How to be Funny (for Non-funny People)

Look at this email I got from a reader:

What makes you fun, and how do you get there?

I mean, it is probably one of the biggest parts of me and my friend’s conversations, and I feel like I’m terrible at contributing.

-Elena

Elena isn’t the only one with this question. In fact, this is something a lot of people want to be better at.

Why Katniss Everdeen and James Bond aren’t funny

First off, being funny isn’t a deal breaker when it comes to being likable. You don’t have to be funny to be fun to hang out with. Maybe you’ve even noticed how people who try to be too funny become less fun to hang out with.

Being too witty can even make you come off as needy. It’s not a coincidence that attractive characters like Katniss Everdeen or James Bond aren’t made jokesters – being “the funny one” doesn’t necessarily go hand in hand with being attractive.

Learning to become funny and witty

With that said, humor and wit can make you more attractive in the right amounts and with the right timing. So what steps do you take to BECOME FUNNY?

As you’ve probably noticed, “funny stories” and puns AREN’T THAT FUN. What REALLY triggers genuine laughter in a group is timely remarks aligned with the specific humor pattern of that group. This can, for example, be in-jokes and stuff that relate to the situation.

You want to analyze your group’s humor patterns. Let me show you what I mean here!

Every group has their own type of humor which means that you need to understand what exactly makes what your friends say funny.

What’s the underlying core of the jokes? Sometimes it’s funny because it’s a deliberate misunderstanding, sometimes it’s a spoof of something the group knows about. Some groups just love puns, while others hate them. Sometimes it’s funny because there’s an unexpected twist. You want to find the underlying pattern behind what your group thinks is funny.

When you understand the pattern, then you can tap into it and make your own jokes by repeating the pattern.

Here are some examples of humor patterns. There is almost an unlimited number of humor pattern and you need to analyze and understand the pattern of YOUR group.

Picking up on an in-joke catch-phrase-type

When I was in my teens it was all new and cool to watch movies on the computer instead of at the TV. I was at a computer movie-night and nothing worked. We were troubleshooting for hours and when we were finally about to start the movie, the computer got a blue screen and shut down. As this happens, someone said (without irony): “So when will the movie start?” – obviously not understanding that everything had gone haywire and that there wouldn’t be any movie.

Ever since then, for years to come, whenever there’s a severe technical problem, the standing joke in my group of friends has been to say “So when will the movie start?”. This is an example of an in-joke catch phrase.

The “remark of the situation”-type

My dad, who’s an artist, once told me that he was happy I didn’t become an artist as there’s no employment security.

I told a friend about this, and he replied: “Then he must be happy that you instead became an entrepreneur”, addressing to my almost decade long ups-and-downs of running businesses.

He found an irony of what I had just said and made a remark about it. It’s funny, and it’s a “remark of the situation” humor pattern.

Purposely misreading the situation-type

I was at a birthday party a few days ago and we were divided into three groups. We had games where we competed against each other and out of the three groups, my group had the hands down worst results.

I remarked “Well, at least we got the third place”, and the table laughed. It’s funny because I purposely misread the situation.

So these were a few examples to help you get the gist of what a humor pattern is. Now you want to analyze what patterns your group has, and how you can tap into these patterns. What in-joke catch phrases can you use? What misreadings of the situation can be fun? And so on.

Jokes need timing, so the first times, you’ll probably come up with them too late. And that’s OK, it’s about practice. If you start off with analyzing the core and then practice making jokes with the same core, you’ll make great progress over time.

One of the most common mistakes

There is one mistake I see far too often. And that is making fun of someone else. It can be hilarious once, not that fun twice and is closing in on bullying thrice. As a rule of thumb, I try to have the mindset that people will leave a conversation with me feeling like a better person. I try to give others value. It makes us both feel good. It’s an easy win-win. Making fun of someone else takes value, it makes them feel a little bit worse at the expense of your relationship. Lose-lose.

Use storytelling to your advantage

One thing some of the funniest people I’ve met have had in common is this. They’ve been great at telling stories. When they begin one of their stories, everyone listens intently. Because they are being entertained by a master. Usually, you get at least a good laugh with the group when you tell a good story. But that’s the beauty of it, you don’t even have to be funny because a good story is its own reward. It’s just interesting to listen to it.

Let me show you an example of a great storyteller in this Ted talk by Sir Ken Robinson:

And here’s another Ted-talk if you are really motivated to become a better storyteller (I recommend it!):

Don’t be afraid to stumble

As Elena said in her question, overthinking usually just ruins humor. Because as long as you fight it and try to stay “cool”, you will be inhibited and stuck in your head. So we know we need to be relaxed and uninhibited to get it right, but that’s easier said than done.

To relax, we need to stop being afraid. Stop being afraid of messing up. Stop being afraid of being awkward. When we’re afraid, we freeze. When we relax, we can just laugh it off. Together.

Everyone messes up from time to time. It’s not a big deal.

Let me tell you a secret. I embrace my own awkwardness. I’m not always super cool and I mess up a lot, so do most of my friends. But it’s not a big deal, I just laugh about it with my friends and it turns into a great moment anyway.

I love being able to relax like that, just having fun without judging myself or my friends. I think that’s one of the fundamentals of being funny.

So let yourself be silly, it doesn’t have to be perfect. You will stumble a lot in the beginning, but with each try, your experience grows. And you will notice yourself slowly improving. You will start feeling more relaxed and comfortable once you are OK with messing up and being awkward. You will notice you have a lot more fun with your friends when you follow these mindsets.

Viktor and I are reading all your comments. So please share your comments below now. We love to hear what this makes YOU think about.


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David Morin

I'm David Morin. I'm a social life expert. I'm featured in more than 20 self improvement and career sites and newspapers, among those Business Insider, Lifehacker and Thought Catalog. I live in Gothenburg, Sweden.