How to Be Funny - A Brainpower Exercise
The following look at how to be humorous is about creating
jokes as a mental exercise. Simple humor may not take much intelligence
to understand, but creating it takes a bit more mental effort.
Many years ago while working at a tedious job in the middle of
the night, I challenged coworkers to give me a topic and I would
come up with a joke based on that within a few minutes. I discovered
just how difficult it can be to create something funny. It is
a great way to give your brain a workout.
First, were going after the "low hanging fruit"
as they say; the easy techniques. For example, two-part words
and two-word expressions are easy to use for jokes. To do this
systematically, make a list of such words and phrases, as I did
in preparation for this page. Then look for double-meanings,
funny perspectives and such. Here is what a few minutes yielded
in my case:
Soap operas - The term originally came from the advertising
of detergents that supported the programs. My first thought was
of a bunch of bars of soap singing an opera.
Autobiography - The memoirs of a car? Notice it starts with
"auto? Okay, it isnt that funny when you have
to explain too much.
Bald eagles - This one got me thinking about the bald part.
It might be funny to have an advertisement for one of those hair-growing
creams that used a bald eagle (and presumably made it less bald).
Blueberry - A berry that is crying?
Self defense - What could be funny here? How about a monk
on trial for the crime of self defense? Perhaps only those familiar
with Buddhism will get this one.
Brother-in-law - How could a man who was born from the same
woman as I was be my brother in law? By becoming a lawyer!
Of course you can play around more with the words themselves
as well. Senior citizen becomes señor citizen - which
is an old man from Mexico, right?
How to be Funny With Metaphors
Playing with metaphors is in itself a great brain exercise,
and can lead to new insights. It also can lead to jokes. One
way to accomplish this is to assume that a given metaphor is
meant literally, and see what that perspective suggests.
For example, there is the metaphorical expression "selling
ones soul to the devil." What if you were really doing
that? The resulting joke: I was negotiating to sell my soul to
the devil, but then the appraisal came in too low and he backed
out of the deal.
"Head of the class" might be a disembodied head.
"The body is a temple" could have us imagining viruses
and bacteria inside us, in pews, praying. "Time is money,"
and "income streams" undoubtedly have some humorous
How to be Funny in Other Ways
What are some of the other ways to create jokes? You can start
with serious topics, since those are the ripest for humor. Take
suicide, for example. What could be funny about that? Why was
the man who tried to kill himself charged with five counts of
attempted murder? Because he had multiple personalities. Of course,
there is a fine line between what is disgusting or tasteless
and what is funny, but much existing humor comes from serious
aspects of life like love, death, sex, and religion.
Puns are another easy entry into creating humor. To play with
words in a systematic way, you can just look through a dictionary,
stopping at each word that catches your attention, and then looking
for punny ways to use it. Noticing the similarity between "profit"
and "Prophet," you might ask, "Is atheism a non-prophet
religion?" An advertising project could be an "ad-venture."
Playing with words in general can lead to jokes. Think of
alternative definitions, for example. What is a barbarism? A
joke that has been told in too many bars. Look for related concepts
and find a humorous perspective that connects them. When does
a cantaloupe become a watermelon? When it is floating in a swimming
There are also some simple formulas that make joke-creation
easier. Here are two examples:
1. What do _____ and ____ have in common?
2. What is the difference between _____ and ____?
Fill in the blanks randomly, looking for a humorous angle/answer.
What is the difference between a mirror and a monster? Well,
for you it that the mirror is scarier. What does Jack have in
common with his dog? His IQ score.
Those last ones get us to another aspect of how to be funny.
It seems that insults - delivered in the right context - are
considered humorous in almost all cultures. Taboos are great
for humorous material as well, as long as you dont go to
far. Bodily functions are funny when worked into a joke properly
- even for many who would prefer not to laugh at such humor.
Finally, one last way to be funny is to steal your ideas from
existing jokes. Suppose you might hear the joke, "What do
you call a hundred lawyers at the bottom of the sea? A good start."
You can then replace "lawyers" with whatever group
you wish to insult, or you could even replace "bottom of
the sea" with something worse.
Note: The page, What is
Humor, covers some of the theories of humor that have been
around for hundreds of years. There is no definitive answer to
the title question, but some of the ideas there still might teach
us how to be funnier in a general sense (check out the incongruity
theory of humor).
You can also find more ways to create humor on the page Writing Jokes and Riddles.
Learn how to use "humor algorithms," to invent jokes.