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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, we’re 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 isn’t 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 one’s 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 potential.

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 pool.

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 don’t 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.

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