Make me make you laugh.
August 15, 2008 12:48 PM   Subscribe

How can I be funnier in person?

I like making people laugh. I've been told my writing is funny by several people. In person, however, it's a completely different story. I have the demeanor of a doctor who has to tell you the "bad news." (Wanna hang out some time?)

Any tips or ideas on becoming a funnier in person, particularly in a crowd of people. Books? Mental or physical exercises? Change of attitude? Is there a "state of mind" the aspiring comedian constantly tries to maintain?

Note: I don't have access to improv classes.

Other note: I may be opening a can of worms here, but I'm female. I'm only bringing this up because I feel there's a set of cultural expectations in the U.S. that make it harder for me to be funny in a scathing, ballbusting way. I love busting people's chops (playfully), but I often hold back because yes, I don't want to risk "hurting their feelings."

(I'd love for somebody to tell me I'm imagining this though, and that the route for becoming "funnier" as a woman is the same as for a man.)
posted by uxo to Human Relations (53 answers total) 22 users marked this as a favorite
 
Don't walk into social situations expecting yourself to be a comedienne. First, just be comfortable. Listen, smile. If you think of something funny to say, say it. But don't think you should be Juno or Kathy Griffin, constantly making wisecracks and busting people up.
posted by HotPatatta at 1:01 PM on August 15, 2008


It's better to act and ask for forgiveness than to ask permission to act! Rip em' apart! They can take it. A good burn is great fun! You'll be able to tell if you went too far, it sounds like your "empathic skills" are top notch... I'm right there with ya =p
posted by alcoth at 1:08 PM on August 15, 2008


you can bust chops playfully and not hurt feelings, but there are still people who will think you're a bitch. sucks, but that's just how things play out. if you're afraid of saying things because someone might not like you, you're never going to be funny in the way that you want to be because making fun of people requires both the ability and willingness to repeatedly go out on a limb. it is harder as a woman.
posted by lia at 1:09 PM on August 15, 2008 [1 favorite]


Use your demeanor to your advantage, make it part of your "shtick." I don't know what style of humor you have, but if you can pull of deadpan it can be a beautiful thing.

Watch other comedians. Not for their jokes, but for their delivery. Try and find people who are more like you in their demeanor and see how they pull it off. While you shouldn't mimic other comics, it is good to watch and see their techniques, the same way musicians watch each other.

Finally, practice your delivery. In front of friend, in front of the mirror, by yourself - whatever. Confidence in your ability to deliver what you're saying is important in any sort of public speaking. Try open mic nights if you can find them.

This is all geared towards being a comic, of course.
posted by cimbrog at 1:12 PM on August 15, 2008


Self-deprecation is key.

It is much easier for people to laugh at your sense of humor when you're the butt of your own jokes. It's never a good idea to be TOO nasty to other people at first because a) unless you REALLY know them and their sensitivities you could spoil other people's opinions of you very quickly and b) it just isn't nice. There's a fine line to be drawn here though. You don't want to go too overboard with it because then you run the risk of looking like a down on yourself sad sack.

I will say though, your personality (as you describe it, at least) can be a valuable asset. Potentially, you could deliver very dry, sarcastic lines, and you're probably the last person that other people would expect that from. Remember, laughter is really just a reaction (one of many) to something completely unexpected. Keep that in mind, practice enough, and don't overthink it and you'll be in good shape.

Good Luck!
posted by Rewind at 1:14 PM on August 15, 2008 [3 favorites]


Be careful with scathing, ballbusting humor. It can often be perceived as a barrage of complaints or a tendency to carp on the negative. I speak from painful, awkward social experience here (I thought I was being wittily observant and daring, others thought I was just complaining and being a pain in the ass).

That said, to practice busting out the ballbusters, try keeping a video diary for your own private use. Use your brand of humor in your entries. Wait a good month ro so before you start reviewing the entries, so that you can see and hear them with fresher eyes and ears.

Pay attention not only to what you say, but your tone of voice, expresson and body language. How does it come across?
posted by Flipping_Hades_Terwilliger at 1:17 PM on August 15, 2008


I'm similar in that I'm "text-funny" but for the longest time, I couldn't convert that into "in-person funny," and even now I'm hardly the life of the party.

