Everyone wants to have a healthy sense of humor.
While few of us will be comedic geniuses like Robin Williams, Abbott and Costello, Lucille Ball, or Eddie Murphy, all of us can learn how to be funnier. Here are three tips for using language to improve your comedic sensibilities.
1. Put the Humor Last
If you want to be funnier, always put the humor last. When you’re crafting a joke or an amusing anecdote, save the most humorous detail for the end. This ensures that the listener knows all the details that make your comment funny. It also avoids feeding the listener extra information that distracts the listener from the impact of your humor.
The satire website The Onion uses this approach brilliantly. The first paragraph of any given article is generally stuffed with realistic information that sounds legitimate. However, the final sentence is usually written so that the single word or phrase that gives the paragraph humor comes right before the final period. This inspires a chuckle that ushers the reader into the next paragraph.
2. Don’t Repeat Yourself
Humor is subject to the law of diminishing returns. It’s why we groan at dad’s old jokes. When you say something funny, do everything in your power to avoid saying it again to the same audience.
Former Tonight Show host Jay Leno would often repeat himself during stand-up routines. He’d deliver a joke, get a laugh, and then repeat the punchline as the laughter died down. This is unnecessary. While it’s personally affirming to get a laugh, just be content with the first one you get.
Sometimes a bystander will hear laughter and ask, “What’s so funny?” Retelling your story may be amusing for the bystander, but it will probably feel awkward for the original hearers. If this happens, change something. Tell the backstory a little differently. Use synonyms. Find any creative way to avoid repeating what you said verbatim. With practice, you may just get a second laugh from the original hearers.
3. Be Emotional, or Don’t Be
Accentuate your humor by telling it with the right emotional backdrop. For example, who doesn’t appreciate a funny, angry rant?
When Seth Meyers and Amy Poehler hosted the Weekend Update segment on Saturday Night Live, one of their most popular bits was “REALLY!?!,” a fast-moving, sarcastic diatribe against political and social ridiculousness. By increasing their volume and words-per-minute, and adding a biting tone of voice, they gave their words the energy they needed to make “REALLY!?!” an SNL classic.
By contrast, some humor relies on emotionlessness. Deadpan comedians like Bill Murray and Nick Offerman create humor from the dissonance between their flat expressions and the emotional content of their words.
When you’re trying to be funnier, support your speech with the right amount of emotional intensity.