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What Is Funny?

Humor can be broken down into five distinct categories. You should memorize these, as there will be a quiz later.

     Category #1: Pain
     Pain is the basis for all humor. It's a simple fact that if nobody gets hurt, it isn't funny. This includes both physical and emotional pain. For example, when Tweety hits Sylvester in the foot with a mallet, and he hops screaming, stars streaming from his foot, that's funny. If Tweety hit him and Sylvester didn't hurt at all, that's not funny. If Tweety hit him and Sylvester didn't hurt, but Sylvester turned around and stomped on Tweety's wittle head, that's funny.
     Ethnic jokes are funny because they cause emotional pain to members of the ethnic group they poke fun at. However, be warned that it is common practice to respond to ethnic jokes with more humor. If you tell an ethnic joke and someone punches you in the nose, don't be surprised -- they're just showing their appreciation and responding in kind.
     The only exception to this rule is when the pain happens to you. When you get hurt, it's not funny. It just hurts. However, other people will find your pain amusing, so be consoled in the knowledge that even though it hurts, people are still laughing at you.
     Category #2: The Unexpected
     When something happens that you do not expect to happen, that's funny. When an anvil falls on Wile E. Coyote, you expect him to splatter all over the place and die. When he instead gets flattened into an accordian shape, that's funny. (Also, of course, his pain is funny. See above.) Another example is the title graphic at the top of this page. You read it, and the letters are black -- but then the last character is an orangy red color. It's unexpected, so it's funny.
     When you tell a joke and no one laughs, that's funny because you didn't expect that to happen. So if you tell a joke and no one laughs, it is polite to laugh hysterically. Everyone else thought your joke was great, so they returned the favor by doing something funny for you too.
     Category #3: Lies and Other Untruths
     Lies are inherently funny. If someone behind you in line asks how long you've been waiting, and you say "forever and a day," that's funny because it's a lie. Political jokes are popular because they're lies about liars. If a United States president is portrayed as a giant vending machine handing cash to a donkey, that's funny, because it's a lie. Probably what really happened was he gave the money to an elephant and a guy with a scythe.
     Another type of "lie" that is funny is when you see something in a place where it couldn't be, or doing something that isn't possible. This type of humor is both untrue and unexpected, so it's doubly funny. For instance, if a big fat cartoon character like Elmer Fudd tiptoes behind a skinny little tree and hides, that's funny. If a skinny little cartoon character like Bugs Bunny hides behind Elmer Fudd, that's not funny.
     Category #4: Wordplay
     Saying words in funny ways is funny. For instance, Sylvester the cat is funny because he talks with a lisp and spits at the letter 's'. When British people say "aluminium," that's funny. In fact, anybody with an accent that isn't like yours is funny, and you should laugh to show your appreciation.
     Another type of wordplay that is funny is saying one word when you mean another. If you're with your girlfriend, and you call her "Cathy" when you meant to say "Tina," that's funny. This type of humor is often followed by humor involving pain. (See above.)
     Category #5: Puns
     Actually, puns aren't funny.

Situational Humor

Some things are only funny in certain situations, so you must be ready with your humor. For example, if someone stumbles while walking, it is funny to say, "First day on your new feet?" However, it is not funny to say this twenty minutes later, when the stumbling has been forgotten. Timing is the essence of comedy, so you should always be ready to capitalize on the current situation. Here are some common situational jokes you can use the next time the opportunity presents itself. You should memorize these and use them as often as possible to show how funny you are. Note that some situations have more than one appropriate response. You might try to alternate between the various responses to show your diversity. On the other hand, it never hurts to fall back on an old standby. If a joke is funny once, it stands to reason that it will be funny twenty more times. Situation Jokes Somebody is very tall.

   * "Do you play basketball?"
   * "Oh sorry, I thought you were a lightpost."
   * "How's the weather up there?"

Somebody is very short.

   * "Where's the circus?"
   * "Da plane! Da plane!"
   * "How's the weather down there?"

Somebody stumbles.

   * "Walk much?"
   * "First day on your new feet?"
   * "How's the weather down there?"

Somebody burps.

   * "Really?"
   * "Well put."
   * "Did you get any on you?"
   * "Just as good the second time?"

Somebody hurts himself.

   * "That's gotta hurt!"
   * "That's going to leave a mark."
   * "You're going to feel that tomorrow."

Somebody says something untrue.

   * "Bzzt, wrong answer. Thanks for playing meilleur casino."

Somebody says, "You can say that again."

   * (repeat what you just said)
   * "That again."


Doing funny things will only get you half way to being a true funny man. How you do them is equally important. The following easy tips will help you with your "delivery," as we say in the industry.