But there are two kinds of funny; for the sake of argument I'll call them "flood funny" and "targeted funny." Flood funny is the Robin Williams free-associating mile-a-minute funny, where you've always got some sort of quick comeback, and even if you're not hilarious 75% of the time, batting .250 still nets results when you're at bat 60 times a minute.

The other type of funny is the person that doesn't say much, just observes, and then says something insightful and funny when the flood-person shuts up for a second. That's a better choice for "text-funny" people, as the strength comes from wordplay and situational manipulation rather than speed and volume.

So the first suggestion I have is: stop talking. And don't say anything unless you have to, and unless you're 100% damn sure it's worth saying. You'll be surprised how quickly you get tagged "the smart funny one." After a while, you'll notice there's a subtle pause when you open your mouth.

Second suggestion: listen to comedy. Obvious, yes, but very instructive and helpful. It's 25% material and 75% delivery, and knowing which comics you like will also tell you what their delivery is like, and in my case, the delivery is often more wry and observational than yakka-wakka-dooo -- from Bob Newhart through Stephen Wright on to Demetri Martin and Eddie Izzard. That, in turn, informs how you'll be funny in public.

Golden rule: Saying it in a funny voice does not make it funny. It never does.
posted by Shepherd at 1:18 PM on August 15, 2008 [5 favorites]


Pop culture references are standard fare and generally avoid the problem of hurt feelings stemming from busting on somebody directly. (Of course that presumes you keep up with pop culture.) Family Guy impressions (example) are current favorites in my neck o' the woods.

I, for one, LOVE riffing playfully with a girl, busting each others' chops. (I nicknamed a girl "Anus", from an answer she gave in a trivia game, and she nicknamed me "Quickie", for my presumed lack of sexual prowess -- I guess you had to be there...) Totally depends on the other person, of course, and you have to enjoy -- and encourage -- getting burned back.
posted by LordSludge at 1:19 PM on August 15, 2008


Be careful with the dry sarcasm thing. That's my style, but many times my delivery is too dry, and even my own freaking wife thinks I'm being absolutely serious.
posted by owtytrof at 1:25 PM on August 15, 2008


I just have to say this: girls who bust my chops (I'm a guy) in a playful, loving way, make me insanely horny.
posted by sully75 at 1:26 PM on August 15, 2008


I love busting people's chops

Which is fine if you're hanging out with easy going people who like joking around at each other's expense, but that type of humor only goes over with a certain crowd.

The truly funny people I know have a range of humor options. They can be the funny ballbuster, or the guy cracking Kafka jokes at the lit-club.

No, that doesn't mean that you need to read Kafka, but a well rounded sense of current events, history and the like will allow you to make funny connections, create innuendo, and demonstrate the sort of wit that comes from being a keen observer.

Also, realize that sometimes you're going to be "on" and other times you're not. This presents a problem if being "on" tires you out (as it does me) so that you actually avoid get togethers and the like just because you don't feel like having to be funny.

Oh yeah, alcohol.
posted by wfrgms at 1:26 PM on August 15, 2008


A lot of funny writing is scathing, the sort of thing that makes you laugh in print but would sound totally hurtful if said out load, to someone's face. Usually, it's commenting on someone else not in the picture, and you (the author) and the reader can gang up on a third person who is less tangible and thus easier to make fun of.

In person, it's very different. For one thing, it has to be a bit more immediate, so that the humor fits into the conversation. In writing, humor can often develop slowly, or use clever wordplay...these things don't work in person generally.

You can make fun of people, but only make fun of people in areas in which they are not insecure. For example, I occasionally say dumb things, but I know that I am not stupid, so if someone jokingly calls me an idiot I'm not hurt. But if someone was saying that I was arrogant or insensitive, even in a joking manner, I'd be upset hearing about it because inside I fear that I display these traits occasionally and I would take it personally. Basically, a good rule of thumb for safe, funny insults is: imagine if you took all the funny parts out and said it as if it were a factual statement; would the person (or others) believe that statement to be an honest attack? If so, you probably should not say it.
posted by Deathalicious at 1:27 PM on August 15, 2008


Dramatic pauses.
posted by plexi at 1:31 PM on August 15, 2008 [2 favorites]


Just say anything that comes to mind, the more truthful the better. Well, I don't mean that literally, that would cause all kinds of problems. But lacking inhibition is good comedy lubricant.

