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How to Tell a Funny Joke

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How to Tell a Funny Joke

“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:

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  • “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.”

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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.

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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?

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

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Hulbert Lee

Hulbert writes about motivation, doing whatever he can to help put people in a position to create a better life for themselves.

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Last Updated on July 20, 2021

How to Overcome the Fear of Public Speaking (A Step-by-Step Guide)

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How to Overcome the Fear of Public Speaking (A Step-by-Step Guide)

You’re standing behind the curtain, just about to make your way on stage to face the many faces half-shrouded in darkness in front of you. As you move towards the spotlight, your body starts to feel heavier with each step. A familiar thump echoes throughout your body – your heartbeat has gone off the charts.

Don’t worry, you’re not the only one with glossophobia(also known as speech anxiety or the fear of speaking to large crowds). Sometimes, the anxiety happens long before you even stand on stage.

Your body’s defence mechanism responds by causing a part of your brain to release adrenaline into your blood – the same chemical that gets released as if you were being chased by a lion.

Here’s a step-by-step guide to help you overcome your fear of public speaking:

1. Prepare yourself mentally and physically

According to experts, we’re built to display anxiety and to recognize it in others. If your body and mind are anxious, your audience will notice. Hence, it’s important to prepare yourself before the big show so that you arrive on stage confident, collected and ready.

“Your outside world is a reflection of your inside world. What goes on in the inside, shows on the outside.” – Bob Proctor

Exercising lightly before a presentation helps get your blood circulating and sends oxygen to the brain. Mental exercises, on the other hand, can help calm the mind and nerves. Here are some useful ways to calm your racing heart when you start to feel the butterflies in your stomach:

Warming up

If you’re nervous, chances are your body will feel the same way. Your body gets tense, your muscles feel tight or you’re breaking in cold sweat. The audience will notice you are nervous.

If you observe that this is exactly what is happening to you minutes before a speech, do a couple of stretches to loosen and relax your body. It’s better to warm up before every speech as it helps to increase the functional potential of the body as a whole. Not only that, it increases muscle efficiency, improves reaction time and your movements.

Here are some exercises to loosen up your body before show time:

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  1. Neck and shoulder rolls – This helps relieve upper body muscle tension and pressure as the rolls focus on rotating the head and shoulders, loosening the muscle. Stress and anxiety can make us rigid within this area which can make you feel agitated, especially when standing.
  2. Arm stretches – We often use this part of our muscles during a speech or presentation through our hand gestures and movements. Stretching these muscles can reduce arm fatigue, loosen you up and improve your body language range.
  3. Waist twists – Place your hands on your hips and rotate your waist in a circular motion. This exercise focuses on loosening the abdominal and lower back regions which is essential as it can cause discomfort and pain, further amplifying any anxieties you may experience.

Stay hydrated

Ever felt parched seconds before speaking? And then coming up on stage sounding raspy and scratchy in front of the audience? This happens because the adrenaline from stage fright causes your mouth to feel dried out.

To prevent all that, it’s essential we stay adequately hydrated before a speech. A sip of water will do the trick. However, do drink in moderation so that you won’t need to go to the bathroom constantly.

Try to avoid sugary beverages and caffeine, since it’s a diuretic – meaning you’ll feel thirstier. It will also amplify your anxiety which prevents you from speaking smoothly.

Meditate

Meditation is well-known as a powerful tool to calm the mind. ABC’s Dan Harris, co-anchor of Nightline and Good Morning America weekend and author of the book titled10% Happier , recommends that meditation can help individuals to feel significantly calmer, faster.

Meditation is like a workout for your mind. It gives you the strength and focus to filter out the negativity and distractions with words of encouragement, confidence and strength.

Mindfulness meditation, in particular, is a popular method to calm yourself before going up on the big stage. The practice involves sitting comfortably, focusing on your breathing and then bringing your mind’s attention to the present without drifting into concerns about the past or future – which likely includes floundering on stage.

Here’s a nice example of guided meditation before public speaking:

2. Focus on your goal

One thing people with a fear of public speaking have in common is focusing too much on themselves and the possibility of failure.

Do I look funny? What if I can’t remember what to say? Do I look stupid? Will people listen to me? Does anyone care about what I’m talking about?’

Instead of thinking this way, shift your attention to your one true purpose – contributing something of value to your audience.

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Decide on the progress you’d like your audience to make after your presentation. Notice their movements and expressions to adapt your speech to ensure that they are having a good time to leave the room as better people.

If your own focus isn’t beneficial and what it should be when you’re speaking, then shift it to what does. This is also key to establishing trust during your presentation as the audience can clearly see that you have their interests at heart.[1]

3. Convert negativity to positivity

There are two sides constantly battling inside of us – one is filled with strength and courage while the other is doubt and insecurities. Which one will you feed?

