Being funny

Is it important to you to Be Funny?

It's always felt like part of my self-identification that I'm the kind of person who regularly says things that make people laugh.

And I'm pretty sure the same is true of a fair number of my friends, but I've never really discussed it much. So now I'm asking.

To put it another way, do you think of yourself more as a humor generator or a humor appreciator? Or both?

For me, I think the desire to Be Funny comes from a variety of sources. Family, for example. (My father and his brothers and their father all told jokes all the time, all my life.) Wanting to be liked. Getting positive reinforcement when I say funny things. And so on.

So I'm also curious about why it's important to you to be funny, if it is.

And I'm wondering about what forms that humor takes. There are a lot of different ways to be funny in daily life. (I'm not really talking about people who do it professionally or who perform humor for large audiences, though I realize that the distinction I'm making here is pretty blurry.) For example:

  • Some people are into what I'll call clowning, for lack of a better word: doing funny stuff, making funny faces, behaving or performing ridiculously with the goal of making other people laugh.
  • Some people Tell Jokes, or anecdotes or riddles or entertaining stories.
  • Some people habitually keep an eye out for places in conversation to make funny responses to things that others say. I have this habit (some part of my mind is almost always scanning every word or phrase I encounter and checking it for humor possibilities), and though much of the time I think acting on it improves social interaction, there are contexts where I try to repress it. In meetings at work, for example, I try to weigh any given funny comment that comes to mind against the likelihood of it derailing the serious topic at hand.
  • Some people do amateur standup or improv, but again that starts to get into an area of performance that, to me, feels different from conversational humor. (But I'd be interested in learning whether it feels different to those of you who do it.)

And so on; there are lots of different kinds of humor, and I'm not trying for an exhaustive catalog here.

(There are also plenty of other axes along which kinds of humor could be categorized, of course. For example, some people like humor involving embarrassing or ridiculing others, some people like puns, some people like toilet humor, and so on. But I think that's a somewhat different axis from the one I'm considering here, which has more to do with the form of the humor than its content.)

And of course plenty of people do more than one of the above.

So what about you? If you regularly (or even irregularly) generate humor, what are your usual or favorite forms for doing so?

7 Responses to “Being funny”

  1. Carl J

    I think I use sarcasm to be funny, “Well, of _course_ the world is flat.” But, mainly what I think I use funny as is a way to keep serious topics less serious for as long as possible. Keeping a “big picture” focus over a little piece.
    Along with using this method to find people with a similar sense of the absurd that I do. That’s another thing; highlighting something that’s absurd for people who may not make the absurd connections that I do.

  2. Jay Lake

    All of the above forms, for me, in context. Mostly, I generate humor because I find it funny. If I’m not having fun, why should I expect anyone around me to do so?

  3. textjunkie

    Oh great question! I like to make people laugh, and enjoy being around people who laugh; but I don’t often succeed at being funny, so I would not consider myself someone who is good at making people laugh. I’m more of a consumer than a producer, in that regard.

    I remember back when I lived at home my brother clowning around and just making us all laugh ’til we cried. But as a family we could do verbal puns, chains of them, that would also leave us breathless–but that’s humor that needs a group interacting and trying to top one another in clever verbiage, not something one person can do on their own. And one Thanksgiving recently a bunch of us (not family, just friends) were talking about something stupid–someone brought up organic farms and using ducks in farming, which led to just inane one-offs and gestures that made one of us nearly lose his glasses in the soup, he was laughing so hard. So form is almost always in conversation, for me, rather than physical comedy (though I’ve been known to lose it completely over very low-brow physical humor, too).

    My hubby (who can be fantastic at getting people to laugh from his one-liners or wry commentary) says he’s always running several conversations in his head–the one actually occuring, and then several possible side-tracks that he evaluates for humor and appropriateness. Me, I can only think of one possibly funny thing to say at a time; he usually has half a dozen and can pick the best one, which is why he’s funnier than I am.