If people can't accept you as a funny woman, find new friends. They're being incredibly sexist. I have more female "clowns" in my group of friends than male ones, it has never been an issue.
posted by sixcolors at 1:31 PM on August 15, 2008


I'm definitely a funny girl in person, some times more than others, and I can relate to your concerns about how it's tougher for women to be funny by doing things that men can do.

Being smart + pretty + funny in ANY amounts winds up being a little intimidating to people. Your have POWER!! You can cut people down in ways that can really hurt them, you can be the top bitch with your skills. You have to be ready to ride that fearing you and despairing shit out, and be visibly humble, nice, friendly, etc. to offset that, to make people feel comfortable laughing with you.

Also, mastering the sort of poise that turns the spotlight onto you effectively when you are speaking, so that people are paying attention to you fully, helps.

The other thing that it sounds like you might need to think about is your body language. If you're a little uncomfortable or insecure when you think you're being funny, worried about being misinterpreted, you might hold yourself in a way that connotes tension, not play.
posted by Ambrosia Voyeur at 1:46 PM on August 15, 2008


Response by poster: Thanks a lot for these responses, people. You sound like a bunch of smart folk. No, really.

I love dry humor and even Kafka. I can't wait to incorporate my bit on "The Castle" at the next kegger.

I actually think my humor is actually geared towards silliness, because I think my wit is slow, if next-to-non-existent.

My delivery tends to suck, so I will try cimbrog's advice of practicing in front of a mirror.

Wfrgms--yes, being "on" takes energy for me! If you're actually avoiding people because of a pressure to be "on", that's a sign you're probably hilarious.
posted by uxo at 1:46 PM on August 15, 2008


Response by poster: These are suggestions I've never considered. Thank you.

Too many best answers to mark here.
posted by uxo at 1:53 PM on August 15, 2008


If you're actually avoiding people because of a pressure to be "on", that's a sign you're probably hilarious.

Uh... yeah, hilarious.

Or unwashed.

Whichever.
posted by wfrgms at 2:05 PM on August 15, 2008


This is something you either have or don't have. You can't learn to be funny.

Pop culture/topical humor is almost never funny.
posted by Zambrano at 2:11 PM on August 15, 2008 [2 favorites]


Don't take anything too seriously.
posted by phrontist at 2:13 PM on August 15, 2008


Accept that someone will end up thinking you're an ass.
posted by Benjy at 2:13 PM on August 15, 2008


Use your demeanor to your advantage, make it part of your "shtick." I don't know what style of humor you have, but if you can pull of deadpan it can be a beautiful thing. Watch other comedians. Not for their jokes, but for their delivery. Try and find people who are more like you in their demeanor and see how they pull it off.

An example is Rita Rudner. (This is based on seeing her some years ago; I don't know what she is doing now or whether she has changed.) Her shtick was to begin serious and earnest, but before you saw it coming, she was telling you things that were outrageous and bizarre.

Might work for solemn-old-you. Good luck.
posted by JimN2TAW at 2:18 PM on August 15, 2008


Clown shoes?

I know a few people that I find hilarious.Most of the humor is in story-telling but what's interesting is that the stories aren't in an of themselves funny. The humor comes in part from unconventional word choices (one friend uses words/terms that sometimes make him sound like he grew up in the 19th century) and of course delivery. The delivery is the hard part, but great word choices really make me laugh. I like a a lot of different types of humor but I especially admire humor that employs a pointed use of vocabulary (and I don't really mean word-play.) If I was going to analyze it I'd say there's a bit of poetry in a lot of humor/comedy...
posted by ob at 2:19 PM on August 15, 2008


It's like Ice Cube said. You either got it, or you don't.
posted by xmutex at 2:26 PM on August 15, 2008


Response by poster: Like a couple of you commenting, I used to believe some people were born funny, and some people weren't.

If you're a great comedian, obviously I think there's some combination of genes and unique life experience that's going to make you that way, and can't be replicated.

But based on watching people actually improve their standup over a period of time makes me think there's at least room to grow for many of us "middling" folks.

