Funny isn’t born, funny is made. Many people believe the myth that you’re either funny or you’re not, and if you are then you were fortunate enough to be born with the funny gene. Nothing could be further from the truth. Quite simply, as human beings we become what we learn and practice, and we learn and practice what is meaningful and important to us until those things become qualities of our personality. Being funny is a unique quality that is composed of a special set of skills. And as a skill set, that means it can be learned and developed by first understanding the underlying principles of humor and comedy, and then practicing them until one has achieved a certain degree of proficiency or even mastery.
As an example, let me share with you how I learned to be funny. It’s one of my fondest memories. When I was a kid my dad would come home every night from work, and soon after, the family would sit down for dinner together. Then at some point during dinner my dad would tell a joke. We all knew it was coming at some point but never quite when, which was part of the fun, the delicious anticipation. Then, when we least expected it, he would surprise us with his latest joke of the day and give us all the gift of laughter. And we loved it.
Kids learn a lot about what’s important from their parents. I learned at an early age that having a sense of humor was a valuable quality to possess. Being funny got you attention while it made everyone else laugh and feel good, a win-win situation. Before long, I was telling friends at school the jokes my dad had performed the night before. It went over so well that I started memorizing jokes from joke books, stringing them together into a routine, and telling them to anyone who would listen. What I didn’t realize, though, was that during all that practice I was also unconsciously learning the “rules” for good comedy and making people laugh. I was learning to be funny.
As I got older, people would say things to me like, “Oh, you’re so funny. How’d you get so funny?” And since I honestly had no clue but felt like I had to come up with something clever I fell back on the old myth and would blurt out, “Guess I was just born that way.”
When I finally became a professional standup comedian in my early twenties and started performing in clubs around the country, people would often talk to me after the show and ask, “How do you come up with all those jokes?” Again, being clueless, I’d look at them and say, “I dunno, guess I just think funny.” At which point they would look at me and say, “Huh,” then shrug and walk away in disappointment.
I was always shocked by their lack of response, and it really got to me. Coming up with jokes and finding the funny in things seemed like the most natural thing in the world. I couldn’t grasp how other people just didn’t get it. In fact, other people’s lack of understanding about how I did what I did and my inability to explain it to them caused me to become passionate about finally finding an answer.
For the past twenty years I’ve thought, read, analyzed, and studied this wonderful but nebulous quality, and tried to come to a deeper understanding of what it means to be funny and have sense of humor. The world can always use more laughter and no one should ever need to rely on others to find it. Most people have a much better sense of humor than they realize or give themselves credit for. But we can all learn how to make ourselves laugh even more, as well as, give the gift of laughter to others by understanding what it is that makes for a great sense of humor and how to be truly funny.
Thinking funny is a skill that can be learned just like any other. Essentially, what professional comedians or anyone else with a great sense of humor is doing when they “think funny” is saying to themselves, “Show me the funny!” Funny people are always looking for whatever is humorous in a given situation, and they’ve been asking the question of “what’s funny” for so long until it is finally dropped out of their conscious awareness and become a part of their subconscious mind. Their subconscious is constantly in search mode for something to laugh about.
Reality is what you focus on. You don’t see the world as it is, you see the world as you are if you’re an optimistic “ glass is half full” person then what you focus on in life is the positive, what’s right with the world. Conversely, if you’re a pessimistic “glass is half empty” person you tend to focus on what’s wrong with the world. Funny people focus not so much on what’s right or wrong about the world, but on what is incongruent about a thing or experience.
The key to humor and comedy and finding what’s funny is finding what’s in congruent in any situation. Roget’s Thesaurus includes as synonyms for the word “incongruent” the following: paradoxical, observed, capricious, fickle, twisted, screwy, bizarre, contradictory, conflicting, juxtaposed, and unpredictable, just to name a few.
So, the root of all humor and comedy is ultimately what is incongruent.
Now, if we can get philosophical for just a moment, go a little deeper and look more closely, we find that what is incongruent isn’t the world so much as it is ourselves. The reason why is because we are finite beings, and as such we are incapable of perceiving everything at once. We can only perceive a small portion of Reality, and that portion we focus on is what becomes our “reality” in any given moment. And that’s where the comedy starts. Since we can’t take in everything we end up engaging in three kinds of mental processes to make sense of our experience: distortion, deletion, or generalization. These three processes are at the heart of humor and comedy because they’re all about incongruence. Most of the time were not consciously aware of this process at all, but comedians and people with a great sense of humor are. They’re always looking for what’s distorted, deleted, or being generalized where maybe it shouldn’t be. They’re looking for what’s incongruent.
Just look at some of the different forms of comedy and try and match up how they relate to incongruence, distortion, deletion, and generalization.
Finding what’s funny is a matter of holding the gem of experience in your hand and slowly turning it around to view it through the different facets until you finally find the one aspect that strikes you as humorous and makes you laugh. It’s merely a matter of getting good at reframing your experience. The trick is to keep doing it until it becomes second nature. That’s what ‘thinking funny’ is all about.
Being funny is about Presence. Presence is a quality that while often difficult to describe or define is immediately obvious when we see or experience it. In it’s more positive aspect, it is often described as charisma or charm. It’s that magnetic quality an individual radiates and thereby draws the attention of others.
Presence is about identity. Whenever you are completely I-dentified with something you are it. Whatever it is, you don’t just believe it, you know it. It’s more than just a part of you. You and it are one. It is you. You don’t even think about it. It’s simply a given.
People who possess comedic presence and a great sense of humor don’t just believe they’re funny, they know they’re funny. Funny is a part of their being. There are literally “being funny”. Comedic presence is a kind of presence with a slightly different flavor. It feels light and playful yet confident. When we’re around someone who possesses comedic presence we find ourselves feeling much the same. We feel lighter, more playful, happier, and we laugh heartily and easily, because presence, like laughter, is wonderfully infectious.
If you think about and practice the ideas shared here you will find you more fully express the unique sense of humor that you already possess quite naturally. What makes you funny isn’t something outside you; it’s what’s inside you. The best advice I was ever given in comedy was, “Remember kid, it’s not the jokes, it’s you that’s funny.” The more you practice the more you will see your sense of humor grow until you experience the direct truth of that statement it’s not the jokes, it’s you.
Since everyone has a sense of humor, everyone is funny, and that means everyone has comedic presence, too. It’s merely a matter of recognizing that felt presence within - that light, playful, happy way of seeing and experiencing the world - and allowing yourself to tap into it. We all have many wonderful and humorous stories to share that are uniquely our own. And it is because we know them by our direct lived experience that we own them. They are our stories and no one else can tell them like we can. Be patient with yourself and make them your own. Feel free to experiment. Get curious and play with your funny ideas, jokes and stories, Because play is just another way of saying experiment but with a lot more fun involved. It’s also a way of coming to know something more deeply, yourself. So enjoy and have fun because life’s too important to take seriously.
Doc Barham, founder and owner of Coach Hollywood, is a life coach based on Los Angeles. He is also a consultant, speaker, trainer and author. Visit: http://www.coachhollywood.com