Humor / Being Funny / Comedy

Table of contents

Child pages

Summary of how to be funny

Mean humor

Others' advice

How to be funny

Target someone your audience doesn't like

  • I was bicycling in Palo Alto and needed to go through a tunnel, and I got stuck behind this guy on a recumbent bicycle, and at one point we both had to wait for some people to walk through this metal barrier that prevents bikes from blasting through the tunnel, and he was being kind of impatient about waving people through, and he had this tall floppy security flag, so while the people were walking towards us I bent the flag over and let it go so that it would flop around without him noticing. The woman who was walking toward us smiled at me as she passed.

Don't behave in a way that will push people away



Don't come across like you're trying to be funny

If a person doesn't get a reference you're making, they shouldn't notice that a reference was being made
- this was a rule among the developers of Fallout 1 and 2.

Reference What People Know:
part of it is referencing something the person knows; I once made what I thought was a very funny joke to a friend of mine, but he completely misinterpreted it and may have even taken offense because he wasn't aware of what I was referencing. You should always ask yourself before you make a reference-joke, "Am I sure that the person will get the reference?"

Surprise People:
It's important to put the funny thing at the end, or in other words, draw people into one understanding of what you've said and then suddenly force them to quickly reinterpret what they've seen before. For example, I made a Facebook album in which I took photos from the 1800s and pretended as if I had taken them with an iPhone + Instagram, but at first I didn't care too much about the order, and so after thinking about it I realized it wasn't as impactful as it could have been. Then I realized that if I ordered the pictures so that they started out looking very close to modern-day Instagram photos and then gradually got more and more obviously from the 1800s, the album would be funnier. I ended with the most ridiculous/unusual photo of them all.

Don't Come Off As Seeking Approval:
I've gotten the feeling that if people think you are TRYING to make them laugh, they'll be less likely to find what you're saying funny. Maybe because they'll be on guard to expect some kind of surprise.

Don't be too obvious about what the joke is:

7 Filthy Jokes You Didn't Notice in Shakespeare ... peare.html

Examples of humor

  • Ross Perot 1992 - Balancing the Budget & Reforming Government
    • We had one news announcer criticize the pointer that I used before. So, since we're dealing with voodoo economics, a great young lady from Louisiana sent me this voodoo stick, and I will use it as my pointer tonight. And certainly it's appropriate because, as you and I know, we are in deep voodoo.
    • It's a two-layered(?) joke: "voodoo" is a pun on "doodoo", and "doodoo" is the polite term for the phrase he was really bringing to mind, "we are in deep shit".
  • Spotify: "Track twelve more artists and I'll show you a picture I drew of a dog in a jacket riding on the back of a giraffe."
    • It's funny because you expect these dialogs to have a neutral tone.
  • In Seinfeld Season 4, Episode 15, minute 8, Jerry acts "not funny" as part of the plot. To do this he acts lower energy and expresses a pessimistic view.
  • 2012.12.17 - YouTube - CollegeHumor - Batman Can't Stop Thinking About Sex
    • This has sexually-aggressive humor that probably wouldn't be done nowadays (2018) and is probably not funny to a lot of women.
    • Honestly I found this to be the funniest of the Badman sketches; it kept surprising me with how shocking it got.
    • In the 4-minute sketch, the first 40 seconds (16.6%) are played straight, setting up the situation.
  • 2014.01.12 - YouTube - Dog sounds exactly like DMX
    • This really got me. There were three stages: the growl sounded like DMX already but I think it may have been real or just well-disguised, and then the barks were obviously DMX, which was already funny because I was expecting the video to be real, but the real punch was when the dog went "uh".  I feel like the second half was unnecessary.
  • 2017.05.02 - YouTube - Pete Holmes - Ex-Men: Gambit
    • The guy who plays Gambit gives a great performance.

Physical humor


  •  ← Satirizing Mark Zuckerberg's attempts at philanthropy, which some see as patronizing.
    • I thought this was really well-done / very funny, if maybe not fair to Mark.
    • It sets you up with a totally-normal sounding first paragraph.
    • It sets you up in the "normal" paragraph with the idea that he's driving around, and then in the second paragraph it surprises you with the idea that he wasn't driving a car.


2015.03.17 - C-SPAN - The Fresh Prince Calls Washington Journal ... on-journal


Comedians' sets

1974 - Richard Pryor - That Nigger's Crazy

Part 1:

  • He uses the "Hope I'm funny.." line at the beginning that Steve Martin references in his autobiography.
  • 4:00 - He does a really good drunk accent.

Part 2:

  • 3:30 - He does a hilarious impression of white people. Dave Chappelle was definitely inspired by this.
  • 5:40 - He does a hilarious impression of an old black woman.
  • 6:00 - He does a really funny impression of a black guy as the protagonist of the Exorcist.

Part 3:

  • 2:00 - He does a good impression of a poor southern white guy.
  • He makes a good point about police hassling people as a source of stress on black people that they then take out on others.

Part 4:

  • 5:13 - He uses the line I thought BIG came up with, "She looked so fine, I'd..."

1978 - Steve Martin - A Wild And Crazy Guy

  • He has a lot of strong material in this set.
  • He uses crazy-stupid accents, like Brian Regan.
  • He uses fake stories.
    • Examples:
      • ~45:00 he talks about having been the quarterback and then a cheerleader.
  • He uses profanity rarely, to a stronger effect.
    • Examples:
      • At 41:00 he says "dog poop" instead of "dog shit".
      • But for a joke at 35:00 he says "fuck" instead of "lay" or "sex".
  • 16:00 - You hear him use the crowd-control technique he mentions in his autobiography.
    • Someone shouts out something, and he responds "Ah, I remember when I had my first beer..." And the audience laughs.
  • Comment:
    • "The genius of this comedy to me is it's complete lack of topical or observational humor.  Just funny bit after absurd bit - no jokes about politics or from the news...nothing socially critical...just Steve Martin being hilariously imaginative and entertaining."
  • 22:20 - You hear him lead the audience in a group chant.
  • 25:00 - He does a French accent.
  • 35:00 - Really funny joke about a cat at a young female friend's house. This was the hardest I laughed in the entire set.
  • 43:46 - He jokes about what his real name was. Brian Regan was definitely inspired by this.

The relationship between humor and power

  • I've spent some time thinking about humor and looking for patterns in jokes, and I've also been paying attention to the social justice activitism arguments about why various things that have been seen OK are not OK, and one of the things I've noticed is that humor does seem to frequently be a way for a person (or group) to express(?) power over another group.
  • 2016.10.07 - NYT - Letter of Complaint: Cards Against Humanity
    • "The genius of Cards Against Humanity, as a party game, is that it encourages intimacy by allowing players to violate norms together without worrying about offending one another. That may be because Cards Against Humanity isn’t really transgressive at all. It is a game of naughty giggling for people who think the phrase “black people” is inherently funny. That demographic includes nervous parents, people who describe themselves as “politically incorrect,” the pathologically sarcastic, accidental racists — in a word, everybody. Cards Against Humanity recasts popular prejudices and gross-out humor as acts of rebellion for small groups, imparting the thrill of conspiracy to values most people hold in common. (At least among the straight, the able-bodied and especially the white. The game implicitly assumes that no one playing will actually have AIDS or be profoundly handicapped, so that its gags remain only theoretically offensive.)"