Published: August 22, 2012
The art of comedy isn't actually funny. For most comedians, it's serious business.
Think of it as a complex equation that never yields the same answer twice, and "funny" is usually measured by how hard the audience laughed — but even that is subjective.
Why we laugh, and what we laugh at, is as much a mystery as the greatest of mysteries (choose any), and there's not one all-purpose formula to call on for that most visceral of reactions: the laugh.
No, it's not something that can be cooked up in a laboratory, or taught in a university, though you will find hundreds of classes, seminars, workshops and books on how to deliver the funny to an audience. It's an art form that requires some talent, lots of perseverance and, perhaps, most of all, honesty. We know a good joke when we hear one, and the best jokes are imbued with, at the very least, the ring of truth. We know a good comedian by what they reveal to us, how they make us laugh, how they illuminate human nature, critique our absurdities, and examine the tiny microcosms we wrap ourselves in every day.
While there isn't one reliable formula to tickle the masses, there are some basic guidelines that might make you a funnier human being.
David Dyer, Mike Green, Michael McDaniel, J Chris Newberg and Simply Shanell are five working comedians at the top of their game. Collectively, they have all had national or international exposure, from writing for Jimmy Fallon to appearances on Comedy Central, comedy clubs across the country, opening for major comics such as Lewis Black and Drew Carey, and they all hail from metro Detroit. Above all else, they each have something important to say about the art of comedy, the science of comedy, the comedy of comedy.
They're not guaranteeing a riotous response at that next open-mic night, but a little advice never hurt anyone. And no, you shouldn't quit your day job — no matter how funny your mother says you are.
"How do you get them to laugh?"
The "left turn," I reply.
It's all in the left turn.
You lead the audience down a path, and just before they think they know where you're going, you take a left and you keep taking lefts.
That's what a joke is. It's taking a familiar situation and approaching it from a different angle so you end up somewhere else. Most of us love to be surprised, and that surprise doesn't have to come in the format of a traditional joke. It could be part of a story or a movie.
Why is The Usual Suspects such a great flick?
Because for 106 minutes, you kind of think you have it figured out, and then in the last two minutes, you're tossed on your ear.
For me, there's nothing better than making a person laugh. We live in some pretty rough times right now, especially in Michigan, and for many, there's not a lot to smile about. I've been doing stand-up for 19 years, and I will tell you that my greatest satisfaction still comes from knowing that there's somebody in the crowd who had a rough week. That person decided to come out to the show and, for an hour, I had the privilege of being their escape so they could forget about all that other crap.
I'm a married guy with two daughters and I do a fair amount of material about the three women who surround me.
An example of the "left turn" comes in the form of a joke I used to do about my youngest daughter. It goes like this:
There's no love like the love you have for your child, but let's be honest ... there's the other side. I've never been so angry with a human being in my life ... my 6-year-old owes me money. And I feel bad shaking her down about it because ... she's 6. The only source of income she has right now is her teeth. She keeps telling me, "This one's starting to wiggle. Give me another week." "That's what you said last time," I say. A week later, I'll have her pushed up against a wall going, "Bite the apple. Daddy needs his money."
For more information, see daviddyercomedy.com or follow @dyercomedy on Twitter.
J Chris Newberg
Comedy is like music.
Jokes or funny stories all have rhythm, beats and melodies. They also have dynamics and a hook. That said, being funny is an interesting thought. It's the one form of art where not everyone will think you're successful. In fact, you could tell a joke to two people and one might like it, one might hate it and they would both be right. Comedy is subjective.
Some people are obviously funnier than others and some people will never be funny. I am funny. It's my job. I'm good at it. It evens out though, because I suck at golf.
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