Home » 133 – Steps to Be Funny

133 – Steps to Be Funny

by Jill

I continue the book Humor, Seriously, which helps us be funnier.  I discuss the principles of humor, including the importance of heart and misdirection in-jokes. They also cover the rule of three, analogies and specifics, and the importance of practice and signature stories in developing humor. The author cautions against offensive humor and emphasizes the importance of balancing gravity and levity. Overall, the episode provides useful insights for anyone looking to become funnier personally or professionally.



[Music] Have you ever wondered how you could be funnier.

That’s what we’ll talk about today.

[Music] While humor doesn’t come naturally to some, everyone can learn the joy of making other people giggle.

What a gift to the world.

Mary J.

Schirmer Today we’re going to continue our conversation humor seriously why humor is a secret weapon in business and life And anyone can harness it even you by jennifer aker and naomi bagdonas So the next part of the book talks a lot about how we can be funnier people And they said principle number one That the heart is at the truth of all humor, you know, it’s that center part of it when we hear a joke that’s completely not serious It can be still funny, right.

It could just be way out there But it’s the jokes that actually come in at our heart.

We know is true.

We know is Genuine and that’s what usually makes the best laughs The second principle is that humor contains surprise and what they call misdirection.

So the idea is that a lot of humor just happens to be something where you’re expecting one thing to happen and another thing happens.

It’s like that Emo Phillips joke where his nephew wants him to give him a wish.

And you think, of course, he wants to be given a gift.

And that’s where Emo turns it on its head, Does a misdirection and surprises you by not giving his nephew a gift You’ll just take a different tact on something that’s true, but you’ll bend it a little bit in a different way And they said that a lot of reasons why humor doesn’t work or jokes won’t work is because there is no misdirection The joke is just leading you all the way down the line And you know where the joke is going you’ve always known where the joke is going And so while the joke could potentially be funny Because you always expected what was going to happen happened, it’s not that interesting.

So think about the knock knock jokes after you’ve heard them half a dozen times, you know exactly where the joke is going.

Knock, knock.

Who’s there.


Boo who.

Oh, don’t cry.

You know, not misdirection.

We knew all along where this joke was going.

So in order to make a joke a little bit more funny, you have to sort of get away from what’s expected.

And one piece of advice was never look for what’s funny look for what’s true and go from there So that’s a real essence of making humor.


Is that fact that it’s something.

Expected turned on its head then comes the emotion, you know where people Go against something where people love things or hate things and they do something that’s completely the opposite of what you’re expecting.

You know, so you go and you tell a joke when you’re in New York and you say, “You know what, I hate the Yankees.

” And everyone’s like, “What.

How can you hate the Yankees.

We love the Yankees.

” There’s the joke set up.

You’re going across expectations.

When you’re having that happen, that unexpected tilt of an emotion, everyone loves this, everyone hates this, how could you not agree with us.

Then it sets the stage for being really funny But they also warn you that while comedy can be Tragic or made fun of something tragic it needs time, you know that joke that’s too soon And then people will make the joke too soon Sometimes if it’s a real tragedy, yeah too soon is too soon And it will cool the room down drastically I listened to a history fellow named dan carlin and he talks about How good we are about genghis khan, which is it’s funny.

That’s what a history podcast talks about But we talk about genghis khan and he rampaged here.

He rampaged there.

He just con killed millions, I mean it’s Ended entire family lines and he Was with so many women voluntarily or not that half of europe is related to genghis khan we can laugh about it now and he talks about how the fact that people do make genghis khan jokes or or talk about him lightly.

There was even a productivity book about the great things that Genghis Khan did.

The only reason that can happen is because it was a long time ago.

But if you were to take some modern day slaughterer and put that name in that book, it’s not great and you wouldn’t do it.

I don’t know, I took his point that maybe never is the right time for a pro Genghis Khan book, but things happen over time.

Genghis Khan was in the first Bill and Ted movie, but that only can happen because enough time had passed.

They said part of making a joke is that you typically have what you call a setup.

That’s always known.

The joke is setting up the situation, and then you get to the punchline.

And then the setup is some kind of thing that we see, something that’s expected to happen, and then the punchline tends to be the surprise.

And sometimes it’s just a simple life.

You go to the dentist, you eat lunch, something very simple.

And sometimes it’s very complicated, but typically some of the best jokes are actually quite simple.

The in-between part where before you get to the punchline, they say that you have to help the joke along, fill in details that will make this even funnier.

Norm Macdonald did this famous joke that was called “The Moth” or people refer to it as “The Moth.

” Because what he does is he has this very simple part of the joke.

He tells it in all this detail and he’s what the book calls massaging it.

He’s making something that is maybe not very funny, funny because of the details he goes into to set up this joke.

So don’t read the joke.

Make sure you watch it on some sort of a video service because it’s worth watching it.