Look, I don't want to be America's Top Comedian here. I do make people laugh (though whether it's from pity, I can't say). I just want to do it on a more regular basis.
posted by uxo at 2:39 PM on August 15, 2008


Pop culture/topical humor is almost never funny.

Haha -- know your audience!
posted by LordSludge at 2:39 PM on August 15, 2008


Yep, not everyone will find the same things funny.

And then there's the risk of coming off as trying way too hard. Practice? Eh. People sometimes have a surprising ability to sense authenticity in social events. And when that happens, from everyone I've observed, such an impression is less favorable than just being "dull." Perhaps you have more "innate" talent, but I wouldn't know. Perhaps the self-deprecating kind is safest.

I discovered my own biting wit that I didn't know about until I hit upon a very particular circle of friends. I think finding comfortable harmony with a specific group of people is key, otherwise there's that big risk of coming off as counterfeit and possibly making the completely wrong impression--which may or may not be fixable with an apology depending on circumstances. Perhaps you're not worried about that kind of setting.

Your writing is great? Start a blog. Plug it into circles and see it get popular (no, it really does happen). Who knows?
posted by Ky at 2:50 PM on August 15, 2008


Dramatic pauses.
posted by plexi at 3:31 PM

The difference between the almost right word & the right word is really a large matter--it's the difference between the lightning bug and the lightning.
Mark Twain


Use these two pieces -- and from your description of yourself, you usually have the right word available to you, right there on the tip of your tongue -- use these two pieces along with your deadpan demeanor and you can become devastating, you can bring down the house.

The funniest speakers I know do use self-deprecating humor, not so much that they are putting themselves down, just that they are showing you that they are human also, they'll show you theirs, and that allows you to show yours, and that is always welcomed.

This is something you either have or don't have. You can't learn to be funny.
posted by Zambrano at 4:11 PM


I can't disagree more -- you can learn to be funny. In fact, for most people that I know who are funny, it is learned -- there are only so many Robin Williams out there. The old saying "If it's worth doing, it's worth doing poorly." comes to mind here -- you can't always start out being the best guitar player, or bicycle rider, or tattoo artist, or carpenter, though there are some people who do have a natural bent toward any or all of those.

But most of us have to practice, we have to find our way, we can't play with language in real time until we've learned how to use it with confidence first. I bet Stevie Ray didn't bust out into Texas Flood the first time he picked up a guitar and almost certainly the first time he played it he wasn't playing with the guitar behind his back -- he had to practice, often onstage, live, in person.

The route for becoming "funnier" is the same for a woman as it is for a man. Funny, as noted above, is about timing, it's about the unexpected, it's about creative use of the exact right word, body language, and demeanor.

Have fun!
posted by dancestoblue at 2:53 PM on August 15, 2008


I'm not the funniest guy around, but I do make people laugh. That's my thing, my act, my gimmick. I'll give you the easiest way to get laughs: develop an eye for the ridiculous, encapsulate the situation in a short sentence as soon as you observe it, and then deliver that sentence at such a time that the spotlight is thrown on the exact ridiculous element. It's not the end-all-be-all of comedy, but it's a good starting point. Hell, ninety percent of standup comedy uses this method; the basis of all observational comedy.
posted by Willie0248 at 2:56 PM on August 15, 2008


A lot of funny writing is scathing, the sort of thing that makes you laugh in print but would sound totally hurtful if said out loud, to someone's face.

This confounded me for a long time. Things that people say in sitcoms? Writing-funny, often outright assholish. Not in-person funny. It's funny because you would never say it in real life, even though everyone might want to. If you are trying to be a sitcom, don't do that.
posted by kindall at 3:31 PM on August 15, 2008


I don't know how much it would help to try any particular techniques, or specific kinds of things to say, or joke structures, that other people suggest. Because what makes you funny is probably exactly what makes you unique. What works for one person doesn't necessarily work for someone else, obviously.

So the key is being yourself.

Turn off the internal censor.

Just say what you think is funny or (better) whatever occurs to you naturally in any given situation. Don't try to be funny.

You should have an inner confidence that you're funny, but you also shouldn't expect anyone else to think you're funny.

Self-deprecation is good, but not necessarily required. You can say something funny about something else without drawing attention to your own humility (real or false).

