help me be funny
May 18, 2016 8:11 AM   Subscribe

I want to be funnier, as in, making people actually laugh, ideally having ‘funny’ be one of the descriptors friends and acquaintances use for me. I don’t really mean for stand-up, scripted, or professional purposes, just in general everyday scenarios and conversation. How do I go about this? Is there anything I can do to flex and tone those muscles? Details on dealbreakers etc. under the cut.

So yeah I want to be funny(er). Most of the resources I see are for stand-up and crafting scripted jokes which is fine but I'd like to hone it for the everyday. I really admire for example people in interviews who have an easy humor. I'm wondering if some of that is self-confidence and willingness to make mistakes but I could do with some guidance.

I have a good sense of humor and people seem to think I’m pretty amusing but I want to up my game. That said, I have a pretty deep streak of social anxiety and deep remorse for things I’ve said going back to when I was like 12 sooo….. but it’s still a part of who I am and a part that I like and I think it’s worth developing. And also, my sense of humor is pretty weird apparently for a lot of people, moreso than I tend to think. I guess ‘goofball’ might apply, lame/dad humor on occasion, but often really bizarre/surreal/dada stuff as well. So.... a lot of tumblr humor basically. I shift a lot between dry/sardonic tone and overt enthusiasm.

Things I already know or suspect:
Reading the room — I think I already have a natural style I enjoy but I know that won’t work for everyone and I’m not sure how to be more flexible in that (within reason).
Medium matters (twitter vs. tumblr vs. real world conversation)

Dealbreakers include traditionally “edgy” or "shock" humor, deliberately offensive humor, extreme vitriolic anger, sexual/raunchy humor (I'm afab and while sexual humor seems to be one of the accepted kinds for women I am not gr8 with it for various reasons)
Things I think I'm pretty good with are self-effacing stuff, observational, sometimes movie riffing, uhhh I don’t even know really, I’m basically a total novice here. I think I’m pretty much one-liners and observations, I don’t do a lot of setup, which I think in casual conversation might be difficult anyway. In this article for example I think I am best when working with exaggeration and surprise.

I love satire but I’m not sure if it’s something I can pull off because it’s a delicate balancing act even professionals and the idea that I might go too far makes me nervous and probably guarantees I’ll tank. I really am not into comedy that starts out with the intent of hurting people's feelings or deliberately harassing marginalized groups. Punch up and all that.

Doing something like stand-up would be awesome someday but that’s just not where I’m at. Still, if you have any really good resources for things like developing a set/approach/etc. on hand I'm sure I'd appreciate that too.
posted by suddenly, and without warning, to Human Relations (39 answers total) 15 users marked this as a favorite
Do some improv workshops, or practice at home if you're shy.

Have you done any debate? That helps focus the mind on what you're hearing so you can use it as a springboard for some material you've already learned.

Talk back to the TV. :7)

Watch MST3k episodes and listen to No Such Thing As A Fish podcasts, and try to get a sense for their tricks (like noticing when something gets a laugh, and re-using the same line later to get a second laugh).
posted by wenestvedt at 8:15 AM on May 18, 2016 [2 favorites]

Sometimes even if you've read the room right, a joke attempt will fall flat. It happens to even the funniest people! Maybe they didn't get it, maybe the person who would have led the laughter didn't quite hear the joke. Be prepared to deal with a fail lightly, and move on in the conversation.
posted by tomboko at 8:16 AM on May 18, 2016 [7 favorites]

And then realize that if you force it, it may never come, and also that there is a burden to being The Funny Guy, who no one will ever take entirely seriously. Be careful what you wish for, you know?
posted by wenestvedt at 8:16 AM on May 18, 2016

Two suggestions, connected to each other:
  • Go hang out with an improv group for a while (I suspect you're gonna see a lot more of this.
  • Take more risks. I suspect that many funny people aren't actually more funny per interjected comment, they just keep throwing out the punchlines until one lands.
I also think that stand-up occupies a different space than being spontaneously funny. Stand-up sets get a lot more time to set up the gag, and a gag can last a lot longer.
posted by straw at 8:17 AM on May 18, 2016

If you choose to actively pursue being The Funny Guy, please keep in mind (Mefi's own) jscalzi's observation on The Failure Mode of Clever.
posted by sourcequench at 8:24 AM on May 18, 2016 [14 favorites]

I second doing improv. It'll help keep you sharp and thinking on your feet. You'll also meet funny people and nothing makes you funnier than hanging out with funny people.

