Hey! I like you already. I like you because you’re not content in being lazily washed along in the river of life. Just by the fact that you’re reading this right now I can tell that you’re someone who goes out and gets what they want – someone who is prepared to fight against the current to reach greener shores (or as it might be, funnier shores). And that’s what we’re here to do. Swimming to that shore won’t be easy, but gosh darn it, it’ll be worth it.
The ideology I adopted when preparing to write this book was very simple: to give you, the reader, purely valuable knowledge, and practicable methods to help you become funnier. I know, from my pre-writing research, that there is a general lack of trust in books which claim to be able to make you funnier, not only because people don’t believe that you can actually develop your sense of humour, but also because the strategies that they’ve already read about (say, online) or heard from others don’t seem to produce results that are hoped for.
In this book I aim to completely reverse all those notions. I want to destroy the myth that you’re stuck at your current level of funniness, and to leave you with a concrete strategy with which you will progress and evolve into a funnier person.
What makes me so confident though? How do I know, and why should you believe me? Well, I can’t make you believe me, but I can make a promise, from me, Joe Rocca, to you, the reader, that the strategies, techniques and guidelines outlined in this book are all the critical pieces of information that helped me improve my ability to create awesome conversations, to make others smile and laugh, and to just generally have more fun. To confirm my ideas, and to get a whole bunch more, I contacted dozens of comedians from all around the world asking for advice on being funny in social situations. I got an overwhelming response, and as you’ll see soon, I’ve scattered snippets from these comedians all throughout the book.
I’d like to also say here that I think you should be proud of your decision to be funny. I wholeheartedly believe that a journey to improve your sense of humour is really a noble cause. Of course the benefits to you will be great, but also, as you learn and become funnier, consider the influence that you’re having on those around you. Consider that your humour can be used as a tool to completely change people’s lives. With a better sense of humour you’ll be able to give advice without offending or annoying, you’ll be able to diffuse tense situations and create happy atmospheres, you’ll be able to comfort people when they’re sad or scared, and of course, you’ll be able to make people happy - in short, you’ll be a boon to society. So be proud of your endeavours, and always keep these higher purposes in mind, because though it may not be apparent at this moment, your journey isn’t just about yourself - humour isn’t something that is just for you, it’s something that we share with the world, and that benefits everyone that we ever come into contact with.
A huge prompt which spurred me into writing this book was a simple lack of any guidance out there on the subject for beginners. There are at least 3 recent books on this subject of becoming funny, and although they are great books, from both my experience, and that of the reviewers whom I researched, there are recurring features of these books which aren’t what I would say is useful.
After a load of research, and obsessively filling my journal with hundreds of little notes on the differences between funny and unfunny people, I set to work reading as many reviews as I could for books which try to teach comedy. I wanted to learn exactly what people wanted so that I could craft a book that fulfils a purpose that is defined by those who are going to be reading it.
With this in mind, I want to outline my strategy very carefully from the outset.
Firstly, there will be minimal fluff. Apart from this introduction I won’t discuss anything that I don’t truly believe will make you funnier. This means that I’ll be avoiding the ever common “Discuss Every Analytical Detail of What Makes People Funnier” book, and also the “Discuss the In-depth History of Comedic Enterprise” book and also the ever common “Provide Humorous but Irrelevant or Useless Anecdotes” book.
Secondly, I will pitch these concepts in a way that is useful to the average person. I’m not here to help you with your comedy writing or comedy performance career; I’m here to help you become funnier in everyday life - at work, at school, at home - in any social situations whatsoever.
Thirdly, I will try to maintain a consistent structure throughout the book. The book is divided into sections. Each section will address a specific aspect of your learning. Sections should maintain their independence, so if my strategy is effective, you should have no problem skipping to any chapter that you like. As would be expected though, I have ordered the sections such that the reader may get the most benefit from reading start to finish.
Use this as a reference manual once you’ve read through the first time. Highlight parts that resonate with you. Each person is different and although I will try to write broadly, there will be some parts that you disagree with. Keep an open mind, but if something really doesn’t sit with you, then of course, just disregard it.
