Your Simple Guide To Being Funny 5: More Joke Forms

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There are two basic types of humor: verbal-based humor and content-based humor. With verbal-based humor you play around with the meanings of words and if you use different words than the ones initially used in the joke, then you will lose the humor.

We have looked at verbal-based humor or play on words in the last post. In this post, we will focus on content-based humor or what I like to call play on things.

Play On Things

With content-based humor, the humor is not in the words used themselves, but in the entire idea that is being conveyed. As such, a play on things passes the translation test. You can retell the joke in different words and the humor is still there.

Let’s have a look at some of the main types of content-based humor.

5) Using exaggeration or understatement

Exaggerations and understatements are one of the most effective ways to create humor. They create a mismatch between the actual situation and the words being said, which then produces the laughter.

Exaggeration by itself does not create humor and is in fact often used in normal non-funny ways. To make things funnier you have to exaggerate so much that it is obvious that you are exaggerating. That’s the key to exaggeration in comedy.

If you want to put an emphasis on someone being fat, then make the comparison as unrealistic as possible. This unrealistic comparison is what makes it funny. Say the guy weighted more than a pick-up truck or that he weighted two tons.

There are several ways of creating funny exaggerations, for example through the use of hyperboles, metaphors or analogies.

Hyperboles are extreme exaggerations in order to make a point. They are comparisons just like similes and metaphors, but very extravagant and over the top. They amplify what you are trying to say.

For example if you are trying to make the point that something is too expensive and unaffordable, you can say that it costs a gazillion dollars. Or when someone says that they are buried under a ton of paperwork, they don’t mean that the ceiling suddenly opened up and inundated the room with a bunch of paper. Instead what the person means is that they have to fill out a lot of boring forms.

I knew a girl so ugly, I took her to the top of the Empire State building and planes started to attack her.” Rodney Dangerfield

If it weren’t for pick-pocketers, I’d have no sex life at all.” Rodney Dangerfield

All my wife does is shop – once she was sick for a week, and three stores went under.” Henry Youngman

I have been a gigantic Rolling Stones fan since approximately the Spanish-American War.” Dave Barry

Went to the paper shop – it had blown away.” Tommy Cooper

Metaphors, similes and analogies are also good ways to exaggerate the description of a particular scene or situation. These types of comparisons often paint vivid pictures in your head.

Our primary living-room sofa looks like a buffalo that has been dead for some time.” Dave Barry

In the example above, in order to illustrate the point of how decrepit his sofa is, Dave Barry compares it to a dead rotting buffalo. Can you picture the dead buffalo and can you imagine how the sofa must have looked like? 🙂

Jokes also often rely on the use of stereotypes (about blondes, Scots, hillbillies…etc.). Stereotypes are a type of exaggeration.

They say that a “True Scot” in North America is one whose ancestors came from Scotland – but who were born in North America to save the fare.

The above joke uses the common stereotype that Scottish people are cheap, which is the premise of many ethnic jokes.

Understatements are the opposite of exaggerations in that they downplay the situation instead. They are correct in a literal sense, but fail to convey the magnitude or graveness of a particular event.
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Your Simple Guide To Being Funny 4: Joke Forms

Most people think that humor is a free-flowing thing without any structure. That’s not true at all.

Most theories of humor state that the act of finding something funny is a result of things like surprise or incongruency. However these things don’t arise by themselves, but are highly dependent on delivery.

You can create these incongruities and surprise by putting in the right words, following a certain word order, and through the use of highly-paid actors (optional).

That and anything with O.J. “Orange Juice” Simpson in it, is funny. 🙂

The surprise or incongruency comes from the way the joke is structured. You can make or break a joke just by the specific form you put it in.

We’ve all heard someone bumble up a joke really badly. Fat Joe hears a great joke, jots it down into memory and then later tries to retell it in front of a crowd. Nobody laughs.

What makes it funny was lost on him. He did not get the essence of the joke right. The problem was that he did not put the joke in the correct structure and did not use the right form.