Write. Write funny stuff. Don't confuse "making fun of stuff" with being funny, though it sounds like you've already figured that out. Find your voice, don't copy others.

Read. Read funny stuff. The Onion and its subsites are pretty good at skewing the way we look at things. I almost never read beyond the headlines, but there's really no need to do that.

One thing to keep in mind is that not everyone will get you. Find your audience. For my entire life a whole lot of people have told me I'm funny. In 46 now and people still tell me I'm funny. I don't try to be funny, I just kind of make observations and I have a skewed way of looking at the world and it comes across as humor. So people tell me I'm funny. But... a whole lot of people also tell me I'm not funny. Some people even hate me for it, it seems. You'll see that in every MeFi thread about anyone funny. People will just jump in and make a statement that that critcally acclaimed funny person is not actually funny as everyone had thought, but they are actually unfunny. People are weird like that. Or just different, I guess.

So yeah, find your audience and don't be surprised if some people just kind of give you a weird look every time you open your mouth.

Try not to have regrets. I mean, if you realize later something you said was offensive, then by all means get mortified and apologize and let it eat at your for the rest of your life, but if you just say something and it amuses you but nobody else gets it, that's fine. Amuse yourself first. Sometimes jokes are just going to be for you and nobody else.

Know when to shut your yapper. You don't have to be on 24/7. People like funny people but they also enjoy having normal conversations.

There is humor in everything but not everything is a punchline. Took me years to figure that one out.

I use Twitter as an outlet for my observations. Sometimes people give me feedback, other times I hear crickets chirp. That's fine. Not everything is going to be a winner. Follow funny people, say funny things.

Watch the movie Airplane! at least every three years.
posted by bondcliff at 8:31 AM on May 18, 2016 [9 favorites]

I got the hot sweats just reading the word 'improv' over and over again in this thread already so that's probably a good sign
posted by suddenly, and without warning, at 8:36 AM on May 18, 2016 [9 favorites]

I sort of agree with the suggestion of improv.

Be aware although a lot of improv is comedy training to improvise isn't learning how to be funny. In fact trying to be funny, clever or quick witted is generally not useful to the scene or your own self esteem. Doing improv will probably make you funnier though because you'll get better at playing with people and rolling with ideas.

I think taking a clowning course might actually be a slightly better route:
-it's even more directly about entertaining the audience
-it involves connecting with the audience so will build your reading the room skills
-it's about falling forward
-more physical which is good if you're anxious

However you might find it even more terrifying for you than improv.

A deeper and more trite suggestion is "be yourself." Of course there isn't really a core, constant self. So what this means in practise is "relax and share your inner world."

Usually what is funny about people is very personal and comes from their unique history and perspective on the world. Even what you feel is completely obvious may be weird and intriguing for others.
posted by Erberus at 8:50 AM on May 18, 2016 [3 favorites]

What makes you laugh or is interesting to you? If you concentrate on amusing yourself, and share what you think is funny, you'll find other people who think the way you do.

From my experience, every funny person crashes and burns every now and again. Not everything works.

I've also found that the ability to make people laugh comes and goes. Every now and again, when the gods choose to smile on someone, they can control the room and make everyone laugh uproariously. I have had that happen to me a few times in my life - I have no idea why that happens, or how to reproduce it.

But be careful: if you make more friends because you're funny, they might expect you to be funny all of the time. That gets wearying after a time. For a cautionary tale, look up the biography of Peter Cook - he was almost literally incapable of not being funny, and it wore him down.
posted by tallmiddleagedgeek at 8:57 AM on May 18, 2016 [4 favorites]

Not all funny people can do improv, by the way. I am funny and quick in conversation with my friends or small groups. I get big laughs! But the pressure and expectations of improv are too much for me, I'm flat out terrible at it. Believe me, I've tried. I just seize up and go tharn. But - you can learn a lot about funny from just watching improv, too. Live and unedited, so you can see what happens when they flail and how they deal with it.
posted by tomboko at 9:11 AM on May 18, 2016 [1 favorite]

And improv isn't (just) about being funny - it's about slowly building interesting scenes, usually with the help of your scene partners.
posted by tallmiddleagedgeek at 9:14 AM on May 18, 2016 [1 favorite]

I agree that improv is a good skill set to have, but I am not convinced that being funny in a lite relaxed breezy way can be taught. I think if you are already naturally funny, getting to know people better and being more comfortable may make you more relaxed and thus more natural and funny.

