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Question: How do I get funny?

FROM : Anonymous (via Ask TCI on our homepage)

Q: I want to do stand-up, but the stuff I come up with just doesn’t seem that funny. How do I get funny? Is it a matter of just doing it until I am funny?

A: Dear Wants to Be Funny But Not Sure,

I have several responses and opinions about this. Some will be fake answers and some will be sincere. You decide which is which—though I suggest trying them all out.

You’re on the right track with doing it until you’re funny. It really is about doing it and not being afraid of no laughs when it’s not funny. Rip the band-aid off and say it into the mic without too much concern for the reaction.

There are many different versions of people trying to be funny:

  • Some people are funny effortlessly
  • Some are horribly unfunny and work at it constantly and become funny
  • Some people are inconsistent, and only funny sometimes
  • Some are just not funny, and despite trying, will never get funny

If you want to be funny, don’t waste too much time trying to figure out which one of the above people you are, or lamenting that you’re not the one you wish you were. Just get at doing it and let the funny follow. If you think you’re funny already, have got the urge to become funny, or have enjoyed a surge of chemical releases in your brain when people have laughed at something you said in the past, then just keep doing it. Also, know there will be fear and self doubt, and if you only have complete confidence in your material when you’re starting, then you probably are bad.

I recommend taking a class. Try improv, sketch, or standup. Listen to what they say and try it, but don’t consider it the gospel. It might give you some structure, jar something loose, or help you make a friend with similar interest to bounce things off of.

But I don’t have money, or that sounds not fun.

Okay. Go get up at an open mic then. It’s free.

But what do I do there?

Beforehand, make a list of three social jokes. These are things you’ve said that made people laugh, and you probably repeated them a couple of times to other people. You have them in your back pocket in case you need them. Go say them to an empty silent open mic until you feel comfortable saying them. Go back every day and say it again.

But I did that and it didn’t get a laugh.

Okay, try saying it louder. Or quieter. Or with a different set up. Or add a thing about sex to it. Or add a thing about bodily humor. Or add a thing about something embarrassing that happened to you.

In addition to the social jokes, look at your Twitter. I bet you tweeted a couple of jokes before. Take your five favorite. Say ‘em on stage at the open mic.

Okay, I did that, but it didn’t get laughs.

Try saying it in a funny voice. Try saying it with a different set-up. If you thought it was funny, try to figure out what was funny about it to you. If they didn’t laugh at it then take three minutes on stage to explain to them what you thought was funny about it.

Also, I bet you have an impression of someone:

  • A famous person
  • A parent
  • An uncle
  • A person at the grocery store you always run into
  • An impression of someone famous’s impression of someone else famous

I tried the jokes I came up with, and still, they just aren’t getting laughs.

Okay, maybe you aren’t comfortable on stage. Go up there with nothing. Just stand there. It’s an open mic. “Open” to whatever you want. Try addressing things in the room. The carpet, someone’s pants, the funny painting on the wall. Say things like “Can you believe that?”

Other things to try:

  • Act like you don’t want a laugh and you are too cool—maybe even wear sunglasses or light up an invisible cigarette
  • Pander to the audience’s political views and let them know that you also think what they think
  • Make a reference to a popular movie
  • Make a reference to a thing going on in the news
  • Wear a funny shirt and say “can you believe this shirt?” and keep pointing to the shirt
  • Try having a strong point of view that comes from how you see the world. You hate it, you love it, you don’t have an opinion on it but wish you had more of an opinion and this is your problem but it really doesn’t bug you that much.

I hope something here was helpful. Try them all out. I have, and they all work.

Josh Fadem

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There is pretty simple advice you can give for stand up. Just write a lot, be comfortable, record your sets, listen to them, pay attention to what works. Do as many sets you can. It’s straightforward. At the basic level, there’s no getting around that stuff. Then a lot of it is luck. Eventually you get put in a position where things fall together and then you can kind of ride that momentum.

My practical advice for a young comic is if you want to do this, do something. Do a lot of it. If you want to build an internet presence, then tweet this amount of times, tweet this many jokes or post this many times. There’s different things like that you can do. Approach it like a job and take it seriously. Also, don’t be an asshole to people, but that doesn’t guarantee success, you know.

Find your people to work with and write with and perform with. Get up in front of people as much as you can, which is really the only way to get better. You just have to be kind of relentless about it. NYC was good in that way for me, it felt easy to run around the city and do that stuff.

Comedy is one of those things where, even if you might not have trained anywhere or taken a class, you can just be naturally funny. In that sense, people can think they’re really good at it without necessarily having done it for years and years. Having a career in comedy is very different from just making people laugh.

If you want to fully do comedy as a career, you can’t just be a funny Twitter person. Whether you’re interested in stand-up or sketch or improv or script writing or writing a book, you have to work as much on that as being funny on Twitter. It’s good for dipping your toe in the water and getting out there, but it’s not the only thing you can do to establish yourself. There are people who are happy to just be funny anonymous Twitter people, and then have their other life. That’s a totally valid choice. It’s just up to you how much you want to delve into comedy.

I’m very aware of when people tell me something is going to be funny and then I watch it, and I feel either snobbish or I feel like I’m alone on an island where I don’t find everything funny that everyone else finds funny. It happens a lot with TV shows. People will say, “You gotta watch this show. It’s hilarious.” I can watch the entire episode and not laugh once. It’s got the comedy font in the title. It’s obviously a comedy….

I don’t know any of the real rules. I just know what I think is funny. I think it usually comes from the taste that I’ve developed over the years, stuff I feel that myself and my friends would find funny, and just instinctually what will make me laugh.

I love when people come up to me after the shows and say they weren’t sure what to do, if they were supposed to laugh or supposed to be moved and that the whole thing was kind of confusing. To me that is the best response you can get because you want the show to be a little bit indefinable, so that is the highest compliment for me.

It’s funny to think of myself as a 19 year-old in crazy elderly man makeup trying to play serious roles in classic plays. I wanted to be a serious actor and I hated it when I got laughs. I was so upset when people would laugh at me. I wanted to be Ian McKellen. I didn’t really trust comedy, which is funny because I think back now and realize that my influences were really people like Carol Burnett and John Waters. That’s what I really loved and now, of course, that’s very much in keeping with what I do.

I would get slots opening for bands, whether it was Tenacious D or Bad Religion, and I would walk off the stage as people were throwing things and booing. People would say, “How can you deal with this? Doesn’t this just destroy your ego?” And it didn’t. It really didn’t, because I was in that same zone that I learned from Flipper. The zone of being like, “I’m putting on the show that I would like to see, and the people that agree with me, and there are a few, they enjoyed it, so I’m happy with it.” You know what I mean? This is what I’d like to watch.

I’ve seen it with stand ups, with writers, where this person is so funny and then they get a job at this show and you kind of never hear from them again because they got comfortable. It’s better to be uncomfortable. But then again the people who were going to do that were going to probably do that anyway. I do see some really funny people that are just on lock: “That person, everything they said was so funny, they have an amazing mind…” And I just want to see all the things they are going to do. And then they go work on Family Guy. [laughs]

About the Author

Josh Fadem

Comedian

Josh Fadem is an actor and comedian based in Los Angeles. He plays the cameraman Joey Dixon on Better Call Saul, Liz Lemon’s agent Simon Barrons on 30 Rock, and Phil Busby on Twin Peaks. He’s written for The Eric Andre Show and directed a number of his own shorts. Fadem has been a regular performer at UCB Comedy since the Los Angeles theater opened in 2005 and hosts his own weekly series, Loosey Goosey.

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