That said, considering how you describe yourself, deadpan humor may be the key.

Since you mention you're funny in print but not as much in person, a funny thing to say if you bomb might be "That was hilarious on paper," or "That would have gotten a huge laugh on MetaFilter," or "That was way funnier when I submitted it to the New Yorker." For example.

My favorite running gag is, when someone says something unintelligible, or makes an irreproducible sound, to say "That's what I always say." The underlying humor (to me) is that what I always say is "That's what I always say."

Clearly I'm a fan of the self-referential and the absurd. And, frankly, I'm far more interested in entertaining myself than anyone else. But that seems to work for me most of the time.
posted by gohlkus at 4:36 PM on August 15, 2008


Funny is hard to develop, because it is the opposite of earnest. So the harder you work at funny, the lamer the likely results.

Funny is about jarring category shifts. For example, in a fun, but totally throw-away thread that links to grainy video footage of a side-stepping gnome, acetonic comments:

It's a sad world where a few guys can't video themselves crouching in a filthy alley without being menaced by sidestepping viral gnomes.

Now, in my opinion, that's the funniest comment ever posted to Metafilter. Acetonic comes in all sad, sad Senator Lieberman-like to deplore the state of the modern world, when the thread is about creepy side-stepping gnomes.

It's a lot easier to do jarring category shifts when you have the time to plan them in writing. For ordinary folk who can't think this quickly on their feet, there are only two other paths to funny:

1) Have your material pre-planned, even the supposed ad-libs. John Stewart does this often. Witness his recurring asthma/inhaler jokes whenever talking about sports or "manly" activities in his interviews.

2) Just say interesting things. Interesting things all involve category shifts of one sort or another. If you relax and just say things that are interesting and novel, then some subset will be funny.
posted by ferdydurke at 4:55 PM on August 15, 2008 [1 favorite]


I think if you practice being funny in front of a mirror, you risk coming off as stilted, rehearsed, and performing a routine.

You say you don't have access to improv classes. Why not start some wherever it is you live? It's hard to be funny with people who aren't playing along. Being in a group of people who are there for the express reason of being silly, being witty, trying things out, or just learning how to say the first thing that comes into their mind is definitely worth your time with your stated goal.

All it takes to start an improv group is some flyers around town, a post on Craigslist, and about an hour of reading an improv book in a big box bookstore. I suggest anything by Del Close, Charna Halpern, Mick Napier, Keith Johnstone, or Viola Spolin. You don't have to be the expert to start a group--you just have to want to get like-minded folks together.

OH! In fact, some of these books have solo exercises you can do at home to stretch your ability to think on your feet. The goal per se is not funny, but true. True = funny.
posted by ImproviseOrDie at 5:01 PM on August 15, 2008 [1 favorite]


Best answer: I am a female and did the stand-up thing for about three years. I also love to make people laugh whenever I can. I've been doing everything I can to get better at it over the years so I've made a lot of mistakes and I'll do my best to help you out here. So, trying to be funny on a stage and trying to be funny in a crowd are entirely different and I recommend treating the two as such.

One huge reason they're different. When you're on a stage the audience is on your side. They paid money and/or are investing their time in you so they are willing to listen and they want you to be good. They want you to be "on." When you're standing in a crowd at a party, say, and you keep on trying to force your routine on people they're going to think you're a show-off or needy or something else that annoys them. In a social setting where everyone is contributing, NEVER try to dominate with your jokes. Just let them happen when they're pertinent. You'll be WAY cooler and more credible if you do this.

Delivery is 95% of a joke and unfortunately, the only thing that cannot be taught.

It sounds to me like you have a very deadpan or dry delivery. I LOVE this kind of humor. But I've noticed that a lot of people don't necessarily understand this humor. Sometimes you can get people to understand it, though. Here's how I would try to make that work for you. First things first, never TRY to be funny. Just let it happen. If you let a one liner go that you think has potential and you hear crickets, you've now felt out your crowd. They don't "get" you- yet. DON'T insist on winning them over again immediately. People smell desperation and desperate people are not funny. Well, not funny in the way you want to be. If you see another chance arise to deliver what you think is a potential joke, jump on it again. With the same amount of confidence give your line but with a subtle smile so they know you're kidding. (This part is totally worth practicing in the mirror.) If you strike out twice, well, that's usually the point where I will either wait a few beats then say, "Aaaand that wasn't funny." or just back off at that particular time and just roll with the conversation. But because you were never trying that hard to be funny to begin with, you haven't lost any credibility. On the other hand, if your jokes are working, don't change a thing. Just keep rolling. The thing for me is that most of the time when I say a line that gets a huge laugh, I wasn't even trying to be funny. Not at all. If you find this happening to yourself, learn from it. Ask yourself why it worked, then try to build on it.

