What is Funny?

Humor is a universal phenomenon, but what is funny, is not. Every culture laughs, but we all have different guidelines on what we find funny. The British humor (like Monty Python) is different than American humor, which differs from street humor like Def Jam. Luckily, humor has three common denominators.

1) The audience must be able to immediately relate to what you are saying:The appreciation of the joke must be instantaneous, regardless of how long it takes to set it up. The audience must understand the joke completely for it to be funny to them. Nothing is more embarrassing than finishing a joke and having the audience stare at you dumbfounded. If you have to say “You had to be there”, then forget it. Ditch the joke. Zoom – over their heads.

2) The joke has to have the element of either surprise, shock or unexpectedness for someone to laugh. If the audience sees the punchline coming like a freight train, the joke is not funny to them. A joke is funny because the audience is merrily led down one path and boom – you have landed them abruptly on another one. The immediate response to the surprise is laughter. It’s like saying, “Opps, you caught me!” That’s why a comedian or anyone telling a joke usually will say “Stop me if you’ve heard this one.”
Sure you can have a favorite joke that makes you laugh, but try saying the same exact joke three times in a row to an audience and see what happens. You can use jokes that work on different audiences over and over again, the key is you want to catch the audience offguard.

3) A joke has to have a degree of realism. As a speaker or comic you need to set the audience up so they believe the situation you are relating to them. Then you zing them. This is especially useful if you start out with a joke in your presentations. “On my way over here, I was driving along the (Insert the local highway). Man, there are so many potholes. (Believable to hear). But, hey, we shouldn’t knock them. They’re one of the few things still being made in the U.S.”

If you decide to tell a joke, think first if you personally like it and feel comfortable delivering it. Practice saying it so it rolls off your tongue. Once you feel comfortable, go for it.

Try not to over-analyze a joke. In the words of E.B. White, “Humor can be dissected, as a frog can, but the thing dies in the process.” We will have to dissect a few more frogs in the next few columns, but the overall purpose is for them to reproduce in your speaking tank. Feed your humor aquarium and make those jokes grow and prosper.

Until next week start writing down jokes you hear that you like. Try to repeat it and see what happens. Trust your instincts, if you laughed at the joke when you heard it, chances are others will too. Until then, be yourself and have a good time……