‘What if I mess up this speech? What if I’m not funny enough? What if I forget what to say?’

It’s no wonder why many of us are uncomfortable giving a presentation. All we do is bring ourselves down before we got a chance to prove ourselves. This is also known as a self-fulfilling prophecy – a belief that comes true because we are acting as if it already is. If you think you’re incompetent, then it will eventually become true.

Motivational coaches tout that positive mantras and affirmations tend to boost your confidents for the moments that matter most. Say to yourself: “I’ll ace this speech and I can do it!”

Take advantage of your adrenaline rush to encourage positive outcome rather than thinking of the negative ‘what ifs’.

Here’s a video of Psychologist Kelly McGonigal who encourages her audience to turn stress into something positive as well as provide methods on how to cope with it:

4. Understand your content

Knowing your content at your fingertips helps reduce your anxiety because there is one less thing to worry about. One way to get there is to practice numerous times before your actual speech.

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However, memorizing your script word-for-word is not encouraged. You can end up freezing should you forget something. You’ll also risk sounding unnatural and less approachable.

“No amount of reading or memorizing will make you successful in life. It is the understanding and the application of wise thought that counts.” – Bob Proctor

Many people unconsciously make the mistake of reading from their slides or memorizing their script word-for-word without understanding their content – a definite way to stress themselves out.

Understanding your speech flow and content makes it easier for you to convert ideas and concepts into your own words which you can then clearly explain to others in a conversational manner. Designing your slides to include text prompts is also an easy hack to ensure you get to quickly recall your flow when your mind goes blank.[2]

One way to understand is to memorize the over-arching concepts or ideas in your pitch. It helps you speak more naturally and let your personality shine through. It’s almost like taking your audience on a journey with a few key milestones.

5. Practice makes perfect

Like most people, many of us are not naturally attuned to public speaking. Rarely do individuals walk up to a large audience and present flawlessly without any research and preparation.

In fact, some of the top presenters make it look easy during showtime because they have spent countless hours behind-the-scenes in deep practice. Even great speakers like the late John F. Kennedy would spend months preparing his speech beforehand.

Public speaking, like any other skill, requires practice – whether it be practicing your speech countless of times in front of a mirror or making notes. As the saying goes, practice makes perfect!

6. Be authentic

There’s nothing wrong with feeling stressed before going up to speak in front of an audience.

Many people fear public speaking because they fear others will judge them for showing their true, vulnerable self. However, vulnerability can sometimes help you come across as more authentic and relatable as a speaker.

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Drop the pretence of trying to act or speak like someone else and you’ll find that it’s worth the risk. You become more genuine, flexible and spontaneous, which makes it easier to handle unpredictable situations – whether it’s getting tough questions from the crowd or experiencing an unexpected technical difficulty.

To find out your authentic style of speaking is easy. Just pick a topic or issue you are passionate about and discuss this like you normally would with a close family or friend. It is like having a conversation with someone in a personal one-to-one setting. A great way to do this on stage is to select a random audience member(with a hopefully calming face) and speak to a single person at a time during your speech. You’ll find that it’s easier trying to connect to one person at a time than a whole room.

With that said, being comfortable enough to be yourself in front of others may take a little time and some experience, depending how comfortable you are with being yourself in front of others. But once you embrace it, stage fright will not be as intimidating as you initially thought.

Presenters like Barack Obama are a prime example of a genuine and passionate speaker:

7. Post speech evaluation

Last but not the least, if you’ve done public speaking and have been scarred from a bad experience, try seeing it as a lesson learned to improve yourself as a speaker.

Don’t beat yourself up after a presentation

We are the hardest on ourselves and it’s good to be. But when you finish delivering your speech or presentation, give yourself some recognition and a pat on the back.

You managed to finish whatever you had to do and did not give up. You did not let your fears and insecurities get to you. Take a little more pride in your work and believe in yourself.

Improve your next speech

As mentioned before, practice does make perfect. If you want to improve your public speaking skills, try asking someone to film you during a speech or presentation. Afterwards, watch and observe what you can do to improve yourself next time.

Here are some questions you can ask yourself after every speech:

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  • How did I do?
  • Are there any areas for improvement?
  • Did I sound or look stressed?
  • Did I stumble on my words? Why?
  • Was I saying “um” too often?
  • How was the flow of the speech?

Write everything you observed down and keep practicing and improving. In time, you’ll be able to better manage your fears of public speaking and appear more confident when it counts.

If you want even more tips about public speaking or delivering a great presentation, check out these articles too:

Reference

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