Once you get there, you’re like, come on, get to the joke, get to the joke.

But he’s not getting to the joke because he’s trying to massage the joke.

So it actually ends up being funny.

The other part of humor is exaggeration.

That’s where you take something very minuscule and you multiply it by 100 and you make it this huge problem.

Something you brought a bag lunch to work and, you know, and then the story just gets more incredible and more incredible and more incredible.

And that’s exactly what Norm Macdonald did in this moth joke.

So that’s a good example too.

But making hyperbole, making these observations that are pretty mundane into something big, that’s what turns a joke into something very funny.

It said that you can create contrast, and that means that you’re comparing A to B.

Jerry Seinfeld did a joke about nighttime guy and morning guy.

And I talked about that joke a long time ago.

And so he’s creating that juxtaposition between two personalities inside his own body, the guy who wants to stay up all night and watch TV and the guy who has to get up in the morning and go to work.

So he created a situation of contrast inside himself.

I always do that a little bit when I talk about grocery shopping, Jill, in the end, it’s just me, but I’m creating that contrast of someone else.

They also say that you can use specifics.

So when you’re trying to tell a joke again, we maybe make it in hyperbole.

We maybe give a lot of details, but those details, too, can be very, very specific.

They say that bring it even down to size, the color, the color of someone’s hair, as much details as you could go into, the more you’re going to set up that suspense of the joke.

And again, that’s the other part of that Norm McDonald joke, the month.

She says making analogies can be good.

Some people are really good at that.

I love analogies, you know, and I love telling people, you know, your problem is like, your problem is like rotting vegetables.

And then people will just look at you like, how is my problem like rotting vegetables.

So they can be funny.

They can compare something.

And they said, the more over top that analogy is, the better that the laugh will be.

He said in the end, the thing that ties an entire joke together is the opinion, the viewpoint of the comic.

Stealing jokes is kind of fun because you get them on the internet and you can certainly do that.

But part of what makes a joke fun is the fact that you’re telling the joke, that this is from your point of view.

I had chat GBT write a few jokes for me and you know what, they were just all terrible from beginning to end, terrible.

So you get a chuckle out of it, but not very funny.

What makes a joke is it’s coming from the opinion of you.

So when I tell someone, I say, “You know what your problem is.

It’s like rotting vegetable at that point.

You’re intrigued to find out what thing inside of me makes any of this seem like rotting vegetables.

So having that analogy is important because of the joke teller themselves.

Then there’s this very common point they bring up called the rule of three, and that when you list something, it’s always expected to have two items and the two items are pretty much the same.

You know what I like.

I like dessert and I like coffee and I like cow poop and then suddenly you’re like, wait a minute what.

It’s that third unexpected thing that can make the joke funny because our brains if you didn’t know this it’s really Intriguing the best thing about our human brains is that they are pattern seekers It’s why we see faces in trees or we notice when something is out of place.

We are fantastic at recognizing patterns.

It made us excellent hunters when we had to rely on hunting, to feed ourselves.

It kept us safe when we noticed something was out of sorts.

But now it also can help us make funny jokes because you bring up two things that are very much alike and then you bring up that third one, which is not like any of the other thing and you try to tie it together.

It makes it incredibly funny if you’re good at it.

So the rule of Always remember that.

Lists of two don’t really work.

Always create lists of threes.

The brain expects it, and when that third item at the very end is unexpected, that’s where the jokes can be funny.

And they said then build out an entire world.

I like this.

As soon as you create this idea about you know what your problem is.

Your problem is that you’re like rotting vegetables.

Or your problem is like rotting vegetables.

And suddenly, if I can build that into a story, and build this whole analogy about why this other person’s like rotting vegetables, then I’ve created almost a little tiny world in this, and I can keep going.

And I’ll say, “You know what.

And you know what your wife’s problem is.

Is that she’s rotting fruit.

” And you can just keep going down the line over and over again, and just build up this joke until it is even more funny.

And the biggest thing where I think people say, well you’re a funny person and I’m not a funny person, is people who can be funny spontaneously.

But they point out that people who are funny spontaneously worked at it.

They work really hard to be funny.

They try things, some of them don’t work out, they’ve been doing it for years and years, they sort of have a bag of tricks that they usually go to, I know I do, when I’m trying to tell jokes, but they’ve been working at it.

And even for me, where did I get to be funny.

I had parents who were trying to destroy each other in arguing, and I was kind of the overweight nerd girl when I was growing up.

So jokes to me were trying to cool down my parents.

Maybe if I made a good joke, they would stop fighting.

Or maybe someone who wouldn’t give me a chance to to be my friend would suddenly give me the chance to be my friend because, hey, she’s kind of funny.

So that allowed me to do it.

So I’ve been telling jokes almost since.

