Where do I get my Funny material? How can I be more funny? How do I make my audiences laugh more?
These are questions that plague many a beginning speaker, and plenty of experienced ones. A successful speaker is a funny one. Audiences not only want to laugh, these days they need to.
Comedy speakers like Tim Gard (www.TimGard.com), who specializes in the Federal Government (a group that has very badly needed his programs lately), has comedy down pat. His shtick is airline travel. One of his favorite riffs is about the big sweaty fat guy. He is one, so he should know. Tim is round as a bowling ball with a perpetual, impish grin. His first, and biggest target is himself. That makes him supremely lovable, and very, very funny.
That should give you a pretty good hint right there.
People who struggle to find comedy are the same folks who take themselves far, far too seriously. Therein lies the problem. Comedy for many of them is at others’ expense. That can be cruel, manifesting itself in put-downs, racial slurs, and personal attacks. Don Rickles made a living out of it, but these days with social media, it’s an art form. It speaks to how much we dislike ourselves that we find Humor in other’s hurt. We all have an inner bully, unfortunately, and all too often this kind of wound-inducing humor is born of how much we are deeply unhappy. We leak our truth, and it is in part why it’s so hard for us to see what really IS funny.
LIFE is funny. It is one big cosmic joke wrapped in the tragedy of our everyday. The key is to see it.
Comedy is everywhere. The air is full of it, and each day is full of plenty of moments of hilarity. Most of us are buried in our devices or we’re so damned touchy about our self-importance that we miss the punch line. We’re so obsessed with our perceived faults and failings as we compare ourselves to the lies on Instagram we don’t see the humor in what we’re doing.
Rodney Dangerfield, one of comedy’s absolute greats, was a master at self-deprecation. “I don’t get no respect” was his byline, and he was one of Johnny Carson’s favorite guests. Carson only had to feed him a line or two and Dangerfield was off and running. A good example:
“My wife and I decided to quit smoking. So we decided only to smoke after sex. I’m down to two cigarettes a year and she’s up to three packs a day!”
I recommend you look him up on YouTube if you want to see a great take potshots at himself in a way that will leave you in stitches. Also see https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Rodney_Dangerfield.
This kind of thigh slapper is a perfect example of how making fun of ourselves and our situation can be the best comedy. The trick is to change how you see. Comedians are masters at noticing, as well as reworking the pain that is an inevitability of our existence into what can release us from that pain: the perspective that it’s all meaningless. Because ultimately, all of it is. The more we laugh at ourselves, the more we de-claw the dragon.
One really, truly good way to find the humor in our everyday is to go back to some of the greats, like Dangerfield, Johnathan Winters (all before we had fuck as every other word) and see how they turned their lives into humor. Robin Williams, a self-professed alcoholic and drug user, turned his most awful moments into triumphs on stage. Because- and here’s the point- we can all relate. Dear god, can we.
When people like Robin Williams can make fun of the immense pain in his life, then we are given permission to do the same.
Some years ago, two fellow members of the National Speaker’s Association delivered a program on how to find your funny. Karyn Ruth White (http://karynruth.com/), a nationally-known comedienne offered this insight on how to re-frame what’s happening to you in comedic terms. She and fellow NSA member Jay Arhtur wrote a book on this very thing: https://www.amazon.com/Your-Seventh-Sense-Think-Comedian/dp/1884180272
Here’s the Rx: In your worst possible moments (he won’t call, she doesn’t love me, I lost my job, my dog died, name your tragedy) ask yourself what your favorite comedian would do with this material. Mine is Robin Williams. He could grab one end of my pain and stretch it like a piece of salt water taffy, distort it and exaggerate it to such an extent that I’d be in hysterics.
Does this mean make fun of losing a child? No. Does this mean make fun of a cancer diagnosis? No. Kindly, let’s be reasonable. Although, famously, Norman Cousins did make fun of his cancer: https://www.cancercenter.com/treatments/laughter-therapy/. There’s a reason we’re designed to laugh.
Comedy often has at its heart a hurt. The great Mark Twain said that “Humor is tragedy plus time.”
Lemme give you a fresh example. The morning that I woke up in Bali, just after my 66th birthday, I got a Dear John email from the BF, who only the week before had reiterated that I “was his girlfriend.”
Well of course he did. Now look, while nobody likes to be dumped, here’s what’s funny about this. He’s done this eleven times before over the course of ten years. On my birthday last year he wanted back in (of course he did) and nearly begged me for another chance. Of course he did.
And what did I do? I took the closest ball-peen hammer, struck myself repeatedly on the forehead, and said SURE come on back.
I’ve already had some twenty concussions, but this was a doozy. Then I invited him to stay at my house while he job hunted. I found a few un-dented spots on my forehead and hefted the ball-peen hammer again and let fly. OF COURSE you can stay here.
It was positively awful. He turned out to be one of those men who lashes out at people who love him. The kinder you are, the more ugly he gets. We hardly ever laugh together (hint: he’s a monumentally terrific fuck but we do not share the same sense of humor. Danger! Danger!) So natch, when I am in Africa, I get the email that says, after he has recommitted to working things out, that he is moving to Phoenix.
Of course he did.
Then, when he drove back up to get (most of) his stuff, he said I was still his girlfriend.
What did I do?
There isn’t much room on my forehead so I went ahead and smashed in my nose.
I believed him.
Of course I did.
Now look if you can’t see the humor in this, you’re missing the point. He’s a walking tragedy of an emotionally bankrupted man, and despite all signs to this clear fact, what do I do?
Hand me that hammer, please.
Humor is born of our ability to see our foibles, our insanity, our stupidity. Here is my favorite line from last year:
Things happen for a reason. Sometimes because you’re STUPID and MAKE BAD DECISIONS.
The reason I love the method of using my fave funny person to reframe the shit I do to myself is this:
Not only does the monumentally stupid shit I do to myself resonate for all my readers and those in my audiences, this process heals me so much faster. To wit: I got the email at noon on January 19th. By 2 pm I was already laughing at it.
Wanna find your funny? Want to make your friends and audiences laugh?
Look at the stupid mindless ridiculous shit we do every single day. What does it take to be masterful? This:
- We all do it
- You are most certainly in excellent company
- We all desperately need permission to laugh at our insanity
- Laughter heals
Robin Williams said in one of his later shows that the best way to reduce a man to nothing is to laugh at the Mighty Sword.
Life’s Mighty Sword is pain. Our lives are entwined with it. No life is free of it. How we free ourselves of it is laughter.
The morning of January 19th, I hurt. A few hours later, I laughed.
The gems are around you. Pick ’em up, turn ’em inside out. They will reflect you in full, in your humanity, in all the humility, if you will, of our existence.
Laughter is sacred. The gods are doing it all the time. Can’t fight ’em. Might as well join ‘em.
To wit: https://theascent.pub/im-going-to-die-laughing-the-grim-reaper-better-have-a-goddamned-good-sense-of-humor-299ee4fae804
Now, where did I put that hammer?
I’m Not Funny. Where Can I Find My Funny? was originally published in The Ascent on Medium, where people are continuing the conversation by highlighting and responding to this story.