Let’s start off with a little exercise. Look at the jokes below and try to identify what makes them funny (well at least to some people 🙂 ):

Never argue with an idiot. He will drag you down to his level and beat you with experience.” George Carlin

War does not determine who is right – only who is left.” Bertrand Russell

I chased a girl for two years only to discover that her tastes were exactly like mine: We were both crazy about girls.” Groucho Marx

I had a flight attendant on the last flight who was so old, after she demonstrated the oxygen mask she left it on.” Bob Hope

A drunk was in front of a judge. The judge says “You’ve been brought here for drinking.” The drunk says, “Okay, let’s get started.”” Henry Youngman

Honesty may be the best policy, but it’s important to remember that apparently, by elimination, dishonesty is the second-best policy.” George Carlin

We live in an inherently sexist society, in the sense that a lot of women who get ahead do so through the sexualisation of everything.” Omid Djalili

People who lose sleep over the stock market are lucky. I lose money.” Melvin Helitzer

Got it? We will come back to looking at these jokes in a little bit. First let’s get familiar with the basic joke forms.

There are many comedians, countless jokes and even more people trying to be funny, but luckily most jokes can be broken down into a limited number of formulas. If you learn to recognize these formulas, you can construct your own jokes much more easily.

A mathematician about his late colleague:
“He made a lot of mistakes, but he made them in a good direction. I tried to copy this, but I found out that it is very difficult to make good mistakes.”

Learning to tell jokes is a lot like learning any other skill. You will make a lot of mistakes at first, but over time you will get better and better. Having some joke frameworks in your head will help you get started in the right direction.

The trouble with learning from experience is that you never graduate.” Doug Larson

As the great Cicero observed more than two millennia go, all the different joke formulas can be divided into two categories: those based on words and those based on things. So between verbal and content based humor.

How do you tell the two categories apart? You use the translation test! 🙂

If you can tell the joke in different words and it still remains funny, then it is content-based humor, a play on things. If the joke depends on the particular meaning of a word or phrase and if you use different words, it loses its humor, then it is verbal humor, a play on words.
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What Is Your Origin Story?

Every legend has a beginning and every hero has an origin. Heroes are not born, they are made. What makes someone a hero is not the supernatural talents they were born with, but the path they take.

In ancient and modern legends, some people are born with supernatural powers, but these are not what make them a hero later on in life. It is the way they cultivate these powers and the choices that they make.

In real life, people are born with different gifts based on genetics and circumstances, but these are not what make them succeed later in life. It is the way they cultivate these gifts, the way they work on their strengths, but also their weaknesses, and the choices they make in life.

One of the comments I received on my post on contrarian thinking was from Jose Romero (his blog is here). It was a very powerful description of the path he has taken and the choices he had to make to become the man he is today:

When I was growing up I did not have the internet and to get information I would have had to go to the Library near me. So I had to learn to change my view by watching a lot Public Television where they used to have very good programs like Front Line, Nova etc.

It did help that my Dad would bring home books for us to read. Since he had a 6th grade education he knew the importance of knowledge and how it can help a person succeed. Me and my brothers all got out of the inner city and made something of ourselves. None of us were thugs, drug dealers etc. We just stayed away and made our own paths.

I could have gone that route like so many of the kids I grew up with, but for what? There is no future at the end of that path, except death and prison. Neither is something I like to do so I stayed away, stayed in school and made the best of my situation while in the NYC public school system.

I learned to survive and made the right choices and so far it has led me here to you and other like minded people. I just wish that more people would realize that life is not hard to live but simple its just that we make it hard.

This was his origin story.

Every hero has an origin story, a tale of what made them who they are.

People love to hear about origin stories, because they get at the deep down core of a person, their evolution and their drive.

The curiosity of knowing where a hero or a powerful man came from has been ingrained in us since time immemorial. These types of stories were always popular. In the Middle Ages the biggest hero for people of Europe was Jesus and yes even he had his own origin story. One of the most popular stories of that time was the Infancy Gospel of Thomas, which recounted all the misadventures that little kid Jesus got up to.

Today is no different. It seems as if Hollywood keeps coming up with a new Superhero Origin story every few months. These types of stories are popular among fans, since they want to know where their hero came from and how he became the man he is.
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Your Simple Guide To Being Funny 3: How To Write A Joke

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Now that we know about the structure of a joke and the different parts that it consists of, how do we actually go about writing it?