Ball busting is entirely acceptable. I would treat it like a game. If you jab lightly at first and the reaction is good, jab a little more. If it feels fun and playful then it probably is. If the other person doesn't even crack a smile, perhaps back off. Some people don't want to play.

Some other things to think about. You can loosely generalize the things that make people laugh into three categories. The truth, incongruity, and pain (or TIP). The truth is funny. This is my favorite humor. Sometimes pointing out something wildly obvious is hysterical. As to why, I have no idea. Incongruity would be like watching an amish lady using a blender while talking on her cell phone. Putting things together that don't belong together is funny. It creates tension and tension is funny to watch. Pain. People falling. America's Funniest Home Videos kind of shit. I would not recommend a slap-stick routine in front of a bunch of new aquaintances, however, this is where self-depreciating humor comes in.

And I know this is a long post but one more thing. If you'd like to do some further reading, the only book I recommend is The Comic Toolbox by John Vorhaus. It will do much more for your writing than it will for your in-person schtick, but it's a great read. It is essentially the Second City's writing program condensed in a book for about $10. Totally worth it. Other than that, I've read a lot of "how to be funny" books without taking much away from it.

If any of this is helpful, yay. If I can be of any more help, shoot me a message.
posted by smeater44 at 5:27 PM on August 15, 2008 [7 favorites]


for most people that I know who are funny, it is learned -- there are only so many Robin Williams out there.

I rest my case.

Robin Williams is not funny. He talks fast and uses different accents- so people think he's funny. And he lifts actual jokes/material from others (and he does topical/pop culture humor- which- as mentioned above- is not funny).

If ever the "you can't learn to be funny" axiom applied to someone, it's Robin Williams.
posted by Zambrano at 5:49 PM on August 15, 2008


for most people that I know who are funny, it is learned -- there are only so many Robin Williams out there.

I rest my case.

Robin Williams is not funny. He talks fast and uses different accents- so people think he's funny. And he lifts actual jokes/material from others (and he does topical/pop culture humor- which- as mentioned above- is not funny).

If ever the "you can't learn to be funny" axiom applied to someone, it's Robin Williams.


Well since dancestoblue never proffered Robin Williams as an example of someone who learnt to be funny I really don't see how you can rest your case. Haven't you ever seen those interviews with famous standups who talk about how they practiced the same 45 minute routine again and again until they had it down pat?
posted by peacheater at 6:36 PM on August 15, 2008


You're setting yourself up for failure. If you talk to me and you attack me or make jokes about me, I'd become insanely angry inside, and you would not know. I'm sensitive that way.

Second, book humour does not translate into real humour. Two totally different worlds. In real humour, you have to do the body language, posture thing, and you need to learn (the hard way) how people react to certain things.

But most importantly, say interesting things, and spice it up with humour. If you just go on and on with supposedly funny stuff, it quickly gets boring.
posted by ChabonJabon at 9:31 PM on August 15, 2008


I have the demeanor of a doctor who has to tell you the "bad news."

If you could maintain that demeanor while wearing boots as silly as these, I'd laugh.
posted by flabdablet at 10:27 PM on August 15, 2008


A good skill to build on, whether you're aiming to be funny or not, is storytelling. Establishing characters, conflict, climax, resolution, (punchlines) etc.

Usually my funniest friends also happen to be the best storytellers -- it helps if you are good at impressions -- not just the voices, but quirks, facial tics, gesturing, etc.

