes a good j—" "TIMING," interrupts Fred. (Believe me, it's hysterical—maybe you have to hear it.) Be quick on your feet, grab the right word, and say it at the right time. It's no use remembering the perfect quip hours later. When a conversation moves on, so must you. Trust yourself to know that you'll be funny again—next time.
Be Crass—Or Don't8 of 10
Some people feel there's never a right time for certain jokes. Other comics, however, like Sarah Silverman, dispute this. "You can make fun of anything as long as it's funny enough," she says. "At some point, I figured that it would be more effective and far funnier [for me] to embrace the ugliest, most terrifying things in the world—the Holocaust, racism, rape..." It's up to you, but whatever you decide, make sure to own it.
Be Observant9 of 10
Jerry Seinfeld became famous talking about nothing: minor inconveniences, quirky minutiae. Notice the little things, and be specific: It wasn't just a shirt, it was a Puffy Shirt.
Accept Failure10 of 10
Be confident. Relax. Be yourself. Don't imitate others. Don't be afraid of failure. (Heck, even Jimmy Fallon had to audition for SNL twice, first in '95 and again in '98, when he landed the gig.) If you tell a joke and it bombs, shrug and move on. You can even riff on how bad the joke really was.