A quick note - I’ll be talking a lot about ‘jokes’ in this book as you might expect, but probably not in the same way you think of them. I’ll be using the term ‘joke’ to denote any funny comment, any scripted joke (“Why did the chicken ...”), a funny story (“A man walks into a bar ...”), a one-liner (“Men have two emotions: ...”), an impression - basically any action (verbal or nonverbal) that can or does make people laugh. This may seem a little strange, but there are many times where it will be convenient to talk about “anything that could cause laughter” and the simplest word to describe this is ‘joke’. With that said - let’s begin!
Quickly, Make Me Funny
This quick section will give you some immediate, fast-acting tips and techniques that you can use today, right now. So if you’ve only got 15 minutes before work, school, or your party, and you want some concise advice, then you’re about to get blasted with the most crucial points for comedic success that can be achieved short-term:
(Cheeky little caveat: I am about to blast you with what I call the ‘genuinely funny’ style. This is not the only style, but it is, in my opinion, the best.)
Your attitude is the easiest and most important thing to change. Do the following:
- Laugh lots: Often the hallmark of a genuinely funny person. Laugh at whatever you want to. Don’t wait for others’ permission to laugh. Important: Don’t try to get others to laugh with your own laugh.
- Smile: Do this when meeting new people, when greeting friends and at any chance you get. Smile cheerfully (a little bit of eye-squinting helps) – no cheesy stuff.
- Open up your body: don’t cross your arms, keep your hands away from your face, sit back in your chair
- Be comfortable: Similar to above, don’t sit on the edge of your chair, don’t sit up too straight, spread yourself out a little bit, don’t crunch into a ball. Loosen up your shoulders. Force yourself to relax – release all your muscles take a deep breath and just go all floppy for a second, then only re-engage the muscles that you need to.
- Get involved: Don’t get taken along with the current of the conversation. Always give your input. Don’t look to others when the conversation at a lull, don’t look for permission to speak. Talk lots, laugh lots, be a part of the conversation.
- Slow down: Stop rushing about. Be cool, yo. Don’t turn your head too fast, don’t walk to fast, don’t turn around too fast, don’t say “Good thanks!” too fast. Think of the nervous public speaker who’s talking at a ridiculous speed, and sweating profusely – that’s not the attitude we’re going for. Moving and reacting slowly shows that you’re relaxed, and not on edge – that’s the feel we want to give off.
- Don’t let your attention be thrown around at anyone’s whim: In general, if you’re talking to someone and another person tries to butt in and get your attention, finish talking to the first person before talking to the second.
- Be playful: Most of being funny is about being fun. Have a playful attitude. Super, super, super important.
- Speak with a clear voice: None of that quiet, shy stuff. If you’ve got a quiet voice, practice talking louder when you’re alone (while driving, perhaps). Once you’ve finished talking loader for 5 minutes, your normal voice’s volume will have increased.
- Avoid negativity: Don’t gossip, don’t criticise, don’t complain, and try not to hang around anyone who does any of these – they’re poison.
- Avoid argument: Adopt the mental frame that arguments are boring. Have strong discussions, but not emotional arguments.
- Put energy into your interactions with people: Always be slightly higher energy than the average person. Be enthusiastic, show people you’re listening and that you care. People love being around others who’ve got some energy.
Many of these points won’t feel natural. They’ll feel fake, but that’s fine. Just keep doing them. The process is: action, habit, character. We’re trying to get rid of bad habits, and replace them with healthy traits which will be conducive to making people laugh.
Comedy is hugely affected by social status. Lots of the points above relate to developing a happy, relaxed, confident air about yourself. This is important. As a general formula, be happy and relaxed, and confidence will come as a result, but don’t be afraid to force in some confidence as well – just don’t forget about the other two parts.
Next, we’ll run through a few contextual lines. Note that these lines are all just about taking a normal situation and making it playful - that’s the lesson I want you to get from these; feel the playfulness, embody it. Note also that depending on where you are (geographically or culturally) and what year you’re reading this, these jokes may be old and/or no longer relevant.
