How to I become more articulate explaining a funny situation
December 22, 2008 11:45 PM   Subscribe

Something really funny happened to me, but I am at a struggle for communicating with others how funny it was. How can I become a better comedic storyteller?

Today I went for a run in a town that I just moved to four weeks ago. I am still getting to know my way around. I started running and ended up getting a little bit lost, running further than I wanted. I stopped along the road and asked the Culligan man for directions. "Oh you go down there, take a left there, turn on to there". So I follow his directions toward my house and as I am running to turn onto my street, he is pulling to it! I look up and he's there pointing to my street to turn (He didn't follow me or anything). I was so excited I gave him the fist pump and everything!

It was just so funny to look up, and 'meet' this guy at the intersection he had told me, after I had thought I'd never see him again.

That is the story of what happened, but it's hard to express my emotion at the time of this event. It was a great feeling, like I was being cheered as I was crossing the finish line.

How do I keep this short and sweet, while being humorous?
posted by weh546 to Human Relations (25 answers total) 6 users marked this as a favorite
Well, it's hard for us to give a shorter version of your story without you later feeling like you're just reciting it when you tell it in person. But I guess without retyping the story, I'd just say take out the stuff that isn't essential to getting your story across ("I'm still getting to know my way around"..."I ran farther than I wanted.")

With that taken care of, build up to, then stop for a split-second right before you give the "punchline," that you saw that he's pulling into your street. Then another brief pause afterwards, when hopefully everyone laughs hysterically. When the timing's right, you can kind of add on to explain how you were feeling. Your expression of your emotions at the end sounds perfectly fine in capturing the moment.

Were you looking for help on telling this story in particular, or humorous anecdotes in general as well?
posted by TheSecretDecoderRing at 12:13 AM on December 23, 2008

That's mildly amusing.

In the really funny version of that story, you ask the Culligan man for directions and after he tells you he says, in your best Richard Pryor impersonation, "I'll slap you in the face with my dick." And then you see him turning on to your street.

posted by McGuillicuddy at 12:25 AM on December 23, 2008

exaggerate. what was his reaction, surprise, or expecting you? You may have to lie and say that he said something witty about about how he asked you to carry the water or how he was whistling in your front yard waiting for you.
posted by OrangeDrink at 12:37 AM on December 23, 2008

What's the point of the story? Surely it's that coincidentally he was there, and so suddenly you both were stuck in this weird situation that made it seem like he was your supporter, or he was cheering you on. That's not really "funny" per se, more kind of recognizably human. One point is not to t set up the expectations of your audience by saying. "Something really funny happened to me." That's for other people to judge. Just tell the story as it happened.

Then to enhance the story, you take the point and then build the rest of the tale to support/ironically juxtapose against it. For example, in this case you emphasize anything which conveys that mixture of pride/embarrassment you're trying to put across. Little details: maybe he could say that you both laughed when you ran faster, or finish with "He didn't even have his pom poms with him."

Finally, when you write, avoid using exclamation marks. They are unneccessary, and usually unearned.
posted by dydecker at 12:42 AM on December 23, 2008

Add ninjas. Whenever I fail at telling an interesting story, I spice it up to the brink of comedic overflow.

"And then I saw the SAME GUY pulling into my street!" laughter...
"With a dead hooker in the back of his truck"
...odd looks...
"And then I was attacked by ninjas. I had to fight them off, which was fairly easy. Ninjas are SO last year. Turns out that wasn't the end of it. I had to fight the Culligan man. He was the final boss of my street"
posted by phrakture at 12:46 AM on December 23, 2008 [5 favorites]

It doesn't strike me as a hilarious joke that you can just "deliver" and expect big laughs. However, it's certainly an interesting anecdote. "Funny strange" not "funny ha-ha".

I am not a stand up comedian. However, I do improvised comedy where we often manage to pull hilarious scenes from true stories like this. As such, I tend to classify every story I hear these days as either "things that could inspire an interesting scene" or "other". Contrary to popular belief, the former category is actually quite large. Your story fits there. There's some comedic value in just about anything true.

So, file it into your bag of interesting personal experiences about: running, being in a new town, asking for directions, delivery men, etc. Any time you're in a conversation that involves any of these things, you'll have something unexpected and interesting to contribute. If you deliver it warmly and succinctly, chances are it'll be a nice part of a good conversation where the whole is greater than the sum of its parts.

From The Vice Guide to Everything:

A conversation is supposed to go: anecdote about you, then anecdote about me, then anecdote about him, then we all get together and come up with a general conclusion that unites all our anecdotes into one big summation about human nature.

