“The human race has only one effective weapon, and that is laughter.” -Mark Twain

If you want to impress somebody, make them laugh. If you want to connect with someone new, make them laugh. If you want to get a raise from your boss, make him laugh. If you want to take yourself out of a completely miserable situation, make yourself laugh. And if you want to change the world, make the world laugh. What’s the easiest way to make someone laugh? Tell a joke.

Some people are good at telling jokes, but have no idea how the jokes come out of their mouths. These people are naturally funny. But if you are not one of these people or have always had a problem with being funny, don’t sweat. Understand that all jokes have a formula behind them that makes them funny; otherwise, it’s not funny and that’s not a joke. Here are the ingredients to tell a joke. I’ll walk you through it step-by-step.

The Anatomy of a Joke and Its Formula

1. Target. Every joke begins with a target, and it can be targeting anything – people, places, ideas, etc. The most important thing to remember here is to relate the target to the person or people you’re telling the joke to, so they won’t be offended. For example, if you were telling a joke to your friends about your wife, you’re friends are going to laugh with you because they can relate. But if you were to tell that same joke to your wife, she’s not going to crack a smile. She’ll just slowly stare you down while you slowly tiptoe out of the room.

2. Hostility. I know some people are going to cringe at this, but the truth is jokes aren’t always “nice”. The essence of a joke is usually going against an idea or a type of person, but because the joke is funny (if you can pull it off the right way), it usually loosens the tension and eradicates all hostile feelings at the end. If you don’t get this, ask yourself if you have ever heard of a joke that was between two perfectly happy people? Take a look at these examples and see if you can pinpoint the target and who the joke is making fun of.

  • “Artificial hearts are nothing new. Politicians have had them for years.” -Mack McGinnis
  • “My wife said that her wildest sexual fantasy would be if I got my own apartment. -Rodney Dangerfield

3. Realism. Jokes aren’t funny unless there is some truth in them. You can’t just go in and start telling something ridiculous because first of all, the audience won’t be able to relate to it and secondly, you won’t get a chance to surprise them. Humor is a paradox. It’s funny because you’re juxtaposing the reasonable next to the unreasonable. If you don’t understand this, just remember that the more you can start a joke in a serious, casual way, the higher the payoff will be towards the end. For example, imagine if somebody with a straight face walked up to you and said:

  • “If you think the world is normal, why do hot dogs come in packages of ten and hot dog buns come in packages of eight?”

4. Exaggeration. If you have a realistic setup from the previous step, then the next step is to exaggerate the second part of the joke. You want to make it “just a little bit more” out there than what human beings expect. The more you can exaggerate it but not completely ruin it by not saying something that’s completely unrelated or random at the end, the funnier it will be. In essence, could you exaggerate the joke as far as you can and yet make it still believable at the same time?

  • “You know, it was pretty hot yesterday. I saw a dog chasing after a cat, and they were both walking.”

5. Emotion. Why do human beings laugh? Biologically speaking, it is because there is a release in our emotions. That’s why this step is so crucial. For any joke to be hilarious –
I mean out-of-this-room hilarious – you to learn how build up anticipation. You want to person or group of people you’re telling the joke to feel like what’s coming next? You want to keep them guessing, on their toes, biting their nails, and leaning over their seat waiting for an answer that they will expect to hear. Here are some ways to create anticipation.

  • The Pause

“Take my wife – please!” -Henny Youngman

  • The Question

“Okay class. Calm down. Who wants to hear the latest dope?”

(Class cheers)

“Well, well, well… Here I am.”

6. Surprise. Alright so we’ve come to the last step of the joke and perhaps the most vital one and that is the surprise. No surprise, no joke. When you go through steps 1 through 5, your audience or whoever you’re telling the joke to is going to expect something. So what do you do? Give them the unexpected. Imagine if a pitcher threw a ball and right before the batter hits it, it curves, and then flies out of the ball park. It’s sort of like that. The more anticipation and the greater the surprise, the funnier the joke, and the greater the laugh.

  • No Surprise

“He may not be able to sing, but he can act pretty well.”

  • Surprise

“He may not be able to sing, and he sure can’t dance either.”

So let’s review again.

Every joke begins with a target. The target can be anything from dogs and cats to lawyers or bosses. Just remember to cater the joke to the right audience. The joke is usually going to be hostile in some way, shape, or form. It’s going to make fun or someone or something, but usually the end result will not even make the joke seem hostile at all. And if you happen to find yourself to be in the position of where you are one of the nicest or kindest people on earth, like me, then you can always slim down the hostility. It’s okay.

After this, the joke needs to start off real – something that people can relate to and tell themselves that what you’re telling them about is real and there’s nothing to worry about. From there you can build up a story through anticipation or tension, and then give them an exaggerated response that has a surprise ending the blows them away. You choose how you want to go about doing this.

“A man and a woman who have never met before find themselves in the same sleeping carriage of a train. After the initial embarrassment, they both manage to get to sleep; the woman on the top bunk, the man on the lower.

In the middle of the night the woman leans over and says, “I’m sorry to bother you but I’m awfully cold and I was wondering if you could possibly pass me another blanket.”

The man leans out, with a glint in his eye, says, “I’ve got a better idea… let’s pretend we’re married.”

“Why not?” giggles the woman.

“Good,” he replies, “Get your own blanket.”

-Pass me another blanket.

Final Thoughts

I’m not even going to begin listing the positive traits that humor gives us which include relieving stress, living longer, feeling healthier, and feeling better about your day. If you can master telling a joke, people will like you and you’ll be able to make connections easily. If anything, life will be a lot less seriously and a lot more fun. Opportunities will come to you if you can be funny and people will be attracted to you as well. So now that I have given you the magical formula for being a jokester, do you have any jokes up your sleeve? Why not share one in the comment section below?

“Laugh at yourself for a man is most comical when he takes himself too seriously.” -Og Mandino

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