25 Tips to be Witty

Scientifically reviewed by Viktor Sander B.Sc., B.A.

Last updated on

Here’s how to sharpen your wit and be quicker in your conversations. What we’ll go through:

  1. Becoming a quick thinker
  2. Knowing what to say to be witty
  3. Avoiding the pitfalls of using wit

For tips on how to be funny in a conversation, check out this article.

Part 1. Becoming a quick thinker

Part of wit is timing – it’s about quickly coming up with things to say. Luckily, you can practice becoming a faster thinker.

1. Do this naming exercise to become a quicker thinker

Wit is often about unexpectedly associating things. If your friend has started lifting weights and looks like he’s added a pound or two, a witty remark could be, “I see that the steroids are paying off.” It’s witty because it’s an unexpected association. Here’s how you can practice this ability.

Step 1. Name objects around you as quickly as you can

Look around the room and see how fast you can name everything. Lamp, plant, window, chair, etc. This exercise helps you practice finding the right words more quickly. Charismatic people average under one second per object.[1] It’s surprisingly hard!

Step 2. Make unexpected associations

Instead of naming the objects with their correct words, come up with associations. This trains your brain to make unexpected connections. It’s not about being funny, nor about memorizing words. It’s about speeding up your ability to associate.

Lamp -> Searchlight

Plant -> Jungle

Chair -> Butt parking

Etc.

Being quick at associating helps you make sharp, witty remarks in real life. If your friend bought two plants for her apartment, you might make an unexpected association and joke, “I feel like I’m inside a jungle.”

Step 3. Repeat the exercise daily

Naming and associating objects daily for 2-4 weeks can help you become both quicker at associating and talking.

2. Practice your witty response afterward

Think back to a situation where you weren’t witty but wanted to be. Now that you have time to think, what would have been the perfect response to give? When you come up with a good reply, what components does it have? What can you learn from analyzing it?

It’s not about memorizing witty responses. It’s more about improving your skillset, so you are quicker in the future.

3. Take improv theatre classes

Improv theatre is about improvising instant reactions. I took an improv class for a year, and it helped me become a quicker thinker. I thought I would only meet extroverted people there who were already fast thinkers, but the truth turned out to be that most people go there because they want to learn to loosen up.

Part 2. Knowing what to say to be witty

1. Watch TV-shows

TV-shows, especially sitcoms, are full of funny, quick remarks. Watch some, and pay attention specifically to the humor in the conversations. Don’t try to remember the actual lines. Instead, try to understand the underlying principles and how you can apply them.

Below are some of these principles.

2. Make unexpected associations

The exercise in the previous chapter helped you make unexpected associations faster. These can be used in different types of wit. When I asked my friend, “Do you want food?” and he responded, “No thanks, I’m trying to quit,” it’s an unexpected association. He found a connection between asking if he wants food and asking if he wants something like alcohol or cigarettes.

3. Use obvious misunderstandings

When your friend at dinner asks if you can hand him the butter and you give him the flower vase next to it, it’s funny because it’s an obvious misunderstanding. If there’s a way to very clearly misunderstand a situation, that can be funny.

4: Remark on the obvious

Seeing the obvious in a situation and pointing it out can be funny. In a quiet elevator stage-whispering, “it’s so quiet” is unusual because it’s a remark about the obvious.

5. Use irony

When my friend and I ended up next to a busy motorway, he closed his eyes, took a deep breath and said, “I can feel the calmness.” It was funny because he associated the situation to its opposite.

6. Connect similar words of different meaning (puns)

Words that sound similar but have a different meaning are funny. An example is when you’re cooking and referring to oregano as origami. It’s funny, yes, but not overly humorous. These are called dad-jokes and can quickly get old. Use this type of wit with moderation.

7. Focus on the conversation rather than what to say

Witty people act on instinct rather than by thinking, “What’s something clever I can say?”. When we get nervous, we tend to end up in our heads. Instead, focus your attention on what’s happening around you: the group, your surroundings, the conversation you’re having. Use the things that are going on right at that moment as inspiration for your wit.

8. Be brief

Wit is most effective when only a few words are used. When we played games at a friend’s party, we got divided into three competing groups. My group was in last place. I said, “At least we got third place,” and people laughed. Saying, “My group got third place, so I think that’s good” would have been less effective.

9. Have an easy-going tone

When you’re being witty, especially when it’s unclear if you’re joking or not, use an easy-going tone. I like to deliver my jokes dead-pan, which can make people uncomfortable if they don’t know I’m joking.

If you’re poking fun at someone else, it’s even more important to show in your tone and facial expressions that you shouldn’t be taken seriously.

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10. Be self-deprecating with things that don’t matter to you

Being able to laugh at yourself is a good trait, and you don’t risk stepping on anyone else’s toes when you do it.[3] However, only joke at your own expense about things that don’t matter to you.

For example, if you’re terrible at soccer but agree to join your friends game for fun, you can joke about your inability to kick the ball. However, avoid joking about things that matter, like being worthless or a bad person. If you do, that can signal a poor self-image and will make others feel uncomfortable.