    But humor can be a bonding thing–like yesterday I was working with someone on some genetic stuff, and the gene for lupus came up, and I quipped, “It’s never lupus!” which got my co-worker laughing because she knew the reference and liked the TV show House too. Quoting Monty Python in the right context does the same thing. One of the reason humor falls flat (particularly mine) is the audience is misjudged by the person doing the quip–they don’t know the reference, don’t think it means the same thing that makes it funny to the person saying it. Which is why group humor can lead so quickly to just fall-down-laughing humor, because everyone is sharing and building on the same references and going the same direction.

  4. Amy

    It’s definitely important to me to Be Funny. Mostly the funny-responses-in-conversation, of your listed forms, although it’s interesting that those all seem to be “live” and spoken, when I’d guess a good bit of my weekly Funny is in text (email, lj, probably not *this very comment* although I’m not done yet…), and arguably my most successful Funny is things like swapa covers. And, well, actually, my *most* frequent audience these days does not yet appreciate my sophisticated verbal Funny, but loves clowning.

    As to why – some of it is pure enjoyment. Some of it is instrumental – self-deprecating humor to soften what could be a harsh or unwelcome message. Wanting to be liked, definitely. Mood management, most especially with Juniper, distracting her from the constant frustrations of being a toddler, but also with adults, to enable discussion of serious topics without other emotions being overwhelming.

    (Also, wow, I cannot imagine feeling safe enough at work to try being funny, let alone to have to *suppress* it. That’s actually kind of awesome for you, that your meetings are like that.)

  5. jacob

    Yes, it’s definitely important to me to be funny. Also silly, which is kind of different.

    After reading this post, I kind of kept an eye on myself yesterday, especially at work, and I definitely make a lot of jokes in meetings, particularly of the “keep an eye out for chances to make funny responses” kind. I think it’s a good thing; I don’t think I interrupt important discussion to make jokes, but it keeps meetings lighter and less dull. My development teams often seem to have running jokes, often of a technical nature; e.g. the running joke that the developer who used to be a DBA always wants to do everything in a stored procedure, while another developer always wants to do everything using jQuery.

    My wife and I definitely have a sense of humor in common, and we’ll often segue from a funny response into essentially a bit of improv where we riff off each other.

    I also do a lot of making outrageous claims with a straight face, and then responding to “you’re kidding!” with “yes I am”. That fits in somewhere here. I especially do it with the kids, but I do it at work also.

  6. Vardibidian

    I keep thinking I’m going to have time to formulate a witty and provocative comment. But no, not so much.

    In plain, then: I think of myself as a Funny Person. I like to make people laugh. However it began, at this point it’s some combination of habit and playing to my strengths (it’s always pleasant to do things one is good at and get external validation thereof, ain’t it?), with a touch of plain old ordinary making people happy. Also, to the extent my wit is quick-thinking, there is the not-terribly-subtle character flaw where I make it plain that I am Smarter Than You by being wittier. Which isn’t the same thing, even on the occasions that I am wittier.

    As for the categories, I do all of them, given opportunities, although I do a lot less physical shtick than I did when I was young and flexible and healed quickly. I use a lot more sarcasm than I used to, as well as heavy irony (which is not unlike sarcasm, but not altogether like it, either) and the bit where I say something altogether wrong and then stop, bewildered.

    I do a lot less clowning and funny-voice stuff and a lot less competitive cutting than I used to. This is likely because I am out of practice, and hanging with a different crowd, but also because a lot of my interaction is over the internet in type, and the cutting stuff doesn’t (for me) come off well over the internet. Also, I guess, my pleasure in that stuff relies on hearing the laugh–I can enjoy getting a note about a witty essay that says ‘by the way, I enjoyed that’, but with that quick-funny stuff I need to hear the lolz right away or I fret that it didn’t work.

    Hm. Need to think about this more.


  7. Eric

    Hey Jed,

    I love to make jokes and make people laugh, I also laugh a lot. I think it’s a good way to release stress and also put people at ease. I think I might make a little too many puns though heh, I think there on the low end of the comedy factor but they still make me laugh, so whatever works.

    [Note from Jed: This was spam, but it was clearly written by a human, so I allowed it after removing the spam URL.]


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