I cannot tell a joke if my life depended on it, but I can make a quip to anyone I meet. Play to your natural talents.
posted by AugustWest at 9:18 AM on May 18, 2016 [2 favorites]

This is just a supplement to the other suggestions, but one of the things that I've always used to separate "people who tell some jokes" from "Funny People" is the ability to refer back to previous topics. Somebody says something, someone else makes a joke about it, and then the subject gets changed, and just when you think everyone's forgotten about the first thing, the Funny Person makes a comment that relates the first thing to the current topic. This requires a good memory, an ability to find a connection between unrelated topics, and the patience to be able to wait until the right moment. People realize those things are more difficult that just making a quick quip in the moment.
posted by kevinbelt at 9:23 AM on May 18, 2016 [11 favorites]

Jokes aren't funny. There's a social expectation to laugh at jokes, but it's a coercive social practice - people will respond to jokes through politeness or conditioning or whatever but in general it's not a true, heartfelt humour. Don't tell jokes.

In fact, trying to be funny is one of the worst things you can do if you want to be genuinely funny. There's nothing worse than the expectant look of a joke-teller gazing longingly into your eyes, willing you to laugh, to validate them in that moment. Even witty utterances that aren't formally jokes are terrible when delivered by someone so desperate to please, to be appreciated. Don't be witty.

Puns are also awful but that should go without saying. Puns are just about showing off your own linguistic aptitude - they are elitist and actually contain nothing that is funny. By some historical accident, puns are lumped in with things that make us laugh. Ignore that mistake. Don't make puns.

Funny observations can be funny, but not if it's just about why something sucks. Thinking things suck is easy. We might laugh because it resonates with us that the thing sucks, but it's not great to go through life hating on things. Don't snark.

Falling over is always funny. Practice falling over safely.

Overall, it's always the effortlessness, the ease of delivery that allows things to be funny. Humility and creating a real social connection. It won't make an unfunny statement into something humorous, but it is a precondition.
posted by iivix at 9:23 AM on May 18, 2016 [6 favorites]

Former comedy writer here.

When I was in my early teens, I noticed that if I made a deliberate joke, people would usually groan. But sometimes when I expressed what I thought was a serious observation, people would laugh. I started paying attention to the things I said that made people laugh, and tried to figure out what those things had in common. Eventually, I realized that they all approached the truth from a particular angle. The best way I can articulate that angle is that it was unique enough to me that other people wouldn't have seen it themselves, but close enough to other people's worldview that they could, in a flash, see where I was coming from. That flash -- that moment of recognition -- is where humor lies.

I would encourage you to pay close attention to the things you say that make other people laugh, and try to figure out where that unique comic angle is for you. This is going to involve a lot of stumbles and mistakes, but that's inevitable when you're trying to improve any skill.

Along the way, keep in mind that any joke relies on one or more unspoken assumptions that the listener must hold in common with the teller. The greater the cultural gap between you and your listener, the fewer assumptions you will both hold in common, and the less subtle your humor must be. Or to put it another way-- every joke requires a complex and extended setup. It's just that sometimes, your listeners entire life experiences will provide that setup for you. And sometimes, it won't. You'll want to be conscious not just of the angle from which you approach reality, but the angle your listener does, too.

Humor is simply another channel of communication. If you are trying out forms of humor that don't come naturally to you, it will be like communicating outside your native language, and you will sometimes convey the wrong message. If that happens, the best way to avoid hurt feelings is to explicitly state the message you were trying to convey. "I'm sorry, I was just joking" won't always be sufficient. Instead, try something like, "I'm sorry. I was trying to poke fun at my own clumsiness but I'm afraid it sounded like I was insulting you. That wasn't my intent at all."

