This is all based on research from years of studying real conversations and what really funny people do and say. You're not going to think all the examples are funny, but the techniques listed generally work across all humor types and generations. Reference at the bottom.
Here are the top 8 reasons why you’re probably not funny:
- You're too literal
- You can't laugh at yourself
- You don't give your words fuel
- Forgetting the colorful details
- You do not exaggerate enough
- The contrast in your comments is missing
- You don't take advantage of hypotheticals
- You don't use enough Meta-comments
You’re too literal.
Literal people are rarely funny. Learn how to switch on and off your literal instincts. If a friend asks you what shirt size you wear, you don’t have to tell them the exact size at first. Instead, you could say, “It depends on how many burritos I ate for breakfast.” If a girl asks you what cologne you’re wearing, you don’t need to immediately tell her the name of the cologne. Instead, you could play around, and even say, “I’m not even wearing any… that’s my natural scent. I call it Eau de Jim.”
If the printer at work isn’t functioning properly, you don’t need to stick to literal comments like, “the printer isn’t working very well.” Instead, try to be more figurative sometimes, for example, “The printer’s acting cranky…” or “I think the printer is protesting and I’m not sure how to meet its demands.”. Being too literal definitely tops the “top 8 reasons why you’re probably not funny” list.
You can’t laugh at yourself.
Before you try to make anyone else laugh, you need to be able to laugh at yourself first. You may take yourself too seriously and can’t laugh at yourself yet. Every interaction is still stressful because you worry too much about making a mistake. It’s all the inner filters and second-guessing that kills playfulness and humor.
Once you realize that most people barely ever think about you, and hardly ever care or remember what you do/say, you’ll open up more. Remember, people are thinking about themselves and their own concerns. Focus on just having a good time with people and contributing to the conversation. There's a reason why being able to laugh at yourself made the “top 8 reasons why you’re probably not funny” list.
You're not always going to be funny… that's impossible. In fact, the “funny people” in your life strike out a lot more than you realize. We only remember the good jokes they made, and forget all the times they messed up. Point is, they keep trying! Once you learn to laugh at yourself because you realize that life isn’t that serious, you’ll have a much easier time making others laugh.
You don’t give your words fuel.
You may say a lot of funny comments, but if you don’t support your words with enough nonverbal communication, your words won’t be effective. This was my problem for years. I didn’t understand why my funny comments weren’t getting a good reaction. Once I worked on my energy level, articulation, mannerisms, etc., my charisma and ability to make others laugh really took off. I can’t emphasize this enough!
Think of yourself as showing a movie ALL THE TIME. Would people be interested in watching you if you were on mute? Do you stay still like a statue? Do you mumble sometimes? Is your energy level too much like Toby from The Office? Your nonverbal skills are 50% of your social skills – don’t ignore them! You can work on them by copying comedians on YouTube and taping yourself over and over. IMO it's the easiest skill to improve and the most impactful.
You forget the colorful details.
The humor is usually in the details. Saying “His breath smelled bad” isn’t nearly as funny as saying “His breath smelled like beef stroganoff.” Some words are inherently more interesting than others (possibly because they’re less commonly used or unexpected). Regardless of the meaning, the phrase “beef stroganoff” just sounds funny by itself. You could substitute “beef stroganoff” with “gorgonzola cheese” or “moldy elderberries” and it would probably still work.
Instead of telling someone you’re a chemistry teacher, try adding a little color to the description. For example, “I basically teach kids how to play with poisons.”
You don’t exaggerate enough.
This is related to #1 – don’t be so literal. I was getting my hair cut the other day and the stylist’s hair clipper was particularly loud. I didn’t just observe, “That’s a loud hair clipper.” But instead said, “I think that’s the loudest hair clipper I’ve ever heard.” It definitely doesn’t seem like it would get a laugh, but it did. That was a simple example, but you get the idea. Exaggeration – in moderation – is typically the easiest way to get a quick laugh.
Maybe you’re watching a tennis match on TV. Saying that someone has a bad serve isn’t very fun and won’t elicit any laughter. Saying, “He may have the worst serve in the history of men’s tennis,” might spark some reaction. Or alternatively, remarking, “Even my three-year-old nephew can hit the ball harder than that!” would be more interesting and playful. Saying “I don’t really like mushrooms,” won’t be that entertaining. But rephrasing it by saying something like, “I won’t go near mushrooms. That’s the devil’s food. I don’t put anything brown and mushy near my mouth,” is 1000X more entertaining.
You don’t contrast your comments.
Tap into human psychology. Humans are inherently intrigued and entertained by contrasts. For example, pretend someone asks you how life as a new parent has been. Saying, “It’s been great…” won’t spark any laughter or smiles. Saying, “It’s been great…but I’m in a constant state of exhaustion” will definitely get a good reaction. Notice that the second example contained a great contrast between two comments. You could add another contrast like, “I get woken up a lot and I honestly don’t mind that much… but if it was anyone else, I’d probably strangle them.”
Commenting, “I love all animals…” isn’t funny on its own. But adding a contrast makes it funny, for example, “I love all animals… except for llamas, they’re disgusting.”
You don’t take advantage of hypotheticals.
Tap into the human imagination – there’s a lot of playfulness and humor possibilities there. For example, you may remark, “I’ve always wanted to have a home brewery in my basement,” which isn’t funny on its own. But if you add, “…except I’d probably end up gaining fifty pounds!” Now that has a chance to be funny because it adds a hypothetical possibility to the equation.
Instead of stopping at “I love Laffy Taffy,” you could add a hypothetical to your comment, “…if I had time, I’d eat the entire bag right now!” You could remark to your spouse, “I’m going for a run…” but make it ten times more entertaining if you added a hypothetical, “…if I don’t come back by 9, come make sure I’m not passed out in a ditch somewhere.”
You don’t know use enough Meta-comments.
Meta-comments are designed to comment about the situation and conversation that you're involved in. I don’t have the space to explain further in this post, but here are some examples: “That’s a nice tie by the way… I figured I’d start with a compliment before I asked you for a favor.” “I probably should have just held the door for you… I’m so rude today.” “I purposely wore my argyle sweater and glasses so you’d think I was smarter than I really am.” “I have no idea why I just sounded like an old British woman just then.”
Next time you meet someone new and they introduce themselves, instead of just stopping at “Nice to meet you, Tom,” you could add a meta-comment about the situation, “I’ll probably have to ask you again at least five times because I’m terrible at names.” And if they laughed at that, you could add, “I may even call you Jim or Steve a few times until I get it right!”
Of course, these tips and techniques were only the tips of the iceberg. If you’re serious about becoming funnier, more interesting and entertaining, then check out my top-ranked book on Amazon, How to Be Funny and Make People Laugh: No Fluff. No Theories. 35 Humor Techniques that Work for Everyday Conversations.
Never stop improving!
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Alicia leads content strategy for LearnWorthy managing a team of content producers, strategists, and copywriters. She creatively oversees content programs, awareness campaigns, research reports, and other integrated marketing projects.