Whether you’re tasked with giving a speech at the company holiday party or you have a job that requires regular public speaking, you can go a long way by adding a bit of humor. Humorists are often found writing comedy sketches, but they’re also average people who tend to look on the comical side of life and then share that with other people. However you plan to use it, here’s how to start being a humorist.
See also: The Science of Laughter [Video]
1. Look for the things that don't add up
In The Art of Using Humor in Public Speaking, author Anthony L. Audrieth encourages people to look for the things that are "ludicrous or absurdly incongruous". In other words, people appreciate it when you make light of things that don’t make sense or don’t add up. As in most situations, it’s best to point out things that won’t hurt someone’s feelings. For example, you might point out that the street signs near the office are painted wrong – but don’t point out that your female boss’ makeup is applied on wrong.
2. Avoid off-color humor
Speaking of what not to say, don’t think that making light of someone’s race, gender or sexual orientation is appropriate in the workplace. What’s more, avoid crude humor, such as talking about bodily functions. Sure, that cuts out a lot of the stuff you could be joking about, but it could mean you don’t get reprimanded for discrimination, or worse: fired for inappropriate behavior. As a general rule, if it’s something that someone could consider discrimination, it’s a topic you shouldn’t use.
3. Your life experiences work well
So now that you know what not to talk about, what can you bring up? As a general rule, situations that actually happened to you or that come from your own life experience are great fodder for a humorous speech, says American humorist Jeanne Robertson in an article on Forbes. Stories about you and the things you’ve gone through make the humor more authentic, said Robertson.
4. Make notes
You can’t possibly recall every single funny thing that’s ever happened to you – that is unless you start writing stuff down. Keep a notebook of ideas and situations you’ve encountered, and you’ll be more likely to be able to bring them out at the right time.
5. Right situation, right time
If you know anything about humor, then you know that it’s all about timing. That means being ready with that mood-lightening quip just when the air gets heavy in the boardroom, or waiting a half-second before you deliver the punch line of a joke. It’s not something everyone’s born with, but by observing other humorists as they give speeches or deliver one-liners at a comedy club, you’ll start to understand – and be able to practice – the distinct art of using the right line at the right time.
6. Practice it in difficult situations
If you’ve followed some of the above steps, the next step is to see whether you can use your sense of humor when it’s really needed: in a really difficult situation. So, the next time you’re in a foreign country and you’re frustrated by the local customs, you’re stuck in line at the department of motor vehicles, or you have a fight with your spouse, try to bring in some humor. If you’ve gotten the timing right and you bring in the right story or quip – and it makes the people involved laugh – you’ll know you’re well on your way toward being a successful humorist.
Some people are born comedians, but for the rest of us, it takes some work. But by simply starting to look at life on the bright side and trying to uncover the light side of all situations, you can really start to call yourself a humorist.