Finally and most crucially, remember that humor can go amiss, but kindness never does. No one will ever leave a conversation saying, "She was a wonderful listener and treated me with total respect, but she failed to make me laugh AND THEREFORE I DESPISE HER."
posted by yankeefog at 9:30 AM on May 18, 2016 [32 favorites]

Also commitment makes funny things funnier. Making something funny into a joke sorta undermines it's full comic potential. Saying something ridiculous with deadly seriousness I think is a winning strategy. This is the sort of thing people learn from improv.
posted by iivix at 9:31 AM on May 18, 2016 [7 favorites]

I'd say you should also think about focusing on giving yourself a good foundation first for better participation in the moment. Anything that moves you towards being able to feel 'more inherently' is a great start; from there, it's mostly observational skills, reading the energy, and knowing when to toe the line. It's sort of like mindfulness for social situations. Find the rhythm of the social dynamic, pace yourself, and live into your attitude so you are able to relax deeper into it (like a yoga pose!). Watch for opportunities where you've got a 'clincher' key turn-of-phrase, but then don't get too caught up in actually delivering or not.

Frankly, practice. Practice is the reason you're getting suggestions for theatrical improvisation over and over again; it will teach you this skill, I guarantee it. And, trust me, it's not so bad, really! I bet you'll love it if you're interested in being that person who wants to have that little insight now-and-then that makes people go "oh! ha! nice." That's pretty much the feel in these classes.

See if there's a local beginner improv scene in your theatre community. I know one near me has a free-to-enter intro class, then they ramp up into $20/class for learning levels beyond that. Fair enough. Take a friend! I promise it won't be half as nerve-wracking as you think it is: a lot of it is fun little game-y exercises, mostly predicated on the notion of just saying "and yes, . . ." to everything, even if it's really crazy. That sort of don't-reject-your-thoughts attitude is exactly how I felt Robin Williams was always able to live into his characters so well. He went for it by completely diving into the deep end and out the other side!

So, I guess what I'm trying to say is, take risks--! including... an improv class. :) I think, really, really, you won't regret it if you do.
posted by a good beginning at 9:45 AM on May 18, 2016

do you enjoy telling stories? Maybe reading up on pointers for "how to be a good storyteller" might give you a natural place to start, if improv doesn't quite fit/feel right. Improv is great for many things in life, although I think improv might be best approached as "(re-)learning to play" rather than going for the joke immediately/all the time.

I also think there's something to just learning to be a warm, likeable person (which it sounds like you are already) - although some the funniest folks I know are not particularly warm or likeable.

I can't remember if I read this about a more famous writer or it it was just about a friend, but I remember thinking that my friend Anne always had the best stories about the craziest things that happened to her...and then one day i realized it wasn't that crazy stuff happened to her that much, it was just because she could make a trip to the bank sound like a whirlwind ride of excitement.

And, as a final nerdy point, I remember reading about a study where they were trying to determine the funniest words, and the main conclusion they reached was that phrases that were seemingly not funny out of context were hilarious within context, and they tended to be simple, something like, "Well that worked out well". The other conclusion is that, across cultures and different languages, the words for "duck" and "chicken" were ranked as pretty funny. Also "underpants".
posted by leemleem at 9:49 AM on May 18, 2016

The value of improv (and hopefully you find a school that operates from this perspective) is learning to think on your feet, funny or not.

Being on stage also gives me the cold sweats, but for a while my husband was working his way through two separate improv schools simultaneously and so that made up a huge part of our social lives, and I decided to participate instead of just hanging-on. It was so good for me. I loved the classes and hated the showcases, but I am a better public speaker, better trainer (I do a lot of software-related teaching), a better listener, and better in conversation. I only did 2 levels of classes, since after that there's an expectation of real seriousness, but it was enough and I made some friends and did a brave thing.

Over the door from the green room to the stage, they'd painted LYMFAO: Listen Your Motherfucking Ass Off, because that's really the key. Yes And is important for keeping the flow going, but you can't Yes something you didn't hear in the first place. Listening harder makes you sharper, and improv is a nice dedicated place to go practice that until it becomes a habit.
posted by Lyn Never at 9:50 AM on May 18, 2016 [6 favorites]

Improv doesn't have to be a terrifying thing where you're in front of a paying audience. I go to a regular (monthly) improv workshop where the only audience is the people doing the workshop. It's a very low-pressure situation, anyone is welcome to jump up for a game or a scene but nobody is forced to.

