An (Almost) Dozen Ways to Be Funny

Great post up at Un-Cabaret Free Range Comedy.

1) JOKES – Jokes are great if your mind works that way. But if it doesn’t, don’t panic. There are a lot of other ways of being funny.

2) STORYTELLING – Assuming your audience or readers have the attention span, a good narrative with twists and a funny premise is a great way to get to the comedy. Of course, not everyone is a good raconteur and a poorly-told story isn’t just un-funny, it’s boring.

3) FAST-TALKING – This technique is obviously more for performance, but a rapid-fire stream-of consciousness rant can access all kinds of funny – and often will get you an applause break. It’s also a great idea to record your live performances because you never know when you’re going to strike gold and it’s great to be able to listen back – and transcribe – what you said in the moment.

4) PASSION – Most comedians tend to go for hate, but I’ve seen love work as well. Anything that you’re genuinely worked up about can be funny, especially if you have a clear attitude. A surprising attitude is a great foundation for comedy.

5) DEEP THINKING – I’m thinking here about comedians like Steven Wright or Beth Lapides, whose philosophical insights can be surreal, surprising and funny to audiences.

6) SPONTANEITY – Again, mostly for live situations. This is a great tactic if you’re good in the moment and/or your mind works best in a reactive mode. If you have this tool in your kit, invite yourself to play off the person onstage before you, the introduction from your host, the audience or anything in the room.

7) SEX – Not usually funny, but can be if pushed to an extreme. Just ask Mae West or Sarah Silverman – although ‘sex’ is often really just a shock tactic. And, like in actual sex, boredom can set in if you’re not careful. This technique may also get you a different kind of attention than laughs.

8 ) PHYSICALITY – Obviously hard to do on paper, this technique is more applicable to performance. Like Butch Cassidy (or was it the Sundance Kid?), some people are looser, more communicative and funnier when they move. If this is in your toolkit, find something physical to do when you first get onstage, even if just adjusting the mic stand or the curtain. Look for stories and situations that involve physical components and try to physicalize ideas rather than obsessing about finding ‘the right words’ or beating yourself up about ‘not writing enough’.

9) DETAILS – Minutely-observed details are a technique used by David Sedaris and other literary ‘humorists’. It’s hard to make a meal of them, but they’re a great to seasoning for a story or scenario.

10) CHARACTERS – Often, the painful relationships in your life involve other characters who can be funny for an audience – as long as they’re funny for you too. Look at what Julia Sweeney did with her Mom. If you’re handy with this tool, be especially open to stories or ideas that involve other people and dialog.

11) VOICES – Funny voices are, after all, the basis for most cartoons. If you have a talent for accents or vocal dynamics, this tool is for you. Although, for god’s sake, please try to include some actual content and don’t just coast on sound effects.

More here:

It seems to me that all these ways must spring from character in order to be truly satisfying – that is, more than an inch deep.


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