     Tip #1: Be Eccentric
     If you want to be funny, it is important that you act the part. For example, if you have an office job, work 9 to 5, live in an ordinary house, have an ordinary wife and ordinary children, eat ordinary food, and sleep ordinary hours, you will not be recognized as a funny person. When you tell a joke, everyone may snicker quietly -- and that's good, but everybody tells snicker-worthy jokes once in a while. What you need to do is establish a reputation of being a wacky character so people will be excited with anticipation of the humor you're bound to provide them. They'll key in on your every word and gesture and laugh at the slightest thing you do. Sometimes, you won't even have to be funny, and people will laugh at you.
     You definitely want to establish this kind of a reputation. You do that by becoming eccentric. In order for an eccentric trait to be funny, it must of course fit into one of the five basic humor categories, usually the "unexpected" category. Develop odd personal daily habits such as brushing your teeth during conversations with houseguests. Wear a monocle. Stand two inches from other people's faces when you talk to them. Carry salt and pepper shakers on your person and refuse to use anyone else's. Wear odd socks and short pants. Sing Gregorian chants to yourself in audible whispers. Snarl and grind your teeth together every time you say a word with a 'v' in it. Pass dollar bills to everyone on the street.
     Tip #2: Look Funny
     To be a funny person, you have to look funny. For example, the great comedians W. C. Fields and Jimmy Durante had big noses. (Technically, if you are funny, you should call it a "schnozz.") Bob Hope has a concave face. Steven Wright has mad scientist hair. Stan Laurel had a forehead taller than his waistline was wide. If you do not have an inherently funny appearance, do what you can to make it funny. Wear funny clothes. Get a funny hairdo. To illustrate the effectiveness of a funny appearance, imagine you are telling a funny joke. Now imagine you are telling a funny joke, and your chin jiggles everytime you move your lips. This is much funnier.
     Tip #3: Get a Prop
     George Burns had a cigar. Jack Benny had a violin. George Bush had Dan Quayle. The prop's contribution to how funny you are may not be obvious at first, but it is very important. Pick a prop, then carry it around with you wherever you go. Do not acknowledge the prop in any way other than its occasional use, and do not use it for any purpose other than that for which it was intended. To illustrate the effectiveness of a prop, imagine you are telling a funny joke. Now imagine you are telling a funny joke and you have a rubber glove in your hand. The added humor value should be immediately apparent.

Intrinsic Humor

     Funny Words
     Some things are intrinsically funny for no good reason. In Neil Simon's The Sunshine Boys, Simon expounds on this strange phenomenon:
     "Words with a 'k' in it are funny. Alkaseltzer is funny. Chicken is funny. Pickle is funny. All with a 'k'. 'L's are not funny. 'M's are not funny. Cupcake is funny. Tomatoes is not funny. Lettuce is not funny. Cucumber's funny. Cab is funny. Cockroach is funny -- not if you get 'em, only if you say 'em."
     The above quotation serves as a beginner's guideline to intrinsic humor, but one should note that this rule does not cover all cases ("hydrangea" is funny) and there are even exceptions ("linoleum" is funny).
     It is very important to develop a sense of what words are inherently funny and what words are not. For example, if you go up to a total stranger and say "apple," it is funny because it is unexpected. But if you go up and say "rutabaga," it gives the joke an extra boost. Some funny words to get you started:
     Caccitore. Oleo. Zwieback. Quintillion. Frump. Weasel. Chintzy. Stroganoff. Talcum. Gesundheit. Kazoo. Exsanguinate. Chinchilla. Quiche. Intrinsic. Zyzzyva. Angst. Kibitz. Aardvark.
     Use these words whenever possible for maximum comic effect.
     Funny Objects
     There are also objects that are intrinsically funny. This is not to be confused with words that are intrinsically funny. Actual hydrangeas and rutabagas are not funny. However, there are a great many objects that are, which you may carry around for increased comic effect. These funny objects include stilts, plungers, and cows. You may want to consider using one of these objects as your signature prop (see above). Some examples of funny objects include:
     Unicycles. Bellows. Cauliflower. Koosh balls. Girls' bicycles. Fish. Starfish. Three-hole punches. Snowshoes. Hacksaws. Cheese graters. Pinkies. Bell bottoms. Chopsticks. Long gray beards. Green peppers. Aardvarks.
     Among the various funny objects are "interactive" funny objects, such as hand buzzers, whoopie cushions, and flower squirters. These interactive funny objects are bottomless treasure troves of hilarity -- since they're interactive, it makes your audience feel like they're "in" on the joke, and they'll consequently derive more satisfaction from the humor.