Yes, You Can Learn To Be Funnier On-Air

The most popular trait of an engaging, high-performing entertainer is the ability to make the audience laugh or at least smile. Research almost always indicates that “someone funny” is the #1 trait they seek from entertainers. Make them laugh, and nothing else matters. It’s the holy grail for building a larger, more loyal fanbase. But it’s hard to make people laugh, and not everyone is naturally funny. Some try hard, and that rarely works out well. Fortunately, everyone can learn to be funnier.

Woody Allen says:

PEOPLE THINK IT’S VERY HARD TO BE FUNNY BUT IT’S AN INTERESTING THING—IF YOU CAN DO IT, IT’S NOT HARD AT ALL.

So how can ordinary people who don’t know how to do it learn to be funnier?

Relatable Connections 

Being funny and having a great sense of humor are different qualities, just as “having fun” is different than a funny personality. You may have a good sense of humor, but that doesn’t make you Chris Rock or Jerry Seinfeld.

Similarly, laughing indicates that something is funny, but does not make it funny. In fact, laughing at your own punchlines usually dilutes the impact! Still, everyone can create humor by learning what makes people laugh.

In the book The Storyteller’s Secret, author Carmine Gallo says:

YOU CAN’T MAKE A STORY FUNNY. THE FUNNY THINGS IN STORIES AREN’T USUALLY PUNCH LINES.

THEY COME FROM THE COMMON EXPERIENCE, WHEN YOU CLEVERLY DESCRIBE PEOPLE AND PLACES. WHEN PEOPLE LAUGH, THEY ARE SAYING, “AH, I SEE THAT. I’VE BEEN THERE.”

In other words, humor is rooted in a common, relatable experience. Jerry Seinfeld has said that he gets laughs because of the stories he tells leading to an observation that resonates in truth. The key is not the punchline. It’s the setup.

Doesn’t that give you hope for developing your ability to make the audience laugh?

Being funny is more about connecting with the audience and causing them to see the humor in a situation. That’s also a key principle for improvisational comedy. So, if the secret is to find humor in common experiences, here’s another way to look at it.

Ridiculous But Possible

Funny is subjective, but it can be analyzed. Let’s look at a genuinely funny line from Woody Allen:

CAPITAL PUNISHMENT WOULD BE MORE EFFECTIVE AS A PREVENTIVE MEASURE IF IT WERE ADMINISTERED PRIOR TO THE CRIME.

What makes this funny? It’s thoughtful and relevant, and the audience can relate to it. But why is it funny? It’s about plausibility.

The statement is implausible, yet the statement is plausible.

It’s implausible because we don’t (and can’t) dish out capital punishment to people thinking about murder. On the other hand, it’s plausible and reasonable because getting rid of would-be killers would save the victim.

This is funny because it is both implausible and plausible, but decidedly more implausible than plausible. Humor is a delicate balance of ridiculous and possible. Being truly funny has roots in reality. It’s not just a string of random wackiness. Being random is goofy because it has no base in the plausible. In other words, humor is logical. The twist or surprise is illogical.

Dave Barry’s humor comes from real-life situations. Here is an example:

AS A MATURE ADULT, I FEEL AN OBLIGATION TO HELP THE YOUNGER GENERATION, JUST AS THE MOTHER FISH GUARDS HER UNHATCHED EGGS, KEEPING HER LONELY VIGIL DAY AFTER DAY, NEVER LEAVING HER POST, NOT EVEN TO GO TO THE BATHROOM, UNTIL HER TINY BABIES EMERGE AND SHE IS ABLE, AT LAST, TO EAT THEM.

Dave connects with three logical elements of humor:

It’s relevant. Though it’s about fish, the connection point to his audience is raising kids. His premise is a plausible truth about how fish raise their offspring.

A Breadcrumb. He inserts a funny punchline in the middle to keep the audience interested (the comment about fish having to go to the bathroom).

The Twist. The implausible punchline is surprising. She’s raising babies to eat them.

For more examples, get Dave’s book Best. State. Ever.: A Florida Man Defends His Homeland

These are great examples, but how can you be funnier?

Start Being Funnier

Becoming sustainably funny takes time and training, but you can start developing those skills anytime. Start with the plausible/implausible lesson, then apply these three principles:

Laugh at Yourself: Turning a joke inward is endearing. Making fun of others can be cruel. Self-deprecating humor is endearing because it allows the audience to laugh at themselves through you without causing them to feel mean. Finding a way to laugh at everyday moments through colorful storytelling can turn them into charming, relatable moments.

Simplicity. The magic formula for sustaining memorable moments is finding humor in everyday things that connect emotionally. This has fueled dozens of comedians for decades. Match those things with personality traits in your character profile to add to a personality brand.

Surprises. Jokes aren’t funny if the audience sees them coming, and punchlines don’t work if they’re predictable. Surprise is the payoff. Craft each segment so the audience can anticipate it building to something great, then surprise them. They’ll think it’s hilarious, even if it’s only amusing.

Conclusion

The most important trait of an entertainer is humor. If you’re not funny, find a way to create funny situations by practicing these guidelines. Do it regularly and with intention. Before long, the audience will laugh along with you.

Pic designed by cookelma for Envato Elements.

Tracy Johnson is a talent coach and programming consultant. He’s the President/CEO of Tracy Johnson Media Group. His book Morning Radio has been described as The Bible of Personality Radio and has been used by personalities worldwide.

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