How to be Funny

Why Funny Matters

Whether you’re a writer, teacher, politician or mortician, this three-part series will help you be wittier–or I’ll refund every penny you’ve paid!

My first career was about funny. I spent 13+ years in sketch comedy (Isaac Air Freight, Mitch & Allen, National Lampoon Players). But even after 22 albums and 7 videos, I had no concrete theories about why funny was funny. Comedians start by doing “research” as class clowns. By the time they’re adults, they’ve developed a sophisticated but unconscious expertise. When asked how to be funny, they give weird, subjective answers like, “Use the word ‘weasel’ whenever possible.”

So, when I started teaching writing and public speaking, and students began asking how to “funny up” their material, I decided to do some research. (Always make a point of learning a subject after you’ve been hired to teach it). And now “for less than the cost of a pack of cigarettes a day” you can reap the benefits of my research! And not die of cancer.

Funny matters: “I don’t get no respect” is humor’s motto (Rodney Dangerfield). Humor has never gotten the respect it deserves. The ancient Greeks created huge festivals to stage tragic dramas, slipping short comedies in between them as “comedy relief.” We tend to see drama as “real life, ” but humor as mere escape, and therefore less important (83% of the Academy Awards go to dramas). But humor isn’t simply escape, it’s an escape valve, a way of coping. Psychologists say those who laugh live longer. So does a much older source of wisdom: “A merry heart is good medicine” (Proverbs 17:22).

So what makes funny funny, and how does it help us cope? In a word: truth. Yes, good drama rings true, but so does good comedy. How? By tweaking truth’s nose.


In a drama, a distraught woman tries and fails to get her lipstick right, hating the face she sees in the mirror. She takes out a bottle of pills… “No!” we shout, recognizing her shattered sense of self. We pray she’ll find a way out, because as readers or watchers we’re taking the journey with her (dramatic catharsis).

In a comedy, the distraught woman puts on her lipstick–and gets it perfect! But then, as she’s leaving, we realize she has actually applied her lipstick to the mirror! Absurd? Yes. Pointless? No. It’s metaphor for how we let superficial things steal our identity. We take a step back and laugh–at her and at ourselves (comedic catharsis).

Yeah, yeah, so much for theory, Professor Teemley, but what about How to be Funny? We’ll talk about that in Four Key Elements of Humor. Class dismissed.

Don’t slip on the banana peel on your way out.

About mitchteemley

Writer, Filmmaker, Humorist, Thinker-about-stuffer
This entry was posted in Humor, Memoir, Quips and Quotes, Writing and tagged , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

18 Responses to How to be Funny

  1. I get a lot of laughs when I try to put lipstick on. Good suggestion!

    Liked by 3 people

  2. Great post! I have always said that having a career in comedy is one of the most worthwhile careers in the world – for the very reasons you cite here. It reduces stress and gives a sense of relief (when we often can’t change the circumstances of life). It lifts depression, restores a sense of balances, and oils and enriches relationships.

    Liked by 3 people

  3. JOY journal says:

    Good points. I actually think even the Bible is pretty funny, including some of the things Jesus said and did. Humor is part of being a God-breathed person.

    Liked by 2 people

    • abeaustin says:

      I agree. For example, I’ve always found this passage preceding the resurrection of Lazarus hilarious (John 11:11-14). Jesus is trying to poetically teach his disciples that death is not the end…but the lesson is sailing right over their heads!

      After that he saith unto them, Our friend Lazarus sleepeth; but I go, that I may awake him out of sleep.
      Then said his disciples, Lord, if he sleep, he shall do well.
      Howbeit Jesus spake of his death: but they thought that he had spoken of taking of rest in sleep.
      Then said Jesus unto them plainly, Lazarus is dead.

      Liked by 1 person

  4. smzang says:

    uh oh…my back is killing me!

    Liked by 1 person

  5. Cindy Dawson says:

    Mitch, You can’t help but be funny!!

    Liked by 2 people

  6. revruss1220 says:

    I think comedians are some of the most daring, vulnerable people in the world. I met a professional stand-up comedian once in the service department of our local Saab dealership. As we chatted about our respective professions (I am a pastor), he said, “I don’t understand how you do what you do. You have to come up with new material EVERY WEEK.” I told him I didn’t see how he could do what he did… to enter a room full of strangers and make them laugh, I told him, seemed far more challenging.

    Liked by 2 people

  7. joyroses13 says:

    I have always said that humor is a coping mechanism of mine and so thankful God gave it to me, for yes it is a great stress reliever and its just plain fun! 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

  8. Well, okay, now I’ll encourage you.

    Liked by 1 person

  9. Good start. I can’t wait to read the following parts. I will have my lipstick ready.

    Liked by 1 person

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