Being funny is one of the most sought after traits, and for good reason — funny people are magnetic; they make you want to be around them. Who wouldn’t want to be one of those people?
Everyone wants people to want them around and to be desired. Science has shown that having a good sense of humor and being funny can make you more attractive. For example, research routinely shows that most women find a good sense of humor as one of the most important judging criteria when considering a man as a partner, often even outranking factors like physical attractiveness.
But what does it mean to be funny? What exactly is humor, and what makes something funny? Why do people have different senses of humor, and why are some people funnier than others?
We’re going to go over humor in-depth to really understand why certain things are funny and then learn how to be funnier from this information. To do this we’ll break it all down into practical steps and strategies that we can practice and implement in order to become funnier.
What Is Humor?
Humor is the tendency of certain experiences to induce amusement and laughter in people. Essentially, it’s the stuff that can make us laugh. It helps a person bond with others and relax, attract members of the opposite sex, and entertain other people.
Humor is capable of boosting mood. There has been plenty of research about the protective nature of humor against depression. It can act as both a safeguard against and treatment for depressive symptoms, allowing the suffering to feel better (at least temporarily — which, to a depressed person, can be everything) while enjoying the humor.
Sense of Humor
If you are able to enjoy humor, you are said to have a “sense of humor”. Everyone has a sense of humor to a certain extent, but some people still have trouble with it — in these people, for whatever reason, the humorous connections just aren’t made as easily.
But know that you are capable of enjoying humor. And if you are able to enjoy it, you are also capable of creating it.
What Makes Something Funny?
Even with thousands of years of laughing, and all the current psychologists studying humor and comedy, we still don’t have one all-encompassing theory on what makes something funny. We’ve been able to piece together bits here and there, things that seem to make sense or provide some explanation, but nothing close to a universal theory.
According to Aristotle, things are funny when they surprise us. There is some truth to this, certainly, since something that doesn’t surprise us is less likely to lead to laughter — as evidenced in decaying humor, i.e. why a joke isn’t as funny when you’ve already heard it; even when it cracks you up the second time, or the third, with each experience of it you laugh less and less.
So surprise must play some role in humor, even if it’s only a supporting role. But perhaps that’s the point — that no element plays the lead role in all cases, and that different types of humor rely on different elements to succeed on a case by case basis. This hypothesis finds solid ground when you consider how much easier it is to say what makes certain types of humor funny. For example, a pun can be humorous because of its clever play on words, its multiple (and often ridiculous) meanings, and the (usually absurd) comparison between those meanings.
A unifying theory of humor that I like is one that goes something like this: We find something funny when it says something about ourselves or the world in a ridiculous and original way that we’ve never specifically thought of but immediately recognize as familiar.
…What in the world does that mean?
That’s a pretty confusing sentence at first glance. But basically what it means is that you, on some deep personal level, identify with the joke and/or joker. Now, this doesn’t mean that you agree with the joke necessarily; it simply means that you
While certainly not foolproof, I think this theory comes closest to identifying the inner workings of humor.
With all that said, why not hear what some of the top comedians have to say about it? In this video, called “Talking Funny”, the comedians Louis C.K., Chris Rock, Jerry Seinfield, and Ricky Gervais have a talk about comedy, what it’s like to be a comedian, what makes something funny, and what it means to be funny:
Funny stuff, right? You can always learn some great tips and advice from listening to what the experts have to say.
Guide On Being Funny: Practical Strategies to Becoming Funnier
Some people appear to have a gift — the “comedy gene”, so to speak — and seem to be able to make anybody laugh with ease. Unfortunately, some of us really struggle with humor. For those of us who have trouble, being funny can seem like a mysterious art, and in a way it is — in the sense that art takes skill and plenty of practice to create, and that it takes a certain level of understanding in order to be appreciated fully.
Along these lines, it should be clear by now that humor takes intelligence — not only to create it, but to enjoy it as well. The fact you are here likely means you have the necessary intelligence, but perhaps lack the natural gift that some people have.
So what can we do, as unfunny smart people? We can learn. We can practice. By doing these things, we will find that we are recognizing more funny things, perhaps things that others don’t, and that we are being funnier than ever before.
1. Identify your type of humor
All humor is not the same. Certain people find particular types of humor more humorous than others. Some people like easy humor like slapstick, while others prefer more highbrow forms such as satire. It’s important to remember that different types of people enjoy different types of comedy, and the sophistication of your preferred comedy doesn’t necessarily correlate with your level of sophistication as a person. A perfect example of this: The piano prodigy Mozart had a love for scatalogical humor. (If you don’t know what “scatalogical humor” is, look it up with caution. A word of warning: it’s a type of bathroom humor.)
By type of humor, we’re referring to the types of comedy/humor you tend to enjoy, and are not talking about the psychological research-oriented styles of humor (i.e. affiliative humor, self-enhancing humor, aggressive humor, and self-defeating humor).
The enjoyment in a certain type of humor or comedy often depends on a range of factors, most of them psychological and sociological in nature.
Types of Humor
Here are some of the most popular types of humor / comedy:
- Slapstick – In slapstick, everything — movements, gestures, situations, etc. — are exaggerated to the point of ridiculousness. It is considered one of the most simple comedy forms and thus easiest to consume. (Examples: the Jackass movies, The Three Stooges, etc.)
