How to be Funny

Four Key Elements of Humor*

In Why Funny Matters we looked at the what of funny. Now let’s look at the how.

picdump-38pics-01First and foremost, comedy feeds on conflict, or at least the potential for conflict. It can be an awkward situation (blind date, first ballet class, first football practice); a difficult one (going on an uber-restrictive diet, having to use your opposite hand due to an injury); a tense one (job review, therapy session), or even a dangerous one.

For example: My friend Barry took a skydiving class. During his first solo jump, both chutes failed to open! Fortunately, this potential tragedy turned into a comedy. Barry’s story about bargaining with God, then shouting for the people on the ground to “catch” him, and about his chute finally opening within the last few hundred feet, is hilarious. Whatever the situation, big or small, start with conflict.

Now decide how you want to tell your story. Use the DRIP method to brew up something funny (I’m proud of this stupid acronym, so just go with it):

  • Different Perspective – Look for a skewed or unexpected way of seeing things. Much of comedian Demetri Martin’s best material comes from this approach. He tells us all vests are for “protection.” Then he starts naming types of vests: bullet proof (well, yeah), life vests (sure), sweater vests–wait, how are those for protection? “They protect us against girls,” he explains.
  • Relatability – At my first big youth gig, I did abstract puns. It was hilarious. If you’re a college professor. Not so much if you’re a 14-year-old. I was de-hired because I “wasn’t funny.” So all the next day I got busy…weeping. Then I wrote completely new material for an upcoming youth event in Wisconsin. This time I talked about the 3 Ps: pets, parents and puberty…and got a standing ovation. Make it relateable!
  • Incongruity – Look for mismatches: Roommate from Hell stories; Redneck Meets Sophisticate (O. Henry’s classic “The Ransom of Red Chief”). Many sit-coms and movies are built around incongruity: The Odd Couple, Two and a Half Men, Pretty Woman, Some Like it Hot, Tootsie, and Every Buddy Cop Movie Ever Made.
  • Play with the meanings of words – Misconstrue words or concepts. There’s a scene in my monster movie Notzilla in which haiku (poetry) is used as a martial art in a battle between an American scientist and a Japanese paleontologist. Puns and groaners are also based on word-play (watch any episode of The Big Bang Theory.)

Next, we’ll talk about How to Get a RISE Out of Your Audience. I know, “Another acronym?” Hey, wait, that might be a funny bit:

“Readers sue blogger for cruel and unusual acronymage.”

*Or “Humour” if you’re non-American and don’t know the correct spelling.

About mitchteemley

Writer, Filmmaker, Humorist, Thinker-about-stuffer
This entry was posted in Culture, Humor, Movies, Popular Culture & Entertainment, Writing and tagged , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

18 Responses to How to be Funny

  1. Pingback: How to be Funny | Mitch Teemley

  2. Eliza says:

    Which came first? British or American spelling?

    Liked by 1 person

    • mitchteemley says:

      Probably the British. But then American dictionaries corrected it. ;>)

      Liked by 4 people

      • Eliza says:

        Okay, okay. I havta say that some american spellings make a lot more sense than the british. Also the american pronunciation. So that when I’m teaching my students ear I tell them that in england the r is ‘u’ but in america they say the ‘r’ and that is why it’s written with a ‘r’. It’s impossible to spell! So yeah, I think some of it is better by you, but hey, you really should be sticking to the British way because it came first and all, and really just coz’ I should be patriotic…. who knew one could think so much about spellings… (I do! I teach it every day…)

        Liked by 1 person

  3. smzang says:

    “Readers sue blogger for cruel and unusual acronymage.”

    No sir, it was the banana peel.

    Liked by 3 people

    • boromax says:

      Cruel and unusual, yes. Oh, btw, “banana peel” stands for Better Assimilation of New Acronymization for Nonsensical Apprehension and Profligate Estimation of Everybody’s Livelihoods. 🙂

      Liked by 4 people

  4. Bill Sweeney says:

    This is great, Mitch. Like my post from last month titled “You Have To Laugh,” some of the funniest stories come from situations that you never imagined you could laugh about, like my almost choking to death on my mouthguard 🙂 Your sky diving friend 🙂 The poor guy probably has PTSD.

    Liked by 2 people

  5. Chuck Fisher says:

    I gotsta know—how about the paraprosdokian and it’s greatest practioner today, Emo?

    Liked by 1 person

    • mitchteemley says:

      Funny stuff, although his delivery style starts to grate on me after a while. Steven Wright would certainly be a contender. And, of course, the definitive paraprosdokian has to be Henny Youngman’s, “Take my wife—please.”


  6. The phrase “cruel and unusual acronymage” reminds me of an obsolete kind of slot on computers for attaching various obsolete gadgets.  It was called a “PCMCIA” slot.  Dunno what the volley of letters was supposed to mean, but some wag came up with

            People Can’t Memorize Computer Industry Acronyms

    and that stuck.

    Liked by 1 person

  7. Pingback: Help! My comments on other people’s blog posts are going into their Spam folder – A Blog About Healing From PTSD

  8. Pingback: How to be Funny | Mitch Teemley

  9. Everything can be funny. It all stems from the point of view. Dripping that out can put a different spin on the situation. Good one.

    Liked by 1 person

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