Have you ever wondered how your favorite comedian comes up with the jokes and stories that kill on stage, or how movies like “The 40 Year-Old Virgin” and “Groundhog Day” manage to make you laugh hysterically every time? You are not alone. I too wondered these things, and my research led me to a book called “The Hidden Tools of Comedy”. Reading this book was eye opening to say the least, and true to it’s name, it added many tools to my comedic arsenal. In fact, the knowledge that I gained from it was so profound that I had planned on keeping it for myself, but a quick search for “how to be funny” on google showed me that this article is needed so badly that I will almost certainly go to a bad place when I die if I don’t write it. And no, I don’t mean Cleveland. The other reason that I am sharing it is that I am tired of listening to terrible stories at parties. We don’t care what Jim did at your office on Tuesday, Nancy!
So, without further ado here are my main takeaways from the book and life in general:
1. Comedy is the truth – What I mean by this is that to be comedic is to be human. We all screw up. We all do silly things like run up the stairs quickly after turning off a basement light. There are no serial killers running after us and we know that, but we do it anyway. Comedy identifies with that. Comedy says, “I screw up too! I have an irrational fear of midgets too!” and people like that because it takes their insecurities and relates to them, showing them that they are not alone in this crazy, fucked up world.
2. Comedy is the opposite of drama – Think about this for a second. Think about the characters in soap operas and action movies. They are damn near perfect, aren’t they? Being perfect isn’t funny. Being perfect is dramatic. The more perfectly you portray yourself, and the more skills you have, the less funny you will be. Period. Remember, comedy is truth and nobody is perfect…besides maybe Jason Statham.
3. Comedy is being in a difficult situation, not really knowing what to do, but not giving up hope –
If you take any of these elements away, it’s no longer funny. Think about the bunk bed scene from “Step Brothers”. We all know it. We all love it. What makes it funny is that the characters want to “make room for activities”, but they have no skills to do so. What do they do? They do the best they can with the skills they have, resulting in a very badly built bunk bed collapsing on top of one of the characters. This is funny precisely because they have no idea what they are doing. If instead they put on safety glasses, busted out a saw, built a sturdy frame then high-fived, it wouldn’t be funny at all. They could be wearing onesies. They could have hello kitty hard hats. It still wouldn’t be funny.
4. The best way to not be funny is trying too hard to be funny – When you do things that are over the top or don’t really fit your personality, people can detect that you aren’t being genuine. You aren’t doing what you would really do or saying what you would really say. Remember, comedy is the truth. If you’re quiet and reserved, don’t make up a story that you drank too much Jäger and got in a fight with your ex’s neighbor’s inflatable lawn decorations.
5. When you are telling a story, hope is key – We all do stupid things in the hopes that it will somehow end up being awesome or not that bad. That’s basically the premise of Johnny Knoxville’s “Jackass”. You have to tell your story like the journey that it was. An example from my own life is “the mole story”. Basically, a nine-year-old me and my friend were trying to dig a mini-golf course in my yard when we became annoyed by mole tunnels making the “green” uneven. We had dreamt of this 5-star mini-golf course for three whole days, so we hatched a completely idiotic plan (as nine-year-olds often do) to trap the mole by digging a hole and beating the hell out of the lower branches of my dad’s favorite pine tree in order to cover the hole like some sort of burmese mole pit. It made no sense. It didn’t work. And it made my older brother famous when he turned it into an hour-long saga of child vs nature vs extremely pissed off father. Remember that comedy is relatable. Unless you are James Bond or Wonder Woman, you probably did something similarly stupid (okay…maybe not THAT stupid) when you were younger. And because you did that, you can relate to my story, and you can relate to the bunk bed scene in “Step Brothers”.
6. Don’t be a know it all – Know it all’s aren’t funny! Even if you are a rocket biologist, talking like you are is just going to make people feel dumb. Feeling dumb isn’t fun. If someone isn’t having fun, they aren’t going to find you funny. Stop talking like you’re the professor and tell the truth, which is most likely that you have no idea what the hell you are doing, where you are, how you got there, or where your hat went (me at Mardi Gras last year).
7. Beauty and Comedy are in the eyes of the beholder – Everyone has a different sense of humor. Not everyone is going to appreciate yours (people from Cleveland probably won’t like mine). If you find that you are annoying someone with your sense of humor either shut up, talk about highly incendiary political topics, or excuse yourself from the conversation and go find some people that do appreciate a good dick joke.
8. Practice – Comedians (even Carlos Mencia) work their asses off to be funny and they have bombed countless sets to make it to the point where they can get their comedy special on cable television. Very few people are naturally funny. If you really want to make people laugh, you have to do what your comedic icons do; you have to practice. Practice your jokes. Practice your stories. And get used to rejection and people saying “that’s neat” after you tell your stories. Just kidding on that last point. Only my asshole friends do that.