The more confident members of the workshop have a troupe that anyone is welcome to audition for but there is no pressure to do that either.

I don't know if this is unique, as it's the only improv group I've ever been involved in, but my point is that you might be able to find an improv situation that works with your comfort level.

Also, jokes are funny.
posted by bondcliff at 9:56 AM on May 18, 2016 [2 favorites]

Improv yeah yeah. I do that, it's great for what you need. Which is, yes, all the specific skills they'll teach, but also, and just as important, the environment and the community within which you'll play and learn. You'll find people you click with (along with plenty you don't, fair warning) and you'll, if things go well, just get in the flow with yourself and your comedy.

It's definitely not for everyone — plenty of very funny standups fail miserably at improv, it's just not how they're wired — but I think it's super important to try it and see. It could do the trick.

Here's my main advice for you if you jump in, though: on day one (and every day hence) do not try to be funny. Yes watch what makes people laugh, watch what works, but don't push anything out that doesn't come out naturally. It sounds like you are already naturally pretty funny; improv puts you in situations where that natural comedy can shine.

There are people in every intro improv class who are convinced they are Funny and who try every time to be Funny and by god they are so hard to play with and they are, really, not getting much from the class.

Okay last piece of advice, not improv-related: Love the bomb. I learned this from Colbert and it is so so important. The little comic world inside your head is great and strange and funny; sometimes—often, even—it won't translate to the outside world. If you can shift your frame from "If nobody laughs I'm the worst" to "If nobody laughs by god it's hilarious" you will succeed*. Success, someone said, is moving from failure to failure with enthusiasm. Do that.

* Go to some standup open mics and watch what happens when a joke fails. There's this beat where the audience reaction should be and then, just after, a laugh from the other comics in the room. They're laughing at the effort, the attempt, the failure. A sort of comitragedy on a small scale. Try to bring that sort of lightness to your own work.
posted by wemayfreeze at 10:09 AM on May 18, 2016 [4 favorites]

I'm considered funny by people who know me, and I can't tell an anecdote nor joke properly--I just don't have the timing.
But I see the absurd in everyday situations and find a way to point out those moments in casual conversation. There's a difference between "saying funny things" and "saying things funny".
posted by Ideefixe at 10:10 AM on May 18, 2016 [2 favorites]

Oh also, because improv is definitely not for everybody, there are standup classes and sketch writing classes, too, that are worth exploring. It sounds like you don't fully know what you want to do or be (hey, me too) and it's worth exploring all the comic outlets to see what clicks.
posted by wemayfreeze at 10:10 AM on May 18, 2016 [2 favorites]

Hey there! I'm a comedy writer!

I think what you probably want here is to be looser. The people I think are funny in my personal life are the people who can riff in surprising ways, tell good stories, and have sort of an improvisational way of doing things. I definitely think "Yes, And..." is a great tip to bring into your everyday interactions with people.

In terms of my comedian friends and how they are funny socially, this is what it is. Someone will make a hypothetical or say a "wouldn't it be weird if..." type of statement, and then others in the conversation run with it. Timing and "reading the room" can come into play here (some people are just not into "what if you farted on the moon?" as a thing they want to talk about), but really it's the sense of fun and openness that makes it an interesting conversational style.

Listening is also much more important than talking. This is why prepared jokes will not come off as being as funny as someone with a relaxed, improvisational conversation style.

You say you don't want to be funny as in a professional comedian, but I actually think taking an improv class, especially the ones geared towards lay-people, could really help you with this. On the other hand, I would definitively *not* take a class on sketch writing or standup, because those lead to being a comedy writer or a standup comedian, which you say you don't want to do. Also, writing jokes is not going to help you become funnier in a social context. That's a totally different skillset from the one you say you want to develop. On the other hand, a storytelling class (again, especially one geared towards non-comedians) could be just the thing.
posted by Sara C. at 10:32 AM on May 18, 2016 [7 favorites]

As mentioned above, seeing the absurd in everyday situations is funny, and bonus, there's an endless supply of material right at your fingertips. However, as mentioned above, not everyone finds the same things funny. For example.

(I think) Puns are funny! I think they're just about the funniest thing ever. (I think) messing cleverly with the language is genius. YMMV.