11. Say what you think is funny rather than what you hope will make others laugh

Don’t think, “I wonder if they’ll laugh at this.” Say what you think is funny. Being witty in an attempt to be rewarded with laughs will end up being needy. Rather say things because you think they are hilarious and that you want to share with the group.

12. Pay attention to how people around you use wit

If you know someone funny, pay attention to how they do it. See if you can find the patterns of wit I’ve explained in this article. Pay attention to when they joke, what tone they use, what they joke about, and equally what they don’t joke about.

Part 3. Avoiding the pitfalls of using wit

1. Know that trying to be witty can be too much

Use humor if you want to match the jargon of a friend group by being able to “shoot the shit.” However, if you’re trying to be witty all the time, it can make you look like a try-hard. You aren’t always on stage. Make comments only when you feel inspired and think what you have to say is funny.

An example is James Bond, who is occasionally witty and seen as very attractive. Then there’s Deadpool, who is amusing all the time, which also makes him annoying.

2. Being a quick thinker makes you more charismatic, but not more likable

An interesting study showed that people who can name objects faster are also seen as more charismatic.[1] However, they aren’t seen as more likable. It’s easy to use wit the wrong way and step on people’s toes. Keep in mind, it’s safer (and kinder) to joke about situations rather than people.

3. Avoid trying to be witty by memorizing lines

Wit is a quick, spontaneous reaction to a specific situation that can’t be canned. In this guide, I’ll talk about how to train your wit rather than learning funny lines.

4. Avoid wit all together if you don’t know the people around you

Save wit for the people you know well, and for those who know you. If you don’t, you may offend someone accidentally, and your friend will forgive you faster than a stranger.

Keep in mind, some people just don’t appreciate wit. You have to get to know them to know what they like or don’t like.[2]

5. Make sure your jokes aren’t made at someone else’s expense

It’s easy to make a joke about someone, get rewarded with laughs, and then feel tempted to make more jokes about that person. This gets old really quickly for the person you’re teasing, and it shows a lack of integrity. Just because everyone laughs doesn’t mean that you should make certain jokes.

6. Avoid witty responses to “How are you?” with strangers

If someone new asks you, “How are you?” and you attempt to be witty in response, it can come off as rude. When someone asks how you are, they’re putting themselves out there by initiating contact. If you make a joke out of that, they might not try to talk to you again. The best response is “I’m good, how are you?” and then follow up with a friendly, sincere question, like “Did you do anything fun this weekend?”

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Part 4. Making witty banter

1. Match the other person’s type of banter

The same witty banter can work well with one person and be a disaster with someone else. Some people just don’t like witty banter. When you come across someone who does, you’ll know. They’ll communicate with you through friendly teasing. Meet that person by communicating back in the same way, with the same level of friendly teasing.

If someone jokes with you and says, “Don’t you have something better to do than sit here?” a good response could be “I was having a great time until you came by.” It’s okay because it’s a similar level of insult. Pro-tip: avoid escalating the put-downs.

You can only do this with people you know reasonably well, or that rare individual who is so easy-going and quick-witted they rarely take offense. Beware, though, people can be offended and not show it. You won’t know until MUCH later, if at all.

2. Take what you know about someone and tease them about it good-naturedly

What do you know about someone that you can tease them about? Perhaps your friend jokes about your dry dating life. What do you have on your friend when it comes to dating? Well, there’s that short summer romance he had with Monica that turned out to be a disaster. You can, in a friendly, joking way, respond: “Well, at least I didn’t date Monica.”

3. Use friendly body-language

Use relaxed, open body language when you’re being funny. Unclench your jaw, open your lips a bit, and relax your eyebrows. Put your hands by your sides and smile. Have a friendly voice and laugh when appropriate. This signals that you’re warm and will make what you say sound playful and teasing rather than aggressive.

4. Witty comebacks

If someone jokes with you and you’re at a loss for words, make it a habit to turn the focus back on them. If they say “Nice shirt, I had the same one in college.” What joking insult can you respond with that focuses on them? I would have gone with “Cool, I didn’t think you went to college.” Or “That’s such a funny coincidence because I had the shirt you were wearing in elementary school.”

This takes some practice because you’ll need to think of an appropriate response at that moment. A blanket-solution instead is to misunderstand an insult as a compliment, on purpose. A simple, “Thank you, that’s so sweet of you” is witty and can be applied to any insult.

If you found this guide useful, I think you might like our guide on how to be more fun.

References

  1. von Hippel, W., Ronay, R., Baker, E., Kjelsaas, K., & Murphy, S. C. (2016). Quick thinkers are smooth talkers: Mental speed facilitates charisma. Psychological science, 27(1), 119-122.
  2. Merolla, A. J. (2006). Decoding ability and humor production. Communication Quarterly, 54(2), 175-189.
  3. Gkorezis, P., & Bellou, V. (2016). The relationship between leader self-deprecating humor and perceived effectiveness: Trust in leader as a mediator. Leadership & Organization Development Journal, 37(7), 882-898.

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