If you watch other people who are good at it, listen to good storytellers (David Sedaris is often featured on "This American Life" and I think he'd be a good example) I think you could pick up some skills.
posted by Flying Squirrel at 10:49 PM on August 15, 2008 [1 favorite]


Listen to comedy talk radio. Listening to the way funny people engage in regular conversation will teach you a lot. Much more valuable than watching standup, which is pre-rehearsed and therefore far different from the everyday scenarios in which you aim to be funny.
posted by lunchbox at 11:24 PM on August 15, 2008


Read about humor, then practice many types. Really. With strangers preferably, as you don't care if you fail :o) You'll find yourself capable of at least a few types of humor, and some of them will work live.

I like the following:

http://www.amazon.com/Truth-Comedy-Improvisation-Charna-Halpern/dp/1566080037/ref=pd_bxgy_b_text_b

http://www.amazon.com/Impro-Improvisation-Theatre-Keith-Johnstone/dp/0878301178/ref=pd_sim_b_6

http://www.amazon.com/Act-Creation-4-Arkana/dp/0140191917/ref=sr_1_3?ie=UTF8&s=books&qid=1218875242&sr=8-3

http://www.amazon.com/How-Funny-Purpose-Edgar-Willis/dp/0973754532/ref=sr_1_34?ie=UTF8&s=books&qid=1218875383&sr=8-34
posted by gte910h at 1:31 AM on August 16, 2008 [1 favorite]


Response by poster: I know I said I wouldn't pick a best answer--there are so many but smeater44's was filled with so much concrete and detailed suggestions I couldn't help myself.

Lunchbox, I love comedy talk radio. Have not listened in a while, and like the suggestion of listening to it again.

Flabdablet: every doctor should wear those boots.

And there are many other fantastic suggestions. Forgive me for not replying to every single one of them.

How's this idea? Blogging my "goal to be funnier" by doing one suggestion per day. Maybe a mefi project? I'd start with HotPottatta's response at the top and work my way down the list, with as much commitment and gusto as possible. (i.e., Day 1: "Just be comfortable, listen, smile.") And then I'd let you know the results. A potential tragicomedy in the making.

Anyways, thanks very much for the advice guys.
posted by uxo at 6:17 AM on August 16, 2008


Take a comedy course; a friend took the stand-up course at the local comedy club, and had a blast.

Amuse yourself, and don't look for approval. I like to use unconventional turns of phrase, and much of the time people correct me, or just look at me uncomprehendingly, but sometimes, someone will get a good laugh, and I love that, and always like that person a bit more. Over time, your friends learn that you joke a lot, and start to appreciate it.

Don't try too hard. In person, being funny works better when it's low key.

Don't be mean. Ball-busting can be funny, but in real life it can be hurtful, so be careful.
posted by theora55 at 6:41 AM on August 16, 2008 [2 favorites]


And follow up; I'd love to read your blog.
posted by theora55 at 6:42 AM on August 16, 2008


I'm a woman and I'm funny as hell in real life. You have to have a good feel for your audience when you're being funny in person.

--The trick with ball-busting is to tease people for things that they are secretly proud of. It's funny and they are not likely to be offended. In fact, they will be flattered.

--Or, if you kinda hate someone, you can tease them for things that they're ashamed of and be really psyched when you hurt their feelings.

--If you're with people who are uptight, make jokes that are slightly dirty. They'll pat themselves on the back for getting the joke. They will label you the sassy friend.

--If you're with people who think they're smart, make jokes that reference books that everyone has read, like 1984. Or reference books that they pretend to have read, like Ulysses. They'll pat themselves on the back for getting the joke. They will label you the witty friend.

--If you're with people who think they're the dirtiest people ever and enjoy making others uncomfortable, make a joke that is much dirtier but not really funny. They won't think it's funny, but they'll laugh uncomfortably and you'll be able to laugh at the fact that they are uncomfortable.

--If you're at a party where the men are having loud conversations that exclude the women, your audience is the women. The men aren't going to listen to you anyway. Mock them viciously and give voice to the anger that the women feel at being shoved aside and ignored.

--Likewise, if you're at any party with bigots, find the people least likely to be bigots. They're your audience and the bigots are your target. See how long you can go before the bigots notice that you're making fun of them.

Good luck.
posted by sondrialiac at 8:11 AM on August 16, 2008 [1 favorite]


Oh -- when all else fails your audience is everyone who is irritated at you. Make fun of yourself, and not things you're proud of. Bring up that time everyone saw your nipple. Be ruthless. Enjoy.
posted by sondrialiac at 8:16 AM on August 16, 2008


Haven't you ever seen those interviews with famous standups who talk about how they practiced the same 45 minute routine again and again until they had it down pat?

