I never considered myself to be funny. Until one day in high-school, when my whole perspective changed.
I’ll never forget what happened…
I was late for class – Math with Mr. G.
What you need to know about this story is that Mr. G. was NOT someone you want to mess with…
For 30 years this guy built a reputation for being a hard-ass. I’m pretty sure I peed myself the first time he walked into the classroom. Just a little bit, okay?!
Looking back, he was a great teacher. But he was intimidating, never cracked a smile, and there were NO exceptions for messing up.
I was late, and he called me out for it – obviously. But no one expected what happened next.
While I was still unpacking my stuff, he asked me to solve the algebra problem on the blackboard.
I glanced at the equation and said:
“Just a second, I need to find my calculator.”
“Do it without your calculator.”
“Yes, you can. Use your brain! In life, you won’t always have a calculator. You might leave your calculator at home. But you’ll always have your head with you.”
Then came my big moment… I responded:
“Actually, for me, it’s the other way around.”
The whole room burst out laughing, including Mr. G aka Never-crack-a-smile.
If this is not funny to you… Well, you had to be there!
Did he let me use my calculator? Of course not. But that didn’t matter because…
From that day on, I was a HERO: I was the guy who made Mr. G. laugh.
More importantly, though:
For the first time in my life, I experienced…
The truth is, there’s nothing as charming as a good sense of humor. When you’re funny, people like you more.
That’s just how it is.
You don’t have to be Mr. Funny-Man. But when you’re able to crack a joke at the right time, it’s like a SUPERPOWER.
Humor mentally disarms people.
When you make someone laugh, they put their guard down. For a short moment, they’re not defensive.
Humor is a great way to get your foot in the door, when you want to connect with someone. It’s also a great way to quickly grab people’s attention.
And there are other advantages, too. For example, when it comes to dating, women find funny guys more attractive. Laughter can improve friendships. And it can ease the tension in tough negotiations.
If you don’t believe me, it’s all backed by research.
But what if…
Until “calculator day”, I didn’t think I was funny.
But somehow – mostly out of luck – I said something hilarious and made the whole room laugh. This was a huge Aha-Moment.
I realized, “Hey maybe I CAN be funny.”
But I didn’t want to be funny just “by accident.”
So, I started practicing.
And I got better!
Just a few years later, I even wrote a gossip blog where I made fun of celebrities. It attracted millions of visitors. I went from being unfunny to being a professional jokester.
That’s when I realized:
No one is BORN funny.
Some people just grow up to exercise their funny-muscle more than others. That’s how they BECOME FUNNY.
We believe all kinds of stuff and think we can’t change. Like being confident or being “good with people.” We THINK there’s nothing we can do about it. In reality, with a little bit of practice, it’s possible to change.
Think about it this way:
Comedians put in hours and hours writing their material. Then they test it in small clubs. FOR YEARS. Even the most popular comedians go back to small clubs to practice and stay sharp.
Of course, you’re not a professional comedian. You probably just need to sprinkle a little funniness into your life…
…and I’ve got you covered with 7 insanely practical tips.
But first, it’s important you approach this with the right mindset. That way you’ll get the most out of the tactics below.
I crack myself up!
If you don’t think that’s funny, that’s okay – you’ve got a terrible sense of humor. Kidding! Sort of…
My point is:
Just like music, what’s funny and what’s not funny, is a matter of TASTE. To a certain degree, anyway.
That’s why I stick to a simple rule:
If I think it’s funny… it’s funny.
Yes, I try to amuse myself first.
That’s why, to be truly funny in everyday situations, you need a high level of CONFIDENCE. So, work on being more confident. You’ll automatically be funnier, too.
Unfortunately, like confidence, trying to be funny is a bit of a paradox:
Yes, you need to practice.
When you try hard, that’s when you die hard.
In other words, if people can tell you’re trying to be funny… it’s not that funny!
Don’t worry… There’s a way out of this dilemma. Just realize this:
In order to be a funny person, you don’t have to be funny ALL THE TIME.
If you want to be funnier, don’t become a dancing monkey. Humor is all about contrast, timing… and SURPRISE. If you’re trying to be funny all the time, you lose all of that.
Nothing illustrates this better than my first practical tip…
You can’t be funny without an element of surprise. That’s why I love the 1-2-Punch – it’s so simple!
I first read about this in the book Comedy Writing Secrets. It’s a great book. A lot of what I’ve learned about being funny comes from that book. If you want to take a deep-dive into humor, I suggest you read it.
Now, the 1-2-Punch. Here’s how it works:
You say one thing. Then you say another thing. Then you say something ridiculous. For example…
“NYC subway is inefficient, horribly mismanaged & in disrepair, but at least the stations also get coated with a disgusting, slippery film on slightly rainy days” – Alex Burns
The “funny” comes from the surprising third element – the punch.
The key is to set it up with the 1-2 and then break people’s expectation. Kind of like a curveball. What’s great is that you can get as ridiculous with your “punch” as you like.
Here’s an example from MeetEdgar:
Here’s a famous example of using the 1-2-Punch in a sales follow-up email:
Hi [First Name],
I’ve tried to reach you a few times to go over suggestions on improving […], but haven’t heard back which tells me one of three things:
1) You’re all set with […] and I should stop bothering you.
2) You’re still interested but haven’t had time to get back to me yet.
3) You’ve fallen and can’t get up (and in that case let me know and I’ll call someone to help you…)
Please let me know which one as I’m starting to worry!
