The Mechanics of Funny

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laughing_dogThe trick to make someone laugh is to understand the mechanics of laughter.  Here’s a few notes regarding the subject.

1.   Laughter is involuntary – It’s impossible to make yourself laugh.  Try it.  It will always sound and feel forced.  Actors crave the sound of laughter because of this.  If we can make you laugh, it’s real.  Words of compliment are nice to see and hear, but nothing is more rewarding than the sound of involuntary praise.

2.  The sound of Laughter can make you laugh – We know that big crowds will typically laugh more.  We rationalize that a small crowd just might be “polite”.  This isn’t the truth.  A smaller crowd has a smaller chance of hearing laughter to evoke more of it.  As a performer, if you are doing good work, you need to understand that just because a crowd isn’t laughing, doesn’t mean they aren’t enjoying themselves.  You should perform the same for a crowd of 2 as you would for a house of 1500.  An audience doesn’t need to hear laughter to have a good time.  Your performance should not be fueled by it.  Trust in your work to motivate you.

3.  Laughing is a sign of relief – A father sets up a teeball and turns to his son who is holding the bat.  Nothing funny here.  No intro.  No tension.  The son takes a swing before the father has time to step away from the tee. Our brain immediately senses something is wrong.  Tension.  FIRE! PANIC! PAIN! HURT!.  Tag. Dad takes it in the gonads.  But that’s not why we laugh.  For a brief moment, our human brains are concerned for the man.  He could really be hurt.  Then we see immediately a familiar pose of a grown man hunched over grabbing himself… which means he’s going to be okay.  There is no malice involved, so the tension runs out of us in the form of a laugh… it’s comforting.  We actually release chemicals into our body that calm us and lowers our blood pressure.  Laughter is healthy.  If you are writing jokes or comedy, it’s important to always have a set up, followed by the relief aka, a punchline.  Writers often make the mistake of noting their humorous observation first, then wonder why nobody laughs.  You have to create tension or a false expectation, then release their tension by revealing the true objective of the set up.

4.  We don’t laugh at jokes, we laugh at people – If you are a comedian, you are told “it’s all in the delivery”.  Maybe.  Not really.  It’s all in the relationship with your audience.  We laugh at people for two reasons.  We like them or we hate them.  If we like them AND their delivery is good AND their jokes are good, you will trigger an unconscious response that shows our approval.  If we hate you, we will only laugh if you legitimately hurt yourself physically or emotionally and we laugh because we are relieved that karma works.  Your most important role as a stage performer is to win the trust and love of your audience.  Nothing does this quicker than stage presence.  You must own your space and you must be bold in your decisions.  If you ever wonder why you had a bad night, but your delivery and material was exactly the same as the night before, review the very first thing you did when you entered the stage.  It’s more important than you think.

Please load up the comment section and let me know your opinion on laughter.  Am I right or am I flat out stupid.   I care.  Let me know.

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