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Lesson #2: What Makes Us Laugh?

Before you can write funny, you need to know how audiences respond to humor. In other words, you must understand why we Laugh. Mel Helitzer’s Comedy Writing Secrets is a book used by most people learning comedy. It lists a couple reasons why we laugh:

1. We laugh out of surprise.

This happens when we hear the unexpected. That’s why the same comedy sketches become less funny when we watch them repeatedly. It becomes predictable and loses the element of surprise. There are so many ways you can do this in conversations. One way is through word plays such as puns, malaprops, and double entendre. Another popular technique is to lead the audience into thinking something, and then switching it to something unexpected. This is called misdirection. It’s very similar to magic – people enjoy being fooled. Giving a non-politically correct response to somebody can also be pretty effective. We call this shock humor.

There is one natural way you can be unpredictable. It’s simple. It’s to say what’s in your head all the time. This is especially true when you’re meeting new people. Your personality, thoughts and opinions are unique to yourself. Some of them can be raw, dirty, inappropriate, risque, or whatever. But the fact that it’s unique to you makes it unpredictable when you express them. Because you’re not just like everyone else.

2. We laugh when we feel superior.

This is why we laugh whenever someone’s being teased at. This is also why people laugh when we make fun of ourselves, because they feel superior over us. You can also achieve this by telling stories about someone being stupid, or making fun of the authorities (eg. your boss at work). Comedy Roasts are excellent examples of humor by making fun of other people. Learn from the pros here – Comedy Roast of Justin Bieber

3. We laugh at incongruity.

According to the dictionary, something is incongruous when it is inconsistent within itself. For example, whenever someone behaves in a rigid manner that is suddenly ill-suited to the logic of the occasion, these incongruous antics result in a ridiculous scenario. This comic effect can arise from incongruity of speech, action, or character.

Comedy Writing Secrets

You can achieve this by taking on a different character from what is appropriate for the situation. It’s important that people know you are just joking. So it’s more of a mini role-play.

A very common tactic you can use for incongruity is to say outrageous and ridiculous things. In a dating scenario, if you’re a guy, you can do this by accusing the girl of hitting on you.

4. We laugh out of ambivalence.

Ambivalence is the state of having conflicting emotions (eg. love and hate) towards someone or something. For example, “I want you to be my friend. But only for 5 seconds.” This is its own art form. One way to get into this mindset is to realize that we all want a healthy balance of affection. If we show too much love, then the other person will start to feel uncomfortable. So we want to show a little hate as well, but in the form of a joke.

5. We laugh for release.

This is why we laugh when we do something embarrassing. Laughter releases tension. It’s a good idea to call out an embarrassing deed right after it just happened, because the tension is still there. Calling out the elephant in the room also releases tension since most people has it floating in their head but are not gutsy enough to say it.

6. We laugh when we solve a puzzle.

This is that moment when you finally understood the joke and laughs. It makes us feel superior because we were able to figure it out. The most common way to achieve this is through implication. English is such a rich language that there are so many ways to tell the same thing. There’s usually an obvious way to say something. But we don’t wanna be always predictable right? By implying what you mean instead of saying it in a matter of fact way, you are letting your audience solve the puzzle. This is why when teasing somebody, saying “You’re stupid.” is not funny enough. It’s better to say “What a blonde moment.”

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Lesson #2: What Makes Us Laugh?


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