HAHAHA remember that time when...?
December 24, 2012 12:25 AM   Subscribe

How do I look out for and tell funny personal stories?

I have always really admired people's ability to tell funny anecdotes... I have tried telling the same story as someone else but somehow their timing and delivery always seems better! I surprise myself and tell really good ones sometimes so maybe it is a psychological thing, but I would like to feel confident in my ability to amuse people with stories and I am willing to practise so that I can do this well. Do you have any tips on how to tell funny stories, or how to sift through your memories for good stories? Thank you!
posted by dinosaurprincess to Human Relations (11 answers total) 33 users marked this as a favorite
You know those people you meet who have really great stories and really funny jokes? My experience has been that if you befriend them, you will quickly find out that the same stories and jokes get used over and over. So you mentioned it in your question, but yeah, practice! Tell your friend on the phone, your mom, your neighbor - all the while making note of what works and what doesn't. Listen to podcasts or sitcoms to get a better sense of makes something a story rather than just something that happened. And hopefully it'll help you to relax, knowing that for every great story you hear, the teller has probably pulled it out at least a couple of times already.
posted by estlin at 12:38 AM on December 24, 2012 [4 favorites]

Yes. Tell the good ones again, but also tell the stories that interest you. In the end our personal funny stories are interesting to others more because they're personal than because they're funny. You're not a stand-up, so worry more about being interesting to everyone, including yourself, than getting big laughs.
posted by howfar at 12:59 AM on December 24, 2012

Best answer: William Labov did some great studies of everyday story-telling that for me yielded useful information about story-telling, funny or not.

Some basic points are that everyday stories typically begin with a clause that sort of encapsulates the whole story, indicating to your audience that you're taking the floor for a minute to talk about how "One time I got in a wreck and almost got killed," and then a story should conclude with a coda (often a vacuous "And that was that" sort of expression) that lets your audience know you're done and ready for them to take over.

But his most important observation was that everyday narratives don't just lead up to some key event but rather some critical moment of evaluation, where you say, "And I was like, 'Holy crap!'" or "So my friend looked right at me and said, 'You know, you really suck at this.'"

Labov said that the evaluation was more effective the more "embedded" it was. Whether that's entirely true or not, it's at least a possibility you can act on. Here's what that means: "It really hurt!" is not as embedded as "And I said, 'YOW! That really hurts!" which is not as embedded as "The other guy looked at my open wound and said, 'Man, I bet that really, really hurts.'" If you emphasize an evaluation coming from someone else present at the event, that supposedly has more impact.

Anyway, when you're listening to a good everyday story-teller, look out for those things: orientation, embedded evaluation, and coda. Then compare that with stories that don't seem as effective--often they're just recitations of events, interjected without concern for the conversation and lacking in these signals that provide hints about how to follow and empathize with the story.
posted by Monsieur Caution at 1:00 AM on December 24, 2012 [66 favorites]

Best answer: Listen to others' stories, closely. Before you start telling a story, have the end in mind. Try to structure it so that you're not going off on tangents all the time -- but it doesn't need to be 100% linear.
posted by knile at 2:24 AM on December 24, 2012 [2 favorites]

Also to work well, a story needs to have a pay-off that makes the time spent listening worth it to the hearer. So a mildly amusing story told at length will fall flat, but if the punch line is hilarious, or the story is very informative, you can get away with a longer set-up and more asides. If you aren't sure how good your stories are, be quick and to the point, and then give the floor over to the next person.
posted by lollusc at 3:36 AM on December 24, 2012

Be brutal with your editing. In this respect copying stand-up comedians or after dinner speakers is not always a good guide since, unlike you, they have the luxury of an allocated time slot. Try to copy the habits of amusing conversationalists instead. These people are good listeners - they look for a trigger in what others are saying which they can then link to their own story (the existing conversation serves as their "warm up"). They customise their story to fit the audience and occasion. They will often tell it to one particular listener with the aim of delighting at least this individual.
posted by rongorongo at 4:20 AM on December 24, 2012

I love telling these types of funny stories, and I'm pretty good at it. I have a set of criteria that I use for mine, your mileage my vary...

1. The funniest stories are the one where I'm the butt of the joke. Being able to laugh at yourself is really a wonderful thing that makes all of life a little easier.

2. I stick to G-rated stories that have a virtually zero chance of offending anyone. It's easier than it sounds, and you never have to worry about making someone uncomfortable.

3. Practice. This sounds dumb, but it works. Nothing ruins a really funny story than the teller laughing during the tell or including unimportant details. The more you tell a story, the better you'll get at it.

4. Be a gracious storyteller. When a group of people are sharing funny stories, don't start yours with "That's nothing" or "I can top that". If someone has told a great story and everyone is loving it, sometimes you should just hang back and laugh and let the teller enjoy the laugh. Save yours for another day. It will still be funny. If someone tells an awesome story, tell them "that is awesome".

5. I tell the same stories a lot, so I always give my listener an opt-out. "I told you about my wife and the immersion bender, didn't I?" Folks who heard it before don't have to listen again, and people who aren't interested at all can politely say "Yeah, I think so" and you don't bore someone. (Note:I actually do have a funny story about my wife and an immersion blender. It kills.)
posted by DWRoelands at 5:29 AM on December 24, 2012 [11 favorites]

Best answer: Be ANIMATED. Be invested in your story. If you sound really into it, others will be too.
Personally, I like it when people are willing to go the extra mile and do funny voices, act out certain parts, act ridiculous. However, these things should arise naturally. Looking too artificial will backfire.
posted by bobobox at 5:31 AM on December 24, 2012 [2 favorites]

I've noticed that my friends who tell the best stories always sacrifice truth on the altar of storytelling. Or, to be more charitable, find a truth that's more important than what a mere accurate rendering of the facts would have transmitted.
posted by empath at 5:43 AM on December 24, 2012 [1 favorite]

I'm a storyteller and I definitely spend a lot of time assessing every day situations for retell value and typically seek out those scenarios that allow me to be the most self deprecating because I don't like to make fun of anybody but myself when I tell a joke. Once I've figured out the punch line, I sort of casually consider the different ways to set up the story overall to make sure that points crucial to exposition are ready and established so I'm always moving the story along. Mostly, though, I just practice speaking extemporaneously whenever possible, and listen carefully to other people's narratives to learn from them (and delight in storytelling in general).
posted by These Birds of a Feather at 9:05 AM on December 24, 2012

My best stories are about that One Funny Moment. The expression on someone's face, the sudden realization of something, how this would look if someone only observed this scene without knowing how it got here...

Of course, to explain the moment takes some background, and that's what makes it a story. Usually there's a wrap-up portion ("everything turned out ok, though, " or, "so now I don't go to that Safeway anymore.") but the punch line is almost the end, and is the whole point of the story.

But it has to be about the one moment. "Let me tell you about my trip to Osaka" has to be about one representative funny moment that sums the whole thing up.
posted by ctmf at 10:33 AM on December 24, 2012

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