Someone drops something accidentally
“Yeah, just put that anywhere.” Said in a matter-of-fact style.
You suddenly become alone or in close proximity with someone (stranger or not) - e.g. in an elevator, sitting together on the bus, standing at the bar, etc.
“We’ve got to stop meeting like this... They’ll start to suspect something.” Said conspiratorially. This one takes practice, and with strangers, courage.
You’ve got an empty glass, piece of rubbish, or anything else that you don’t want to hold.
Pretend something is in your shoe: “Ow... Oh, could you hold this for a second?” (Said to someone nearby) Make it look natural - imagine there is something in your shoe as you lift up your foot to take off your shoe. As soon as they take it, stop pretending, and completely forget about the whole situation. Just go back to talking to them, or walk away - just continue doing what you were about to do. A lot of this one’s punch comes from your deadpan expression.
Someone is telling you about their day.
“That’s a silly thing to lie about.”
Someone is telling you something that is trivial and that could (in the slightest way) be interpreted as bragging. E.g. “Yeah, I cleaned out my car today.”
“You don’t have to lie to make friends, you know.”
You tell a joke or a story that doesn’t go too well.
“And then I found twenty dollars!”
Someone messes up in almost any way.
“Christmas is ruined.” or “This is why we can’t have nice things.”
Someone finally ‘gets’ a joke, or a riddle or anything that is fairly obvious. Also works if someone says something that’s pretty obvious.
“Next we move on to shapes and colours.”
Someone does something mildly illegal, like drops chewing gum paper.
“Yeah man, f--- the police!” If needed, replace ‘f---’ with a word that suits you.
In each of these situations, you’re playing a character. You wouldn’t actually say “F--- the police!” and mean it (I hope!). It’s the contrast between a real person and the character that you’re playing that often helps makes a funny joke. With that in mind, it is critically important that you commit to your character when you’re using these lines.
You actually have to adopt the mindset of the rebel who hates the police. If you can feel all that rebellious anger built up inside, then your joke will be so much more powerful. I don’t mean to say that you should shout and scream or show more emotion than is necessary - that would only make you seem like you’re trying too hard. But if you want to be much funnier than average, then you’ve got to really engage and ‘feel’ your character’s reality.
I would encourage you here to go back and revise the genuinely funny attitude. If you don’t enter the situations above with a playful air, you won’t succeed. First you establish a playful mood, attitude and style - then you actually try to make people laugh.
Don’t expect someone else to laugh if you’re not enjoying yourself. If you’re having fun, and you’re entertaining yourself, people will flock to you, and you’ll be able to make people laugh without even thinking about it. If there’s a large group of people at a party, and then a few smaller groups, or even people by themselves, challenge yourself to join the smaller groups or people by themselves and talk to them, connect with them, and have an awesome time. When you can learn to enjoy yourself with anybody - big groups, small groups, friends, strangers - then you’re on your way to being ridiculously funny. Build up those foundations first. Learn about likeability and building rapport, because you can make as many jokes as you like, but if you’re not acting in a way that’s likeable and friendly, you’re not going to get any closer to being funny.
Half of the fight in learning how to be funny is learning how to enjoy yourself. Start having fun - don’t wait for other people to create it!
Before we launch into the heart of the material, it would be prudent to take a few moments to make sure we’re thinking on the right track. We’ll be learning many techniques and rules throughout this book, but we need a solid foundation before we start building.
Firstly, I want you to know that you can be the funniest person in the world. I really mean that – the funniest person in the world. It is truly tragic that some of us grow up thinking that we are tied down by our genetics or by our past conditioning. There is no such thing as a person who is ‘naturally’ funny. Multiple studies (Vernon, 2008 - and others) have shown that your humour is far more about environmental conditioning than genetics. This is important for you to realise. Almost all humour is learned either consciously or unconsciously.
People that say “You can’t learn humour” are either not funny and are using that affirmation as an excuse to not get off their ass and improve their life, or they are funny and like to think that they’re special.
