(By Larry Roberts) Everyone loves to laugh. Laughter is universal. If you can make someone laugh, you know you have made a connection and that they are listening. This is the only reason I got beyond saying hello to my wife. I made her laugh. Laughter breaks the ice, reinforces your point and connects us in a way we may have never considered.
Some of us are hesitant to be funny. We love to laugh with others, and we may even laugh at our own jokes. But, to open up and be that vulnerable in front of others is intimidating.
Better yet, forget calling it intimidating. It is flat out SCARY! I’m talking scarier than a chupacabra selling you a toasty sub sandwich.
Now, think of trying to add comedy to your podcast where you’re judged by your content and the response to your punchlines! How will you react after that first review that says you’re not funny? Will you be able to recover? Do you see yourself trying more jokes, or do you go back to playing it straight?
The good news here is that much of what we consider comedy or humor is achieved with a variety of techniques. Yes, I am telling you that you can be taught to be funny!
It’s always best to start with a basic understanding of the basics, which is ironic considering the less-than-basic definition of humor provided by Merriam-Webster.
Humor: the mental faculty of discovering, expressing, or appreciating the ludicrous or absurdly incongruous : the ability to be funny or to be amused by things that are funny.
A prevailing misconception about being funny is that only funny people have been blessed with the Comedic Gift of the gods. But, someone we may consider hilarious at the office, in the gym or even in the city jail after a slurred discussion with that mean Officer Buzzkill last night, may not be funny at all when speaking in front of, or recording for an audience of people they do not know.
If funny people aren’t always gifted talents anxiously awaiting their big break, then there must be certain, repeatable techniques of the craft. Just as regular sentences can be punched up with a well-timed joke, a bad joke can destroy the momentum of an otherwise awesome podcast episode. Let’s look at a few techniques that will increase the odds of your comedic success.
BUILD A JOKE
There are, at a minimum two components to any joke. These are the setup and of course, the punchline. There can be other components, but every joke must contain the structural foundation of at least these two.
Let’s take a closer look at the setup. When you are writing jokes, it’s not uncommon to write the punchline and then build a narrative to support it. The setup needs to be crystal clear and help the audience draw a ridiculous image in their heads.
Often, a negative emotion is the strongest choice when you are building towards your punchline. Words like scary, weird, crazy, confusing or tough are universally relatable and more easily accepted by an audience than an attempted spin on positive moments.
It’s critical that you convey as much information as possible in a short amount of time. Industry experts and professional comics alike regularly stress the goal of using 30 words or less for your setup.
Remember, if people do not understand your setup, then your joke is inevitably going to bomb and that is NEVER funny…especially for you.
The punchline is the last sentence or phrase of a joke that is unexpected or exaggerated in order to make your point. The laughter created from your punchline is often triggered by referencing the mental picture or sense of relatability you developed in the setup.
As podcasters, we may find it more difficult to write a successful punchline than a joke meant for use on stage. In a live setting, we can use body language to help emphasize our point. While I recommend using body language even on a podcast, some listeners still may not pick up on it. This leaves you with a “guess you had to be there” moment and no one wants to be there.
Another way to capitalize on your punchline is to follow it up with additional tags. Tags are extensions of the punchline by serving as follow up, mini punchlines that also work with the same setup. You need to be careful when using tags to let each one breathe before following up with another. If you don’t leave a little time between tags, you will find yourself “stepping on” your punchlines. This leaves the audience confused and prevents you from establishing any momentum.
TOOLS TO TICKLE THE FUNNY BONE
There are many tips, tools, tricks and techniques that people can learn to be funny. Of course, you don’t need to learn them all add a little light-hearted flare to your podcast. But, if you pick a few and hone your craft, you’ll see a dramatic increase in your comedic confidence.
Emotion is the most critical component of any joke. Have you ever heard a podcast where the host is just trying to get through the episode? Maybe they are too nervous or maybe they have a fear of…podcasting? There are comics that come across the same way. It feels like they are just trying to make it through their sets and get off stage as quickly as possible. This is because they lack an emotional connection to their presentation. If you are going to commit to being a podcaster or being funny or even better, both, you need to be emotionally invested and make sure that emotion or passion can be easily identified or felt by your audience.
Keep a Journal of “Ugh” Moments
We all have them, and we often think how funny they are AFTER the situation has been resolved. Considering your audience has probably experienced something similar, “Ugh” moments are relatable and often funny as long as you are on the receiving end of them. NEVER use an “Ugh” moment with regard to someone else. This can make you appear insensitive or irresponsible with your choice of words and that can cost you downloads.
RULE OF THREE
There are variations of the Rule of Three, but the number 3 is the critical component. Expectations are set with the first two objects in the pattern and then redirected with the final object, which should be the funniest of the three. Triples are typically short, often only a few sentences or less and can benefit from alliteration.
Incongruent Thirds is one application of the Rule of Three where you share a list of three items, and the third one is completely opposite or totally unexpected. One of my favorite examples is from comedian Laura Kightlinger “I can’t think of anything worse after a night of drinking than waking up next to someone and not being able to remember their name, or how you met, or why they’re dead.”
Another variation of the Rule of Three is known as the Comic Triple. This is achieved by repeating the same word or phrase three times, each time more emphatically than before. Chris Rock is known for using this technique with tremendous success.
While you may not have outlandish delusions of grandeur for your standup comedy career, you can still leverage the power of laughter in your podcast.
Humor is one of the easiest ways to connect with someone, and as previously stated, it’s a tangible skill that can be learned. While you may have mastered your podcast, you realized you had to maintain realistic expectations along the way. The same can be said with your comedy. Luckily, the more you practice the better you will get.
Your mission, should you choose to accept it is to tell a joke or share a funny moment on your next podcast regardless of what the topic is, or who your guest may be. I’ll look forward to laughing with you.
Larry Roberts is the Host of the Readily Random Podcast, and author of online podcasting course, “1+1 = Podcast”. He can be reached by e-mail at [email protected]