Good luck.
posted by adamk at 1:39 AM on December 23, 2008 [1 favorite]

Little details: maybe he could say that you both laughed when you ran faster, or finish with "He didn't even have his pom poms with him."

Er, I dunno about that one. I think the gist of the story is fine, I dunno if it needs much embellishment. Especially from someone who's admittedly not a pro at comedy. It makes the story seem less genuine to boot.

Finally, when you write, avoid using exclamation marks. They are unneccessary, and usually unearned.

Well, the OP only used them twice, and I think both uses were appropriate given the context.

Of course, this whole thread will be for nothing if your audience reads MeFi... You'll know as soon as you mention the Culligan man.
posted by TheSecretDecoderRing at 2:04 AM on December 23, 2008

I was at my supermarket looking to buy some onions. i don't usually buy onions so I ended up grabbing a few more kilos of them than I really needed. i wasnt sure where the checkout was so i asked an old lady. She was like, "yeh sur the chek oot iz oover there". i totally followed her directions. When I got there, OMG, she was there too! With , like, a BAG OF ONIONS!!
posted by evil_esto at 2:22 AM on December 23, 2008 [3 favorites]

Cosmic. I'll bet you were plenty thirsty after your run, too.
posted by Acacia at 2:59 AM on December 23, 2008

A light touch of self-deprecation is good for a laugh at the end of that story.

"So, the next time I get lost jogging, I'll just wait for him to drive by and follow him home."

I think that the best comedic storytellers give their listeners a way to identify with the experience. Adding tidbits about how you -felt- during a funny anecdote helps them to do that.
posted by DWRoelands at 4:03 AM on December 23, 2008 [4 favorites]

I think the problem is the point of view. I can see how this would be funny to you, but most of the comedy seems like it's derived from your actual state (nervous, maybe scared, lost then relived by the directions, and surprised at the confirmation from the culligan man). So the laughs were probably more relief laughter or more about your actual state, then the event.

It's like someone telling me a story about them losing their car in a garage for 4 hours, then remembering they drove their husbands car. I'll chuckle, but I'm sure it was way more funny to them. At best, exaggerate your story until your audience says "Oh no!" then hit them with the Culligan man. That way at least you'll convey the same sense of relief. IANAC
posted by syntheticfaith at 4:28 AM on December 23, 2008

It was a dark and stormy night. I had lost my way home and was wandering aimlessly. Suddenly a Culligan truck pulled up beside me. The driver rolled down his window.
"Lost?" came a voice from inside.
"Yes sir," I said. "Could you direct me to Rivers Drive?"
The Culligan Man pointed a bony figure to the right, to the left, then to the right, before slowly motoring away.
"Thank you Culligan Man!" I shouted after him, and began my trek home.
Twenty minutes later, I arrived at my house. The Culligan truck was at the end of my block, fading into the distance.
"Thank you again, Culligan Man!" I shouted, hoping he would hear.
"Culligan Man?" said my nosy neighbor Flo, who was watching me from her lawn. "There's no Culligan Man in these parts. The last Culligan Man died 20 years ago."
And that's how I ended up in extended treatment at St. Elizabeth's.
posted by terranova at 4:39 AM on December 23, 2008 [3 favorites]

it's hard to express my emotion at the time of this event

That's because a significant amount of time had passed between the two times you saw the guy. The success of your story depends on you being able to convey that passage of time. That's going to be very difficult. You have to make your audience forget about the guy and think that something else is going to happen. In other words, you have to do a little misdirection so that the ending is a surprise.
posted by Stylus Happenstance at 4:42 AM on December 23, 2008 [2 favorites]

My first thought was, why didn't you just hitch a ride with the guy?
posted by desjardins at 6:47 AM on December 23, 2008

I think one of the keys to being a funny storyteller is figuring out the difference between "you had to be there" funny and legitimately funny. This one falls under the former category.
posted by valadil at 7:29 AM on December 23, 2008

I think syntheticfaith has it. The key to this story is how it made you feel -- the growing concern as you realize you've gotten lost, the embarrassment of having to ask a stranger for directions, the triumph at finding your way home -- and then the sheepish sharing of your victory with your benefactor.

