Humor Coach: Hone Your Funny Bone (3)
Comedy, as distinguished from tragedy, as a genre, concerns itself with human imperfections and exaggerates them to absurdity.
Comedy puts everyone on the same playing field under the same critical lens. No one is any better than anyone else. Comedy pokes fun at bad manners, raging egos, stuffy rules, and rigid attitudes. People laugh at exaggerated movements that clowns make. They laugh at unusual facial expressions and abilities such as nose and ear wiggling, dancing eyebrows, and amazing mouth contortions. They laugh at stupidity, real and imagined. Imitation evokes laughter. People laugh when they feel superior. The Seinfeld Show used recognition humor, pointing out small realities we normally miss, like The Soup Nazi.
No situation is immune from a humorous take on it. Think of gallows humor and hospital humor. Humor is the only thing short of death that diffuses horror. Viktor Frankl, who survived German concentration camp confinement, said, humor, more than anything else in the human makeup, affords an aloofness and an ability to rise above any situation even if only for a few seconds. I would never have made it if I could not have laughed. Laughing lifted me momentarily out of this horrible situation just enough to make it … survivable.
Friedrich Wilhelm Nietzsche said, Perhaps I know why it is …[humans] alone who laugh; …[they] alone suffer so deeply that …[they] had to invent laughter.
One of the easiest and best ways to hone your sense of humor is to laugh with children. Make them laugh. Let them make you laugh. Children are the best teachers of physical humor. Children laugh so much more often than adults because they use their body, mind, and spirits creatively. When I was caring for my neighbor’s son, David, I told him when I was about his age, I loved sliding down big wooden banisters.
I know how to slide down stairs without a banister, he said. He then slid down from the second floor to the first floor on his belly, laughing all the way. Then I slid down. Then we slid down together. David’s mom and I were both single parents, so we did lots of things together with the children. One day, David and I were laughing so hard in a restaurant that his mother asked us both to leave until we could calm ourselves down. We were still laughing when we passed the window where they were sitting. She just rolled her eyes. That’s another of my funny photos.
By now, you may be wondering what it actually means to have a sense of humor. Here are some characteristics:
- You are easy to amuse
- You like to hear jokes and you also tell jokes
- You can laugh at yourself
- You can find the humorous aspects of situations
- You can often brighten a bad situation with humor
Humor is standing watch over life and shining a bright light on the funny things that show up. It is often spontaneous, quick and quirky. Humor can be so fast-paced you really need to be paying attention. Laughter is literally fast-paced, coming out of your mouth at 70 miles an hour.
The former president, John F. Kennedy said There are three things which are real: God, human folly, and laughter. The first two are beyond our comprehension, so we must do what we can with the third.
Cultivating good humor skills allows you to play with life. Former president Gerald Ford said humor can help you to disagree without being disagreeable. When someone growls and grumbles at you, ask, are you an endangered species or it is legal to shoot you and put you out of your misery? When someone finishes your sentence, say, I guess I’ll leave. Since you do both parts of our conversation, I’m no longer necessary.
Make it easy on yourself while you are a Humorist in Training (HIT). Think positive and practice only one style out of the five basic types of humor:
- The Anecdote – funny stories, often real, that you can tell over and over because they are original. My father and I tended to get the giggles in church. My mother would get annoyed. One particularly giggly Sunday, my mother pinched my father so hard, he yelled, ouch! It struck us so funny, we laughed for the rest of the Mass.
- Irony – Truth in funny packages. You can eat anything you want as long as you don’t swallow. Everything is fattening in quantity—elephants are vegetarians.
- One-liners – Situational funny lines. When I was two my father came home from World War II and I went to church in the big cathedral for the first time. When the priest began his sermon, I boomed from the back row in my big two-year-old voice, Daddy, daddy, who turned the radio on?
- Exaggeration – (Chattering teeth exaggeration) I was so cold I sounded like I had a flamenco dancer in my mouth.
