Sunday, January 10, 2016

Learn how to tell jokes from the masters

None of the people who have done well in comedy have gotten there on natural ability alone. The people at the top are talented but they have also worked hard and learned a lot along the way.

Brian Regan is one of my favorites to watch and I got to see him twice when he was working comedy clubs. I laughed so hard that my ribs were actually sore by the end of his sets. (Those were the only two times in my life for that to happen.)

If you want to tell jokes like the masters, don’t just sit back and watch. Analyze what they do. Go to live comedy shows if you can and watch how the pros use the various devices of comedy. Here are three of the obvious things to watch for: 

  • Energy level. Some comedians are very energetic and others not so much. Be mindful of what might work for you in your public speaking situations.
  • Gestures and movement around the stage. Most comedians are very aware of the space available and how to use it. Some move around a lot and some stay right by the mic stand. Some mix it up.
  • Comedic timing. Comedians have a sense for how much of a pause to leave between the setup and the punchline. They also have a sense for when to move into the next joke. I’ve seen public speakers who didn’t give the audience time to digest the setup or the punchline and how moved forward a bit too quickly. It’s a serious mistake but it’s one of those things that gets better with practice. 

I used to go to a comedy club nearly every week on a night that was sponsored by a country radio station. It was particularly interesting and educational when there was a black performer for the predominantly redneck audience.

One of the best opening jokes I’ve ever seen was by a very good comedian named Special K. He came to the microphone, took a good look around at the nearly all white audience, and said “Rooster Country. Not a very popular station with the brothers, is it?” 

Just like that, he addressed the fact that he was a black performer for a mostly white audience. It was a very funny joke and it got a good laugh. Special K had a very good set. What did I learn? If there's some potential issue at a speaking engagement, deal with it up front with some humor.

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If you liked this tip about telling jokes, you can find many more in Humor 101: How to Tell Jokes for Power, Prestige, Profit, and Personal Fulfillment. Check it out.

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