- Satire – Considered a higher form of comedy and criticizes “foolish” aspects of humanity through witty humor, irony, exaggeration, and mockery, etc. It focuses mostly on current politics and other important topical issues of the day. (Example: HBO’s Real Time with Bill Maher.)
- Deadpan – In this type of comedy the comedian delivers lines and jokes without displaying any emotion. This contradiction (the humor of the joke and the serious tone/facial expression) is what provides deadpan with its humor. (Example: Zach Galifianakis on Between Two Ferns.)
- Dark Humor – Also referred to as black comedy, dark humor uses humor with morbid (and sometimes disturbing) topics such death, rape, drugs, etc. (Example: Stand-up comedy by Anthony Jeselnik.)
This list isn’t exhaustive, as there are many comedy types. To identify your type, just check out examples from all of them until you find the one that suits you best. You can find a good list of most of the comedy genres here.
2. Discover your “comedic intelligence” and range
This is similar to identifying your preferred type of humor, but has to do more with the level of sophistication you prefer in comedy. While “comedic intelligence” may not necessarily be associated with your actual intelligence, it likely has some correlation with your level of education.
An important note, however, is that some people can have a rather wide range in terms of the types of humor they enjoy. Some people can enjoy any type, while others only like a specific kind. For example, somebody who belly laughs at the nuances of satire may stare blankly (or with looks of disgust) while watching a slapstick comedy.
All it comes down to is your preference. While you can certainly dabble in other forms of comedy — thereby expanding your range — you are sure to have the greatest propensity for the type you enjoy the most.
3. Absorb funny content
One of the best ways to become funnier is to consume funny content. This funny content can be anything really — movies, books, funny websites. But one of the most beneficial content to watch is stand-up comedy.
A great way to become funnier is to watch as much stand-up comedy as you can. After a while you’ll begin thinking more like a comedian and you’ll naturally start viewing the world under a different lens, so to speak. You will see everyday situations and interactions and will start noticing particular aspects of them that are incredibly funny.
To begin, watch some bits from one of the best stand-up comics of all time, Louis C.K. (NSFW warning: there is some heavy profanity):
Louis C.K. has several comedy specials out, so if you liked that clip, check out his specials, too. Or maybe you didn’t like his jokes, and that’s fine! There are tons of comedians with tons of stand-up styles. Keep watching until you find a stand-up comedian you like!
4. Listen and Observe
A crucial element to humor and finding comedy in all situations is to really listen and observe. You’d be shocked by how many people don’t simply pay attention to what’s going on around them.
The world is full of outrageous and absurd people and events. Next time you’re out in public, watch people. See what they do; listen to what they say. You’ll be amazed by the little things that will make you smile or even laugh aloud.
This “strategy” is exactly the same as what successful comedians do — successful comedians are good because they are observant. They are able to take everyday situations and twist them into hilarious anecdotes and stories. The reason they can do this is because they pay attention to the world around them.
5. Dig deeper
Most people come across something funny, laugh, and don’t think about it further. But if you simply stopped to ask yourself… why was that funny? — it could open up a whole new realm of hilarity for you.
Really thinking about why you found something funny can help you identify — perhaps even only on an unconscious level — other funny things. It will help you draw future connections that are related more easily, thus expanding your “comedic vision” and ability.
6. Share your humor with others
By sharing your humor with others, you will be able to get feedback. I’m not talking about anything as serious as signing up for open mic night at your local comedy club. But a good way to gauge what’s funny and what’s not, is to say it aloud, and if people laugh, you can conclude that it is at least a little funny.
Talking about comedy clubs again — the primary way stand-up comedians test new jokes is on a live audience in real stand-up environment. By judging the reaction of the audience, they can determine which are blockbuster jokes, which are missing the mark, and which fail in embarrassing fashion.
The next time you are with your friends, or your family, or other people you trust, and something you think is funny crosses your mind, say it aloud. They may laugh and they may not, but either way you’ll learn something new about humor and what makes something funny.
7. Don’t take yourself too seriously
This is perhaps the most important factor in comedy, being funny, and maybe even life in general. If you take yourself too seriously, you will be too worried about other things to enjoy yourself. And if you’re not enjoying yourself, you’re going to have tremendously difficulty seeing the things around you under a humorous light.
So lighten up. Have some fun, and don’t sweat the small stuff. Life is meant to be enjoyed. It’s not the end of the world if people don’t laugh at your joke; come back with another one and while they’re dying laughing they’ll forget all about the earlier bad joke.
It’s Kind of A Funny Story: Drawing Conclusions
As we’ve seen, some people are more naturally funny than others. However, like all skills, it is possible to improve yourself and become funnier.
For those who arrived here because they’re wondering how to be funny, the answer is that it’s all subjective anyway. Some people may not understand your particular brand of humor, others may die laughing every time you open your mouth, and still others may find your jokes repulsive.
Follow the ideas above and you’ll see improvement and will notice you’re becoming funnier. As in all things, be easy on yourself and don’t take it too seriously. Most importantly, be able to laugh at yourself and at life. This is, after all, the state of mind in which all the best material is made.