I mean, I think the first joke I remember telling I must have been seven or eight and I got in trouble because I repeated somebody’s jokes and it turned out it was a dirty joke.

But I was eight and I did not know that this was a dirty joke.

So I get to my grandmother’s house and I must have been telling jokes for a long time at this part but I was very proud of myself and I rattled off that joke and suddenly my arm got yanked out of the socket as my mom dragged me in the other room and reamed me out because I told my grandmother a dirty joke that I had no idea was dirty.

So you can tell that by the time I’m eight I’m already trying jokes out and learning jokes so it must have been going on for a while but you can too.

So what it means is that you need to do a couple of things which first of all means practice.

In order to get funny you’re gonna have to start noticing things, observing things, trying jokes out on other people, and once you start getting practice with it you will start making really great jokes.

It just takes a little bit of time.

They say that you should also pull together signature stories that you frequently tell.

I have a list of jokes too and I have a list of just funny things that I mentioned here and there that I bring up about myself or I bring up about what I do.

So it’s common that I have this bag of tricks but I’m always on the lookout for something that I can interject from the room around us.

Something new, something I haven’t said before that tries to be a little bit funny too.

I was working with a customer and they had something that nobody particularly wanted to do and it started out with the letter U and everyone kind of you know well are we gonna still have to do this U document anymore and I said U document it’s now a we document and so you see I took the U the letter U and turned it into you versus we and then everyone in the room chuckled and and that was one of my better jokes.

But I took that spontaneous moment to do it.

But that only comes when you have a pool of stories, a pool of jokes you like to tell, and then you get practiced, and you get good at them.

And then you start looking around, looking for funny opportunities, and you’ll be good at jokes, even spontaneous jokes, soon enough.

It’s just gonna take a little bit of work to get there.

Another piece of advice is they say, use something called callbacks.

I mentioned this in episode 56 of the podcast where I talked about doing improv to help your daily work and other things around you too.

Callbacks are referring to a previously funny moment and so if you can bring it back and maybe even grow on that joke again so you can guess that I used that we and you joke for the rest of the day.

Probably overused it but you can also refer back to other jokes that you told before and sometimes those are the best out there.

I don’t think I’ve reached that level quite yet, but you can tell when a comedian does that where they take something, they tell a joke in the first three minutes and suddenly an hour into their routine, they’re talking about something they said in the first few minutes.

It becomes funny because you realize the amount of work it takes to piece everything together so everything works.

There There used to be this old play advice, I guess you would say, that you don’t bring a gun into Act One unless you’re going to use it in Act Three.

And that’s a bit about the jokes, too.

The jokes you’re bringing in Act One are going to be brought back into Act Three.

That’s a callback.

They say that Buddy Hackett, he was a comedian that was a while ago, said that 99% is delivery.

If you have the right voice and the right delivery, you’re cocky enough, you pound the punchline, you can say anything and make people laugh maybe three times before they realize you’re not telling a joke.

The other piece of advice they say is before you get to the punchline, make sure you pause.

You want to draw that dramatic line out.

This is where I’m terrible at it and you probably even notice this when I read the quote at the beginning of the podcast and I’m trying to get better at it but you know when you have that moment where you’re reading something.

Use the way you speak in order to make things even funnier.

Someone was even commenting about a podcast saying how a few people are so good at reading ads even though the ads themselves are somewhat boring, somewhat standard.

I know everyone in the podcast world has the same ads but they were so good at it because of what they did with their voice, their intonation, and that’s what they’re saying about the jokes too.

That if you can do those things your jokes will get even funnier.

They say that you can act out some of your jokes.

And I was in Toastmasters and part of the ratings that they did for people had to do with whether your arm waving, your hand usage, the way you stood on stage or walked around, looked at people, was related to what you were saying.

You know obviously if you say people then move to the right you’re gonna swash your hand to the right or this fellow was really tall.

You’re going to raise your hand up and put it up to indicate that the person was tall.

People take cues from that.

And so if you can be expressive in using physical activities and your voice, the joke will get even better.

And then they said at the very end, land the punchline emphatically, confidently, enunciate, boldly, clearly, and if you do it like that, the joke will land.

And so in the end, that’s where the whole joke part is coming out.

About how so many people sound so boring at work, they don’t use humor, they’re not particularly funny, and work can be kind of a drag.

Even consultants sometimes will use big language to again make themselves sound important, make an impression on other people.

People obviously want to be very professional and very competent and get huge scores from their customer.

I always concern myself with this a little bit because I do want my customers to like me and I worry that if I’m too jokey with them maybe they won’t find it funny.

But for the most part I get through that introductory phase you know with a customer but then I’m me after that.

And maybe I let it out a little slowly.

Sometimes I can be a bit much.

I know that.

But people like it that I’m funny.

And I think in the end they find it again that I’m approachable and easy to talk to because they know I’m not judging them.