The 1-2-Punch works great in writing. But you can use it in almost any situation. To give you another example: I have a friend who’s Swiss. When people ask him where he’s from he says…
“I come from the land of chocolate, cheese, and expensive watches.”
Not the answer most people expect! And again, it follows the 1-2-Punch structure.
I use the 1-2-Punch every day to make people like me in 5 seconds or less. Do you see how it works?
Let’s move on to the next step to be funnier.
If my last name was Peter, I’d name my son Peter. Just to mess with people.
Or I’d teach him that red was blue and blue was red. Okay, I would never do that to my child… but it would be hilarious!
The point is:
When people confuse, misinterpret, or misunderstand something it’s funny. And when you do it ON PURPOSE it’s funny, too.
The best way to do this is to “play dumb.”
For example, take this line from Seinfeld:
“It’s amazing that the amount of news that happens in the world every day always just exactly fits the newspaper.”
Or the iconic “So you’re telling me there’s a chance” moment from Dumb and Dumber:
Now of course, in the example, we’re laughing AT Jim Carrey’s character. The woman of his dreams tells him there’s a 1 in a million chance they’d end up together – and he’s ecstatic…
But should you really make yourself the butt of the joke?
The answer is yes, as long as you don’t do it all the time. And ideally, you shouldn’t do it when you’re actually the butt of the joke:
This study showed that only when you’re in a position of power self-deprecating humor will make people like you more.
Also, when you play dumb or use confusion on purpose, always make sure to make it obvious. How? By exaggerating (see #6).
Now, another fun way to use purposeful confusion or misinterpretation is…
Using words the wrong way is funny. But ONLY when people know the right and wrong use of the word.
“I told a chemistry joke, but there was no reaction.”
“Isn’t it a bit unnerving that doctors call what they do ‘practice?’”
Of course, it can be tough to come up with something like this on the spot. But the technique of using words the wrong way is something you can practice to become funnier.
In the two examples above the joke is in the double-meaning of the word. But you can also do this with words that just SOUND the same… aka using a pun.
A: “Why are you always hogging the TV remote?”
B: “Because I am shellfish!”
Or, if you’re an 80’s Baby like me, you’ll remember Bart’s phone prank from The Simpsons:
The worse the pun, the funnier. So, if you’re cringing at these jokes right now… that’s the point.
Remember: If you try to please everyone, you’ll end up pleasing no one. It’s true for jokes, too. So, as long as it amuses you, it’s funny enough.
Do you feel funnier already?
Playwright Larry Gelbart once said:
“Most good jokes state a bitter truth.”
I agree 100%. And the evidence is more than anecdotal, too. Research shows that people laugh more when they strongly agree with the premise of a joke.
How do you take advantage of this fact if you want to be funnier? Simple…
State the obvious.
In other words: Say what no one dares to say, but everyone’s thinking. That’s why I often post stuff like this on my personal Facebook page:
You’ll score major funny points by saying what everyone’s thinking. At least with one half of the audience. The other half might come after you with pitchforks. It’s okay – I already showed you how to deal with haters.
Here’s another example of being “in your face” in a funny way:
You can even use this to defuse uncomfortable situations:
I have a friend whose hands get super sweaty. I mean, like, slippery wet. Now, she could just ignore the fact. Or she you could own it by stating the obvious:
“Wow! I sure am sweating a lot! Can someone PLEASE turn down the heat?”
It would be even funnier if you’re outside and it’s freezing cold. You see, humor lives in the space between reality and exaggeration. Which brings me to the next way to be funny…
Chris Rock is one of my favorite comedians. He’s a master of walking the fine line between reality and exaggeration. For example when he says…
“If you’ve never held a box of rat poison in your hand and stared at it for a good long while, you’ve never been in love”
What’s going on here? Well, first he’s stating the obvious. Here, it’s the fact that sometimes our partners drive us crazy but that’s a sign of love. Then, he takes it to the extreme!
This is a great recipe for being funny. Take something that’s true… and exaggerate it. To the point where it gets ridiculous. Kind of like I do with the “ridiculous insult” technique to start conversations.
The only way to get better at anything is to practice. Masters aren’t’ born. They’re made through work and persistence. It works that way with confidence. The same goes for being funny…
So, now you know – in theory – how to be funny. It’s time to practice. You can’t become a funny person overnight. So start by…
One joke is better than no joke.
So, start by practicing one joke.
Pick a joke and tell it 1,000 times. Make it your go-to joke.
Obviously, don’t tell the same person the same joke. But make this joke part of your funny-repertoire.
You’ll practice your funny muscle. And you’ll never again be the person who can’t come up with even one joke at a party.
Having a go-to joke in your back pocket is smart. But being funny isn’t really about telling jokes, is it?
No, it’s about developing a funny personality.
So, in addition to the one joke…
My sister wanted to get me into eating healthier snacks. So she got me a bag of pumpkin seeds.
The next day, I started eating them… and I almost choked to death.
So, I texted her: “Yo these taste like wood chips.”
She bursts out laughing…
Turns out you have to peel them.
True story. LOL.
I’ve got a few other stories like this. I’ve told each one a dozen times. So, I know they work. And that’s what I recommend you do, too…
If you want to be funny, build a bank of funny personal stories. Start with one and practice telling it over and over again. If it gets a laugh – great! If not, tweak it until it works.
Finally, remember this…
Being funny starts with being confident.
You don’t have to become a dancing monkey. All it takes is to sprinkle in some humor – whatever YOU think is funny – into your life.
Use the techniques I shared here… and start practicing today.
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