What creative process do you need to go through in order to come up with an idea for a joke and then craft it in a funny way?

Watch the video below to see Jerry Seinfeld’s process:

A lot of humor is based on things happening around you, whether in the news or in your own life. These are the basic starting points of all jokes or funny stories. You just need to be able to capture that, process it and then deliver it in the right way.

You can write a simple story about your day, job, life and use comedy formula to shape it to create laugh points and make the audience start rolling in the aisles.

Aside from velcro, time is the most mysterious substance in the universe. You can’t see it or touch it, yet a plumber can charge you upwards of seventy-five dollars per hour for it, without necessarily fixing anything.” Dave Barry

Edgar E. Willis (author of “How to be funny on purpose”) states that every joke has what is called an expressed idea and an inferred idea. The expressed idea is what the joke teller says in an explicit form, while the inferred idea is the idea that the listeners should get out of what he is saying.

So basically the joke is delivering two ideas simultenously, what is said literally and what those words are implying.

Since you have two basic ideas in a joke, you also have two main starting places for a joke: either think up the inferred idea (what you want the audience to draw out of what you say), or come up with the expressed idea (material that will lead audience to make inferred idea).

Listen again to Jerry Seinfeld’s description of his joke creation process. In the example he gives, he is starting out from the inferred idea: Pop Tarts are weird and food is crazy.

Once he has the message he wants to pass in his head, he goes about crafting the words that would deliver it.

Here is another Jerry Seinfeld clip which has as its inferred idea the craziness of the shopping experience. Notice the words he uses in order to show this:

How do you craft the words themselves? Even if the inferred idea is good, the actual words that you use can be the difference between the audience giving out a slight chuckle or breaking out in roaring laughter that makes half the people end up in the hospital due to the fact that they were cracking up so hard that they forgot to breathe.

One way to do this is visualization, describing in such a way as to paint a vivid picture in the head. Another good joke formula is the use of exaggerations, either overstatements or understatements in order to better convey your idea.

This can be done by combining metaphors or analogies with hyperboles. Your brain often thinks using metaphors and analogies and that’s why their use can really underline what you are saying.

These are very powerful ways of expressing an idea. Using these tropes in different contexts can often give a very different spin to your message.

A metaphor basically says that A is B. For example the “war on drugs” is saying that there is a war on drugs.

On the other hand, a simile compares two things that are similar in some way. A simile often states that A is “like” B. In order to tell apart a simile from a metaphor look for words like “like” or “as”. For example when Forrest Gump said that “life is like a box of chocolates” or when you say something is “as cute as a kitten“.

An analogy is essentially an extended, more elegant simile. For example this quote from the character Matt McGrath in the movie “Broken Hearts Club” is an analogy: “Dumb gorgeous people should not be allowed to use literature when competing in the pick-up pool. It’s like bald people wearing hats.
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Your Simple Guide To Being Funny 2: The Anatomy Of A Joke

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George Washington was the first President of the US and is often given to kids as an example of what they should aspire to. When he was in his late teens, he wrote out a list of rules that a gentleman should abide by.

The list contained such wise rules as don’t turn your back to someone when you are speaking, or that the gestures of the body must be suited to the discourse you are upon.

Do you know what his number one rule was?

🙂

Don’t scratch your balls in public! 🙂

🙂

Well, actually it was number 2!

🙂

The list itself can be found here, but that was not the point of this little section.

The short story above (inspired by an A.J. Jacobs presentation) very nicely demonstrates the anatomy of a joke, as well as many elements inherent in comedy.

First there is some sort of an introduction, which explains the premise and leads the audience to think in one direction.

Then boom, an element of surprise suddenly appears, and the joke teller comes up with an unexpected unravelling of the story.

Sometimes this can be followed by another element that continues the joke, an add-on joke.

These things are called the set-up, the punchline, and the tagline and form the basic structure of a joke.

This is a formula that can be replicated in any type of story or joke on whatever subject you want. With any joke, first you need to set up the scene, then you finish it up with a punchline.