- Understatement – My last date was so uninteresting, he was less than boring.
You’re right if you’re thinking wit and humor come naturally to some people. However, you’re foolish if you believe you can’t learn to make funnies out of life. Here are some ideas to get you started:
- Get joke books and practice the kind of jokes you find funny.
- Start telling jokes. If people don’t laugh, recognize that, like you, they have certain favorite types of humor. One-liner fans get bored with long jokes. Others love long jokes the more contrived the better.
- Hang around funny people and imitate them.
- Look for material in cartoons, funny movies, and books.
- Add humor to your life every day. It is as good for you as the food groups, so non-fattening that it even burns calories.
If you think of laughter as mental jogging, think of humor as the jogging track. Could you run the quarter-mile track the first time you put sneakers to gravel? I remember the beginning of the running craze in the early 1980s. Suited up in new running gear, I began my short running regime at the high school track. I should have suspected how hard it would be when I found myself alone on the track. By the time I was 30 steps into the quarter-mile circle, my whole body had mutinied.
My head ached, I was holding one of my sides, and I was wheezing like an old tractor about to expire. After four days of this torture, I decided to time myself against the four-minute mile gauge. No fool, I fast-walked the mile first and it took 20 minutes. Excited, I anticipated how much faster my running time would be. You probably already guessed, it took 20 minutes. In-joke parlance, this is called telegraphing. No surprise, not very funny. Avoid it when telling your jokes. But remember the story while you hone your humor skills. Don’t expect Bob Hope, Bill Cosby, Bette Midler, Seinfeld, Rosie O’Donnell, Robin Williams, or Whoopi Goldberg, at least not for the first decade. Anticipate that you will get better.
Here’s what you need to pack into your Humorist’s Tool Box:
- One Large Imagination
- Sharp Silly Instinct
- Bag of Tricks
- Spontaneous Paint Brush
- A Target
Here are some tricks and techniques to increase your chances of getting laughs:
- Prepare – Each funny story has three parts: set up, anticipation, and punchline. Tip-if the setup is too long, people get bored.
- Practice Before Performance – Would you climb into an 18-wheeler tractor trailer and expect to back it into the loading dock slot the first time behind the wheel? Tip-humor takes skill and skill comes from practice.
- Pause Before the Punch Line – the pause is your promise to deliver a payoff to someone for listening.
- Pause After the Punch Line – give your listener time to get the joke and respond. Tip-that doesn’t mean laugh at your own jokes, which is in poor taste.
- Prey on the Unsuspecting – surprise people. Pull the rug out from under their expectations. Did you put the cat out? No, it wasn’t on fire.
- Create Play-on-Words Humor – put your own twist on familiar clichés, song titles, commercials, and ad slogans. Surprise people with double entendres. You visit a friend during dinner. The friend asks, will you join us? You answer, Why, are you coming apart?
- Pack a Wallop into Your Punch Lines – make them strong, short and surprising. You are an overnight guest and your hostess asks if you slept well. Your answer, No. I made a few mistakes.
- Put together Parallel, Paired Phrases – Optimists look at life through rose-colored glasses and pessimists look through woes-colored glasses.
- Pronounce Numbers in the Longest Way Possible – twenty-seven is funnier than twenty. One thousand eight hundred is funnier than eighteen hundred. Exact numbers sound more believable than estimates and round numbers sound like estimates, one hundred people vs. eighty-one.
In the sum total of lives, the best memories to share are the funny ones, so create lots of them. Mark Twain said, Humor is a great thing, the saving thing, after all. The minute it comes up, all our hardnesses yield, all our irritations end, resentments flit away, and a sunny spirit takes their place.
Now that you have reached the final of this three-part Barbara Garro Hone Your Funny Bone Series, you may want to consider hiring The Humor Coach to perfect your delivery, understand and stay focused on your humor aptitude, and work on becoming the funniest person your friends and family know! In other words, become a Humorist in Training, a HIT!