I’m not gonna make a face if they ask me a question.

And so that makes them feel more like coming to me if there’s an issue that’s there.

I know that it’s a big part of why I’m successful at the work and I think it can help you too.

But they say at the very end, make sure that you get that right balance between the two.

Again, gravity and levity.

If you’re too funny, maybe people won’t take you seriously.

Or maybe if you’re too funny too soon in meeting people, they won’t take you funny.

But you can grow that quickly.

You can grow it over time.

And if you get Too far with the levity people really won’t take you seriously.

They’ll just think you’re You know not doing your job and just cracking jokes all the time.

But if you’re not Telling jokes at all and you’re too serious, then you might also be considered to be someone who’s unapproachable maybe a little bit of a drag to be around So the real point here is that when you do decide to be funny You’re going to make a choice to be funny.

You’re going to pick the right thing to be funny about You’re not going to be offensive.

You’re not going to make fun of people And you’re going to do things that brings up the room Or in my case, I have to watch it that i’m not distracting the room I can sit there and tell jokes so often that I could actually be the thing that distracts the room from getting the work done Now i’ve gone too far So being intentional And getting that right balance It’s it’s taking me a long time to get better at that balance and you’ll get there too Just keep your eyes open and be perceptive of how not just the people in the room are taking it but leadership Maybe if every time you tell a joke, which I noticed in one particular room everyone gets off topic Now you’ve created a distraction.

So we’re not getting through the training agenda So it has to come back and then maybe done in more limited function because the people in the room take off on what you’re saying They said to be careful about self-deprecating humor in some cases it can Make you look bad if you are constantly picking on yourself, or if you point out even maybe some true things like I’m not the classiest dresser in the world And so I tend to make a few jokes about how you know I had to wear geranimals which was a kid’s thing that told you what matched with everything Because I wasn’t particularly fashion conscious and I never understood what matched with other things and some people laugh But if I do that too much, they’re going to start noticing Maybe jill isn’t as put together as we think she is or maybe She’s not really dressed appropriately for this meeting something like that.

But if you do self deprecating humor too much If it’s too real or even if it’s not too real people might start not respecting you or Mistrusting what you say because if you just keep saying oh, i’m just such a klutz Oh, I don’t even know what i’m doing.

I’m such an idiot You don’t want to go there because people could start degrading what you’re saying instead of the jokes enhancing what you’re saying They were talking about People at work and how sometimes it’s easier to even trust strangers than it is to trust your own boss And that a lot of times what happens is if we don’t trust the people around us It’s hard.

It’s hard to be an employer.

It’s hard to be an employee But being someone who brings levity in the work Some of these tips of doing it the right way Will help everyone be more trusting.

It’ll make people feel more approachable Approachable has to do with humility.

So if you tell jokes at other people’s expense and and you’re vain about it or you’re cutting other people down, it won’t build that trust.

But if you can use humor and it has a bit of humility in it, then you’ll be able to balance the right kind of jokes, the right kind of culture, and you’ll be able to do that.

They say that setting the tone for humor in the workplace happens from the top, which means leadership should consider being funny too.

If people see the top CEO being funny, people feel more comfortable about being funny too.

I know my CEO, he’s a good guy, he’s very warm, and when I listen to him he says funny things.

He’s got another natural sense of good humor so I appreciate listening to him speak.

And they say in the end if you screwed up a joke, figure out what went wrong with the joke.

I know I my joke went wrong because I said it all wrong, but in In the future, I’ll do a little bit better job of paying attention to the words coming out of my mouth.

But they say, just figure out what went wrong, diagnose how you can fix it, and then just do better next time.

Or just laugh at the mistake you just made and decide that maybe the screwed up joke is even funnier than the real joke.

In the end, they said if you tell a bad joke, if someone got offended, no, the thing to do is be sincere, take responsibility, and apologize for it.

will accept apologies if they believe you sincerely meant it.

So my challenge to you is be observational in the next week.

Look for opportunities to be funny.

Maybe if you don’t say the words out loud, but look for those opportunities where something happened, was unexpected, that could be told in great detail, and could potentially become a joke.

Then see if you can take a few of those things that you observed and turn it into a single joke.

Try it out with your family, see how it lands.

Alright everyone, thanks so much.

I appreciate listening to the podcast.

Remember that I have another podcast, Small Steps with God, and a third one is coming soon.

It’s gonna be about observable nature and science.

It doesn’t have the word “steps” in it, so it’s like small steps outside your front door to see natural things.

I don’t It doesn’t work at all, but give them a shot if you’re willing to listen to them, leave a review, and as always, you can email me at jill@smallstepspod.

com and let me know what you think.

Have a great week.

And remember that walking out your front door can be done with small steps, and if they’re not, you’re probably going to trip and fall on your face.

All right, I’m out of here.


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