(I think) Falling down (or any sort of slapstick) is deeply unfunny. Why would you laugh at someone else's misfortune? Never understood America's FUNNIEST Home Videos, they alway strike me as tragic. YMMV.

The callback, also mentioned above, is funny and smart. To me. Some people hate it (e.g., Metafilter: Why would you laugh at someone else's misfortune?).

What do you personally think is funny? Why? You know what's really funny? When someone wants to say something funny, but they just can't spit it out because they're crying from laughing so hard at themselves.
posted by WesterbergHigh at 10:36 AM on May 18, 2016

Puns are also awful but that should go without saying. Puns are just about showing off your own linguistic aptitude - they are elitist and actually contain nothing that is funny. By some historical accident, puns are lumped in with things that make us laugh. Ignore that mistake. Don't make puns.

This is incorrect; puns are great and most of the people who hate them are severely, severely unfunny.
posted by Greg Nog at 10:36 AM on May 18, 2016 [26 favorites]

The first thing to do if you want to be funnier in a casual kind of way is to ignore anyone's blanket statements about what is or is not funny.

Like 90% of my pro comedian friends adore puns, FWIW.
posted by Sara C. at 11:10 AM on May 18, 2016 [7 favorites]

Yeah, funny in normal conversation is either

- being a really good storyteller - which some people just are, naturally, and some people work at. I've seen people tell the same stories word for word at different parties. I personally think those people are kind of boring (maybe because I've heard the damn stories so many times), but some are entertained, new listeners I guess... So it's a skill that can be improved upon and can work (sometimes)...

- Seeing the absurd, definitely. Flipping an expectation. Putting two thoughts together that most people think are unlike. Involves freeing yourself to be loose, for sure

- Having good timing. Saying an ordinary thing, at the right time, in the right way, with the right expression (I vote for deadpan, mostly) can be good. Callbacks - work in standup, but people do it in conversation too... advanced skill imo, good storytellers do this. Repetition to absurdity (e.g. Family Guy) only works in life if you are committed and ok with people thinking of you as 'that dude'

(I'm a shitty storyteller, but not terrible at dropping the odd well-timed one liner. Also not bad at physical comedy.. but that's just being klutzy and sort of going with it.)
posted by cotton dress sock at 12:23 PM on May 18, 2016 [2 favorites]

I think I am best when working with exaggeration and surprise.

Dropping hot takes in conversation with exaggeration as the theme, delivered in a brisk, casual, and completely deadpan sort of way, is the kind of thing I've totally seen crack people up.

Most people who are "funny" IRL aren't comedy polymaths, they have regular wells that they dip in and those work for them because the humor comes naturally and doesn't sound forced. I knew a guy who could just slay me by saying dumb crude things in a weird voice at unexpected prompts. That is not my usual comedy bag and it is not a method I could effectively emulate, but he had a way of delivering it that just clicked.

So if you think you know what your strengths are, lean into those.
posted by prize bull octorok at 1:06 PM on May 18, 2016 [2 favorites]

(This is a really interesting AskMe; thanks for asking it!)
posted by wenestvedt at 6:33 PM on May 18, 2016 [2 favorites]

There are people who hate puns, people who love puns, and people who love hating puns.

I enjoy exaggeratedly groaning at my partner's puns, it's actually a significant part of the humor. They're so shamelessly bad it's glorious (and then there's the very occasional actually rather clever one... They do exist...)
posted by Cozybee at 11:29 PM on May 18, 2016 [1 favorite]

glad for some of the distinctions people are pointing out, especially the one about not trying to become That Funny Guy. I'm pretty sensitive about balance in conversation (probably oversensitive) so I'm not interested in hijacking or railroading conversations to suit my need to make people laugh, it's more about being better at finding and utilizing the opportunities when they come and honing those moments for greater effect

I do think a large part of this is going to be confidence or probably rather willingness to put myself out there and not worry about getting knocked down so that's been really good for me to hear. being "looser" is probably a large part of the equation.