It shouldn’t require too much thought to convince you that these naysayers are wrong: If a child is brought up with hilarious parents, or hilarious friends, it’s almost inevitable that the child will eventually pick up on the subtle things which cause them to laugh. If someone uses the same joke on you enough, you’ll remember it. If a situation arises where that joke would cause others to laugh, you’ll probably use it. If you use that joke enough, you’ll have absorbed it into your everyday thinking. If this process is repeated a hundred times, you’ll have ‘absorbed’ a hundred jokes, and then comes the important part: You’ll start to form patterns and be able to interpret the gaps between these one hundred jokes. You’ll start to see the common elements in jokes and thus begins the creation of subconscious rules which enable you to create new humour from scratch.
Developing this comic instinct is what every funny person has done in some way, or another. This book is the first step in your development of this instinct.
I should also note here that simply reading this book will not make you funny.
Rather, it will teach you the techniques and principles that, if used and practiced, will make you the funniest person you can be, in the shortest time possible. If you listen to the advice this book gives, you will become a funnier person. If you read the book, then set it down and expect to be funnier, you’ll have wasted your time.
So, are you ready to dedicate some time and effort here? Have you got a pen and a notepad? Do you like reading? Great! Let’s do this!
The Genuinely Funny Mood & Style
Have you ever noticed, while watching or talking to a very funny person, that they can make almost anything funny? And yet, if you repeated one of their jokes word for word, you may only get a polite chuckle, right? Well, this strange conundrum has a lot to do with mood (or attitude), and style. This section is dedicated to developing what I the ‘genuinely funny’ mood and style.
In this section I won’t be referring to moods or styles that you ‘put on’ when you’re attempting to imitate someone or something (that is, when you’re using ‘character comedy’). I’ll be referring to the mood that should become your natural state if you want to become genuinely funny.
I’ve heard people use the phrase: “don’t change who you are” as if it was a piece of scholarly wisdom. This phrase, in the way that it is most commonly interpreted, is one of the least healthy mottos that anyone could live by.
Here’s a perfectly healthy interpretation that motto: “Don’t change who you are if you’re being pressured into it.” That makes perfect sense, but when people start living by a phrase that tells them to avoid changing their personality at all, they’re unwittingly doing themselves a sad injustice. As you grow and learn, you start to realise that there are some things that you should change about yourself. Maybe you realised at a young age that calling people names probably wasn’t the right thing to, and so you adjusted your personality so that you could improve as a person. Maybe you realised that you weren’t smiling when you greeted people, so again, you adjusted and improved. Change is good! It’s important that we continually check our personalities and our attitudes for inconsistencies and limiting characteristics; we should never believe that we are perfect because there are always things that we can improve upon. I only mention this because we’ll be talking about changing your personality in this chapter – and changing it for the better.
There is no one perfect manner of speaking, acting and being that will be most conducive to laughter, and some may give better results than the one I’m about to outline, but in finding the perfect funny manner, we have a few other things to consider besides just being funny. We want a mood and style that doesn’t come from insecurity and that doesn’t sabotage other parts of your personality. We don’t want to have an emotionally disturbed shtick, we don’t want to be a clown who can never find the courage to be serious, we don’t want to develop an unhealthy desire for the attention of others, and gods help us, we don’t want to get involved in any slapstick.
All right, enough of what we don’t want to do.
The following is a list of affirmations that you should try to embody. These are healthy foundations which should be slowly mixed into your personality if you want to be funny, and just generally awesome.
- I am always slightly higher in energy than everyone in my vicinity.
- I always have something to add to the conversation.
- I’m generally not distracted by external events; I’m having too much fun with my current situation.
- I never look around to see who’s having fun so I can join them - I make my situation the most fun one to be in.
- I’m generally indifferent to anyone who is negative.
- Nothing much annoys me, I never complain about anything (though I may put on a character that is annoyed or complains about things – that can be funny).
- I’m always willing to laugh at someone’s joke, and try hard to see the funniness as they meant it, even if their delivery was not perfect (I’m not snobby about humour).