Avoid embellishment -- If it's a funny story, it's a funny story. You're not writing a sitcom here. Any details you add (and you should -- specifics make a story more involving and thus funnier) should be true to life. What were the directions he gave you, word-for-word? If you can replicate any of his voice or physicality when you repeat his word, that'll go a long way.
posted by Jonathan Harford at 8:16 AM on December 23, 2008

I'm going to be candid. I think becoming a good comedic storyteller is being able to apreciate what is actually a funny story. This is funny in a Reader's Digest sort of way and not really fodder for a great story. You may find that your struggle with being funny isn't in delivery, but content. Not everyone can do it because not everyone recognizes what other people find funny (not what you find funny personally). It's tough when someone tries too hard to make something that is a pleasant story and tries to cheerlead it into a knee-slapper.

If I read between the lines with this thread, the consensus seems that you don't actually have a great base with this story. Understanding why that is and spending less time trying to make the story funny may lead you to recognizing some better material. It's hard to be funny and it takes practice. The best thing to do is not be in love with your material. If you get no laughs, move on. Try another story. If that doesn't work, try something else. When you start getting some chuckles, that's the time to spend on refining the delivery and the joke. A few people have given some tips on how to refine this story, but it's a weak one to push - especially if you are trying to make a good impression.

My advice is to move on from this one and never look back. Use it for a interesting anecdote instead of a "joke".
posted by qwip at 9:09 AM on December 23, 2008

It was just so funny to look up, and 'meet' this guy at the intersection he had told me, after I had thought I'd never see him again.

Yeah, hate to say it, but not really "funny" at all. See qwip above. Some experiences never get past the "I guess you had to be there" barrier.
posted by CunningLinguist at 9:25 AM on December 23, 2008

Being funny is a talent. It cannot be taught. It's like saying "teach me how to paint like [famous artist]".
posted by Zambrano at 9:38 AM on December 23, 2008

What you have is an amusing situation rather than a joke. Trying to make it a joke will fail. Your story is about a situation, not a punch line.
Here is a story I like to tell:
The third time I hopped a freight train it was out of Bastow in the spring. Since it was sunny and I had the whole day ahead I set myself up on an empty flat cars they usually haul trailers on. The ramp in the back made a nice back rest. It was a great ride, beautiful day. When we came into Needles, the gates across mainstreet came down, the lights flashed, traffic stopped and people waved. I waved back. I felt like the Mayor or Miss America. I was a parade.
I don't expect anyone to actually laugh at this story but it is fun if not funny.

If I was going to punch up your story I would work on the characterization of the Cullilgan man. I suggest drawing him as your guardian angel. Promote your confusion and tiredness. Perhaps he appears suddenly to give you directions. Pops back to say "there you are" and "way to go" with his gesture. Just read terranova's suggestion. Perhaps "Thank you, Culligan Man!" would work as a punchline.

Comedy is about surprise much of the time. As an illustration:
"Ask me, "What is the secret of comedy?"
"Ok, What is the secr..."
posted by pointilist at 10:46 AM on December 23, 2008

I like the story, it's not funny but it is a nice 'humans connecting' story, maybe don't sell it as comedy.
posted by Cosine at 11:20 AM on December 23, 2008

posted by lunit at 3:32 PM on December 23, 2008

Well, it's a simple anecdote, and (I think) an amusing one. It's the kind of thing we tell all the time to people we know. If you're telling this story to a close friend/relative/co-worker, they'll get a kick out of it. I don't think you have to present it too much differently than you did here (just don't be too long-winded or else people wonder what the point is).

Don't worry about getting the details just right.. It's not the type of story where you're gonna gather up all everyone up with this theatrical build-up and say "Get a load of what happened to me..." And you're not telling it to Regis or Letterman.

The last thing you wanna do is come off as is like a greasy stand-up comedian who keeps interjecting with "True story!" Just be yourself.
posted by TheSecretDecoderRing at 8:17 PM on December 23, 2008

I agree with those that said this story just isn't particularly funny. Your delivery of it wasn't bad, but it's just not that funny. Interesting, yes, but not funny.

Normally I'd say there are things you can do to make a story funnier - a bit of embellishment, an impression of the Culligan Man if that's something you can do in a funny way, and make sure the punchline is the very last thing you deliver.

But this one doesn't really have a punchline, and I found myself waiting for it. The predictable one: "And he pulled up to MY HOUSE. I had totally forgotten my water softener was being installed that day." Still not too funny, but at least it's a punchline...
posted by mmoncur at 1:45 AM on December 24, 2008

Response by poster: I understand where you are coming from, it isn't a funny story, just a simple anecdote as SecretDecoderRing stated. I agree that I stretched it on too long, and definitely built it up too much.

I think this situation would have presented itself better if it was told just in conversation and not as a "story". I think it would have came across better.
posted by weh546 at 11:30 AM on December 24, 2008

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