The key to the audience laughing is surprise. With the set-up you lead the audience to assume one thing and then suddenly hit them with something totally different, something that they weren’t expecting.

You can feed off of this by quickly adding up another short phrase which is called the tagline or topper. This is basically a short second joke that builds upon the punchline and in many cases can make you look spontaneous and witty.

An important part of any joke is what is sometimes called the connecter, which is something in the set-up that has a double meaning or can be interpreted in different ways. It can be a punch word or even an entire phrase.

My wife and I were happy for twenty years. Then we met.

Let’s illustrate the structure of a joke by decomposing this classic Rodney Dangerfield joke:

The set-up:My wife and I were happy for twenty years.” This sets up the audience to paint a picture of an old happy married couple.

The punchline:Then we met.” However this line totally destroys any image of a happy married couple that the audience might have had in their heads. It gives a totally different spin to the previous set-up.

Watch this Rodney Dangerfield video and try particularly to notice how he structures his jokes, how he sets them up, when he delivers his punchline and when he uses taglines.

You can use this with any of your favorite comics. Go find their videos, watch them and try to pay attention to how they structure their jokes and where the laugh points are. Most comics will usually use some sort of a version of the standard set-up, punchlines, taglines structure.

The overall themes of humor structure are based around tension, surprise and relationships. Melvin Helitzer in his book “Comedy Writing Secrets” describes what he calls the THREES formula, which are the very basic elements needed for a joke to be successful.

THREES stands for target, hostility, realism, exaggeration, emotion, surprise and I have broken down this concept in more detail in a previous article which you can read here.

EXERCISES:

Now for the exercises:

1) Start creating a collection of jokes that you come across and write them down somewhere. To start off, find 30 short jokes. They can be about anything you want. Once you have found them, try to look at how they are structured. Try to find the punchline, the set-up and any potential taglines.

2) Find videos of your favorite comics. Watch the videos and look for the laugh points. When does the audience laugh? Then go back and rewatch the clips, noticing how they structure their jokes and stories. Which part is the set-up, which is the punchline, which phrases or words serve as the connecters and are there any taglines? When watching, also try to look for elements from the THREES formula.

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Your Simple Guide To Being Funny 1: Mindset And Finding The Comic In You

You have probably met those types of people, the ones that always have a witty remark that fits every occasion and that always brings the room to laughter. How do they do it? And how can you be like them?

The good news is that you can. Any skill can be learned and humor is one of them. The first step is to begin thinking funny.

You need to start finding the funny in everything. Funny people are just those that see the world in a different way. Stop being so serious and start seeing the absurdities of the world. The world isn’t serious. You can find the humorous part in every daily action imaginable.

What you need to do in order to do that is to reframe your mind. Put a different spin on daily events. See the humor in everything.

Start by observing what is around you, see the funny relationships and connections. Train yourself to see the humor.

Use what Jerry Seinfeld calls your “third eye”. It’s something that every comedian has in order to be able to view life with an ironic dettachment. This eye is the one that looks at what is happening from the funny angle, distances itself from the situation and sees its ridiculousness.

Life is full of humorous things, but you need to be able to see under the surface of what appears a serious world.

Here are some examples to point out the absurdities of the modern world:

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How do you find the picture above? The clothing is a little ridiculous right? You would probably chuckle at anyone wearing that today. However in the 18th century that was perfectly normal clothing and nobody would even bat an eye, if they saw it.

And now something from the modern world, just a different continent:

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For Papuans this is pretty normal clothing. Nothing to laugh about for them…

How about for you? 🙂
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To Be Or Not To Be: When To Be A Contrarian Thinker And When Not To Be

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What we often see today is people going with the herd, falling into groupthink and never thinking for themselves. Even groups that profess to go against the mainstream (like the “goths” or hipsters for example) usually just reproduce the trappings of a mindless herd, with their own uniforms and ideology.

This type of herd mentality is due to our own evolutionary backgrounds. If you observe the way herds of animals behave in the wild, you will see how this works and why it is often beneficial for the individual not to stray away from everyone else.

There is safety and power in numbers and the lone individuals that get separated from their herd often don’t make it on their own, either falling prey to larger predators or because they are not able to get to the resources that they need to survive.