- I don’t passive-aggressively compete with other funny people (or anyone, for that matter).
- Sometimes I’m a little bit too relaxed.
- I’m always eager to improve someone’s joke by adding to it.
- I don’t use my humour to hurt others.
- People usually can’t quite work me out. I’m a little mysterious. For example, if people start asking too many questions, I’ll play with them a little and not give straight answers; throw them off my tracks.
- I light-heartedly make fun of myself and others.
- If others light-heartedly make fun of me, I laugh along. Even if it was a bit of a hard poke, I don’t take it to heart – I don’t let others bother me.
- I don’t engage with aggression and argument. They bore me.
- I’m a little bit volatile, and capricious. I’m unpredictable.
- I don’t outwardly try to impress people with my humour.
- It can be a little hard to catch my attention sometimes because I’m so involved in the humour or the fun of a situation.
- I am always in control of myself, but sometimes I get a little crazy.
Make sure you note down the affirmations that resonate with you. The above list will help you to develop a mood and style that will make it easy for you to joke about. It’s really important that you have the right attitude before you even think about telling (and/or doing) a joke. The purpose of the list of affirmations is to help you become:
- Caring and kind
- Easy to talk to
- Casually funny
For each of the points above, think about someone (could be a friend, could be a celebrity, could be anyone) who embodies that characteristic... Got one? Now think about what made you associate that characteristic with them. Why did you automatically link that person with that trait? Write down any reasons that you can think of – these are golden nuggets of info that you get free from your own brain. This simple idea of referencing people (whether you know them in person or not) comes up again and again. We’ll talk about this more in a later section, especially in regards to ‘absorbing’ certain mannerisms from funny people.
Work hard at changing any parts of your personality that aren’t in line with the affirmation list. Don’t expect to be the embodiment of the list by tomorrow, but I think you’ll be surprised at how fast you can change if you make a concerted effort. Put a note somewhere to remind yourself of these things (or just a reminder to read over your notebook) every morning for the next couple of weeks.
Action, habit, character. You’ll hear those three words again and again in this book. The reason that you are the way you are now hinges upon the actions that you’ve taken in the past. If you started forcing yourself to frown every time you saw a baby, it would eventually become a habit – you wouldn’t need to think about it anymore. Eventually, if you didn’t attempt to stop the experiment, this habit would become so ingrained in you that it would become part of your nature to frown at babies – it would just be a part of your natural character. If one day you decided to stop frowning at babies, it would require you to actively concentrate on removing that component of your personality.
Well, you might not have the habit of frowning at babies, but you’ve probably got a few useless and/or damaging habits to get rid of. To get rid of them, and develop new habits we simply take action. The way you developed bad habits is the same way you develop new ones. Just keep reminding yourself to take certain actions until they become natural. There isn’t any difficult formula here; the difficulty is in the application of this technique. Just set yourself reminders with sticky notes, alarms, by sending yourself an email, and by any other means. Keep taking action until you don’t need reminders. Then you’ve got a habit. Give it a few months, and you’ll find it hard to imagine not having that awesome habit, and thus, you’ll have tweaked your personality for the better.
One last thing on style: A very slight smile should be worn at all times. It is so slight that it’s barely noticeable - it’s really just a smile on the inside. If you master this ‘inside smile’, your whole outwards attitude will go from boring and normal, to sharp, friendly and interesting. The fastest way to get this smile happening is to get in front of a mirror, cover your mouth and smile. Notice that your eyes become happier? The trick to looking friendly and interesting is to isolate the ‘eye smile’ and develop the habit of wearing this eye smile (without the mouth smile) as your neutral expression. Keep an eye out for people who have this interesting and friendly countenance, and then notice that they seem to be smiling on the inside.
To remove the boring-face habit is quite a task. You’ll need to set yourself constant reminders throughout the day for a few weeks before the new habit starts to settle in. Be careful not to overdo it or you’ll just look like you’re forcing a smile. Remember - it’s all in the eyes.