By Katie Goodman
People always ask me how they can be funnier. Are you just born with it? Big answer on that: Nope. Becoming funny is a practice just like any other creative art or really any other job. To be honest I wasn’t consistently funny until my 30s when I switched from focusing on being a “normal” actor, to creating and writing and performing in our show, Broad Comedy.
But I also want to say right out of the gate that you don’t necessarily need to know any rules or tricks. Everyone instinctively knows what’s funny to them.
Like racism and sexism, or, say, finding someone you want to sleep with, you know it when you see it.
I remember about 10 years ago, my mentor at the time, Paul Provenza said to me and my husband, Soren, “No no no no no don’t take a class on writing stand-up. It’ll only screw you up. Don’t pay attention to any rules. You already know them instinctually. Rules will just make you second-guess yourself.”
He was absolutely right for me and Soren, but if you’re completely stumped or something isn’t working, going to the “rules” can be helpful.
- Know What Is Funny: There’s really only three things that are funny:
- The incongruous or ironic
- The familiar
If it isn’t one of those, it’s probably a combo pack. Start watching comedy and label each joke, each scene, each pratfall or dialogue and see which one of those it is. Get familiar with what’s funny about the funny.
2. To be your own kind of funny you have to start where you are. Copying somebody else’s style is only going to probably take you further from your own valuable unique sense of humor and then at some point you’ll just have to backpedal and start again excavating yours.
So where do you start?
There are several kinds of… “platforms”, let’s call them. Being improvisationally funny out at dinner with friends, being funny inside your family or home, being funny on paper, or being funny in public like say stand-up, which of course also starts on paper.
3. Notice: When do you make people laugh? Start paying attention to it. What was it that made them laugh about what you said? Was it something incredibly honest? Something a little risqué? Incongruous? A story about a disaster you had that people can relate to? Something embarrassing? Something wise yet quirky? Keep a little note page on your phone and when no one‘s looking write down what worked.
4. Find A Way To Feel Confident. There are some people or groups with whom you’re just not ever going to say anything funny. Trying too hard to get approval is an absolute cock-blocker. I am almost always the funniest when I am with a couple friends in a relaxed setting. Sometimes I’m funny when I’m with a bunch of comics because I’m actually trying hard, but honestly sometimes those can turn into competitions and that is NOT FUN. Make sure you find a place where your humor and fun can flourish.
5. Learn about Your Funny: Ask yourself, what do you yourself find funny? Watch your favorite comics and comedy actors in movies and see what they do with timing. See if you can see what the underlying commonalities of the movies are. Identify TV and books and videos and comedy songs that grab you. One of the things that makes me laugh the loudest is when I’m caught off-guard by something witty. The unexpected (incongruous) is a delight. Do you gravitate towards things about your age? Things about parenting? Humor around politics? Gravitate toward your genre. It will be easier and more fun and also meaningful.
6. Practice! Now go out there and give it a try and let it grow. I recommend trying both writing something funny about a subject you know a lot about, and then maybe talking with friends about it too. You don’t have to memorize it and try to give a stand-up performance at a friendly lunch, but see if you can throw in a couple of funny observations and see how they land. A lot of humor is in the delivery.
But most of all, it should be fun. It shouldn’t be a struggle. Like all creativity, there will be moments that feel like work, but you should aim for getting into the Flow of it. Be present, respond to what’s happening around you, but with your own take. That’s the sweet spot.
For more practice finding your funny, you can check out my book, “Improvisation For The Spirit”, visit my upcoming retreat at Chico Hot Springs in Montana this January, or bring me in to lead an improv workshop!