I'm weird in a way that I hope isn't trite and I really don't think is forced because I'm not TRYING to be weird (trust me, I have tried NOT to be in Important Scenarios and whoo boy let me tell you... it's just a thing) but even among people who don't really 'get' my sort of humor it seems like when I say bizarre stuff with a specific degree of enthusiasm a lot of people still find something funny in it so there's that. maybe finding me funny instead of finding the thing i said funny which hey, I'm alright with that I think

thanks for all of your answers so far, very cool to hear from people with industry experience too
posted by suddenly, and without warning, at 2:50 AM on May 19, 2016

oh also, potentially interesting aside and something I've wondered about, but I'm bipolar and I've noticed changes in my mood have a pretty dramatic effect on my tone and "delivery" (not telling jokes but just when I toss stuff out) and how often I do or don't allow myself to say things, etc. this seems obvious but it was interesting to me when the thought first hit

and I really worry about the mania thing painting this inaccurate picture of me being funny from a skewed manic perspective but at the same time there's plenty of independent evidence, something I rely on pretty heavily to identify these things, to show that no, a significant number of people do think I'm legitimately entertaining. probably something to remember when reminding myself it's ok to take risks sometimes.

this was probably unnecessary rambling/detail but them's the breaks
posted by suddenly, and without warning, at 3:03 AM on May 19, 2016

Before I was comfortable with people and with who I am, I thought I was funny. I wasn't. Many years passed. As I became comfortable I became funny.

My humor is almost always generated on the spot, usually putting an unexpected view on the last thing someone else said. Sixty hours of improv training helped me be in the moment and be myself, unafraid or self conscious, in front of others.
posted by Homer42 at 6:36 AM on May 19, 2016 [2 favorites]

Another thing that could help is to watch really good Tv or movies where funny people talk very naturally to each other. It's a specific kind of comedy writing where the jokes are actually funny things casually said by modern humans who are friends rather than outlandish characters. Master of None and Catastrophe are the best things out there right now for that--I find that watching a couple eps of those is better than a few cups of coffee for making me see more lateral movements that are possible in a common conversation which are hopefully not annoying.
posted by Potomac Avenue at 7:21 AM on May 19, 2016

Another thing about being funny in conversations, you never apologize for saying something unfunny, but you always acknowledge it in a funny way. Unlike standup, friendly people will appreciate it if when you bomb a reference or make a bizarre analogy you wait a beat and say "Well that didn't make any sense, looks like the ecstasy just kicked in!" Or whatever.
posted by Potomac Avenue at 7:25 AM on May 19, 2016

Also (possibly last comment) there are many many ways to be funny. Not everyone funny is witty and not everyone witty is funny. Two of the funniest people I know are A and B.
A. rarely speaks and is mostly really sincere when he does. His point of view is so bizarre and he knows it so every so often he will blithely come out with amazingly funny insights into normal things like an observational comic. B. Never makes jokes but tells long discursive maddening stories about her own failures and follies that absolutely destroy.

The similarity is that they are inimitably themselves all the time, and when the opportunity presents itself to seize center stage and do their thing, they take it.
posted by Potomac Avenue at 7:34 AM on May 19, 2016

Nthing improv classes. I had to take improv comedy classes as part of the curriculum to work the Ren Faire (RPFS, for the curious). The classes gave me a good foundation, but the thing that helped even more was practicing talking to complete strangers and deliberately trying to engage them in an entertaining way. I did this from 10 am – 7 pm, at least 10 weekends a year, for 20-odd years. That's what, 3600ish hours? That's a lot of failure. ;)

But if something I said failed to be funny, then it was no big deal, because I had a constant flood of new people to practice on. I had other participants to play with and bounce ideas and bits off, and to build gigs with. It was an environment where it was safe to fail, and that was so valuable in building the skill of being funny. Improv classes are a less time-intensive way to get that same safe environment.

The classes will also help you recognize focus, and to give it and take it when appropriate, so that you don't become That Funny Guy™ who hogs all the attention.

And as a bonus, you'll become a lot better able to roll with the punches, conversationally. Suddenly having to make a presentation you didn't expect? No problem. Asking someone out? Piece of cake. Job interviews? Easy peasy. The confidence you get from failing to be funny and learning that the world doesn't end, is priceless.
posted by culfinglin at 2:07 PM on May 19, 2016 [1 favorite]

One thing that occurred to me last night: have a setup man. When you're working with other funny people, it's easier for you to be funny. Then, once you've found out your strengths, you can have your partner guide the conversation towards those (and you can do the same for him/her).
posted by kevinbelt at 2:32 PM on May 19, 2016

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