As humans in modern societies, we don’t face many of these dangers anymore. However many people still have the old herd mentality deeply ingrained in them. So how do we succeed in today’s world? Is it better to separate from the pack and strike out on your own or is it better to follow the herd?

I have been thinking about these issues for a while now. A recent post on Ludvig Sunstrom’s blog “Start Gaining Momentum” on contrarian thinking has inspired me to write down my own thoughts on the topic.

In Ludvig’s definition, a contrarian is someone who goes against the mainstream:

Being a contrarian means doing and thinking in unconventional ways.

I have always been a contrarian. I have never followed the herd and have always tried to act and think in a way that is independent of what the common groupthink consensus is. I have been aided in this by my unique background and my thirst for knowledge and self-improvement. This is reflected in my blog and my quest to become a Renaissance Man.

However one thing has always bothered me. Is this the correct path to success?

First off, being a contrarian does not mean being a conspiracy crackpot. Those are not contrarians. A contrarian should always follow the principles of rational thought and be aware of his biases. A contrarian is a critical thinker.

As investor Ben Graham stated:

You are neither right nor wrong because the crowd disagrees with you. You are right because your data and reasoning are right.

Contrarians are people who are keen observers of the world, who try to figure out how it works and often go down to first principles or lateral thinking. They are the rational innovators and bringers of progress. They are the Steve Jobs or Elon Musks of this world.
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How To Be A Badass Like The Zaporozhian Cossacks

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In 1615, a fleet of 80 Zaporozhian Cossack boats, called chaiky, slipped into the harbor of Constantinople and razed the entire area around the harbor to the ground. This was the culmination of a hundred years of naval raids that the Cossacks were conducting against various ports of the Ottoman Empire.

At that time, the Ottoman Empire was the most powerful state in Europe and was on the offensive on all fronts. That did not deter the Cossacks. They were fearless and in subsequent years conducted a few more raids on Ottoman ports. The bigger the challenge, the more likely they were to attempt it. The Zaporozhians were not afraid to take risks, even doing things that seemed impossible.

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The year following that raid on Constantinople, they raided the port of Trebizond. The Ottoman Sultan sent a fleet to the mouth of the Dnieper River in order to try to destroy their fleet. However in a show of the ultimate “f*%k you,” the Cossacks who were returning from their successful raid decided to turn around and once again attacked Constantinople. They caused a lot of havoc, even rampaging through the official palace of the Sultan himself.

Brave warriors who cherished their freedom

The Ukrainian Cossacks were brave warriors who cherished their freedom. They had a strict code of honor and valued courage above all else. A Venetian envoy once compared them to the Spartans, only more drunk:

This republic (the Zaporozhian Sich) could be compared to the Spartan, if the Cossacks respected sobriety as highly as did the Spartans.

The Cossacks learned how to endure many hardships from early on. Their code of honor preached that they always needed to help a friend in trouble. They would often sacrifice themselves in order to save others. Their skills and abilities in horsemanship and with different arms (swords, guns) were legendary.
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Bored At Work? Use That Time To Learn!

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There are those people who will get ahead in life and those who never will. It’s pretty easy to tell the difference between them.

Just walk around the modern workplace. You will see that there are some people who are constantly on social media, posting pointless statuses, fiddling with their phone or looking at random pictures.

Instead of using their free time at work for productive purposes, they just waste it. And for productive purposes I don’t mean finishing up another pointless work task, but instead working on their own skills, learning and trying to improve their knowledge and skills.

Guess to which one of the two categories the people above belong to.

You should not be like them. While the others are using their downtime to “entertain” themselves, you can use that time to learn.

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Pick a skill you want to improve upon, or a subject you want to learn more about. Find some resources that you can use to do that and keep them handy. The internet today provides you with everything you will ever need to learn about anything and so you don’t need to go far in order to get the materials that you require for this.

After you have identified the skills and subjects you want to learn or improve upon and have found some resources which can help you with this, then set out a plan on how you will do this.

It doesn’t have to be some elaborate plan. Even a simple resolution that you will spend all your “free” time on productive things that will help you get ahead will suffice.
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