Again: you cannot practice or teach "funny".

(But "funny" can be unlearned. Bill Cosby, Billy Crystal and Dennis Miller are no longer funny.

You're either funny or your not. Practicing a routine means nothing if you don't have the talent to deliver the lines.
posted by Zambrano at 10:09 AM on August 16, 2008


1. Be very, very wary of listening to advice from people who say that they are very funny. They rarely are; I'd venture to say there's almost an inverse relationship between their self-evaluation and their talent. (Or, at least, they are neck and neck with those who say plaintively, "But I have a good sense of humor!") And if they are very funny, they are rarely capable of explaining why, or teaching anything about it. Remember the humor coach in Borat?

2. I agree with everyone who said that one's humorousness in social situations is very different from that in writing or stand-up. The former is the hardest to learn; ignore everything that has been said about practicing delivery. Friends with Emmy awards for comedy writing, or long publishing records, are often completely unstimulating in the average social situation. You will come across as a person who (mistakenly) thinks she is funny if you force anything. I have met people before who admit that they have prepared a quip or a joke for a particular conversation; don't be such a person, unless you are delivering after-dinner remarks.

3. Okay, here's the upside: what makes you think you are NOT regarded as funny? If it's a mere imbalance between the praise you've received for your writing and the praise you've received for your quick-witted remarks, don't worry about it -- people feel it more appropriate (and more necessary) to evaluate something that's in writing. If it's the lack of in-person guffaws, don't worry about it; a lot of people appreciate wit without braying at it.

4. No matter what, you will be funnier than Robin Williams, and less than 0.0001% of the people who have declared him funny will say something similar about you. Wear that with pride.
posted by Clyde Mnestra at 1:49 PM on August 16, 2008


Response by poster: Sondriliac, that's very interesting advice. It sounds like you probably push people into extremes of loving or hating you, and that's a real skill to acquire.

Clyde: I have had several people tell me I'm funny in writing (specifically fiction), and they are disappointed when I don't have them cracking up in real life. "You're so much funnier on paper..." "Gee, thanks....?"

I guess not having ridiculous imaginary characters and props lying around is really crimping my style in real life.

Be very, very wary of listening to advice from people who say that they are very funny. They rarely are; I'd venture to say there's almost an inverse relationship between their self-evaluation and their talent...And if they are very funny, they are rarely capable of explaining why, or teaching anything about it.

This sounds extremely perceptive.
posted by uxo at 2:52 PM on August 16, 2008


Clyde: I have had several people tell me I'm funny in writing (specifically fiction), and they are disappointed when I don't have them cracking up in real life. "You're so much funnier on paper..." "Gee, thanks....?"

To which you say, "And you're so much nicer when you're reading."

I'd guess that they are simply failing to understand the change in context, and their confusion is confusing you: they're comparing you to your writing, rather than you to the average conversationalist. This is like the people who expect NASCAR drivers to be peeling out from the cul-de-sac, or who imagine that porn stars blow every Domino's delivery boy who comes to their door. Speaking from experience, this only happens if you get the pizza there in less than five minutes.
posted by Clyde Mnestra at 3:12 PM on August 16, 2008


Sondriliac, that's very interesting advice. It sounds like you probably push people into extremes of loving or hating you, and that's a real skill to acquire.

I have a really big ego, so I'm pretty sure it's mostly love.
posted by sondrialiac at 7:19 PM on August 16, 2008


Oh, and considering your other post (where people made fun of you for being poor) and this post (where people tell you you're not funny in person), you really need to get new friends and/or learn how to tell people to screw off.
posted by sondrialiac at 7:30 PM on August 16, 2008


Somebody may have said this but I don't have time to look through all the answers at the moment.

In my experience, one must be careful with self deprecating humor. If you actually start legitimately putting yourself down too often, even if done in jest, it never works to your advantage in the long run.

In moderation though, and with the right subjects, I agree with above posters that it can be golden.

Just my quick two cents.
posted by Defenestrator at 10:52 PM on August 16, 2008


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