What's so funny?
Five comedians give you some advice
Related ContentWhy perform comedy in New York, when Detroit has all you need?
Published: August 22, 2012
My best advice if you are going to tell a joke is to commit. Go big or underplay it. No middle. If you believe it is funny, then it is, and if you're good enough at believing it, you might fool someone else into thinking the same. Good luck, don't stay in school. Quit your day job.
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Being funny is being yourself.
It's the unique perspective of the individual who has the "gift of comedy." Dave Chappelle said that comedians are born, not made. I agree with that. You can only try to be someone you're not. That's no fun! Nor is it funny!
Telling a joke has to seem like you're not telling a joke.
Telling a joke is outthinking your audience. You have to take them on a journey that seems opposite of where they believe you are going. For instance: "I just found out I'm going to be a father." Good news, right? Audience claps because they are happy for you! "... on Facebook." This shocks the audience. Then you add to it, "I deleted her as a friend ... I ain't poking nobody else!" The basic anatomy of a joke is setup, punch, then tag-twist. The series above is a display of this anatomy.
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I have used my sense of humor as a defense mechanism my whole life, and if I think something is funny, beware, because I will beat it into the ground until someone laughs. My kids hate it when I goof around with them 'cause they don't find me funny, so I will not stop until they laugh or go to their room.
My best example of when not to be funny happened in court when the judge told me: "Mr. Green, someone is hit by a drunk driver every minute in this country." I said, "We better find out who this guy is ..."
In high school, I had a teacher who reprimanded me for eating a snack in class. He said if I didn't have enough for everybody, I couldn't have it in class. That was all well and good, until he introduced his wife to us a month or so later, and I told him, "If you don't have enough for everybody ..."
My advice is to understand that just because something is funny doesn't mean it's the right time to say it. I can do my act, the same act, two different ways: clean enough for my grandma or priest, or dirty enough for drunk twentysomethings to enjoy.
I think that comes from doing so many shows in so many different places.
I have worked on the altar of a church, in a church rec hall, and countless country clubs. Conversely, I have performed in a strip bar, a nudist resort and a gay bar.
Bottom line: Know your audience.
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I believe that anyone can be funny. However, not everyone can be a comedian.
Being a comedian is more than being funny. Comedians are a combination of storyteller, keynote speaker, therapist, friend, political analyst and motivational speaker, while keeping it funny, entertaining and thought-provoking. Comedians ... we're healers. We make people feel good.
I can't tell you the number of times after a performance that people come up to me to tell me how much they needed "to laugh," and to thank me for making them laugh.
I once read: "Comedy is the truth exaggerated."
With that said, many comedians don't like to touch on subjects of religion, politics, etc. But in my performance, I love including politics ("America found Saddam in a hole in the ground, but can't find my babydaddy to get my back child support."), religion ("You think Jesus ever told Mary, 'I can't wait to go live with my real daddy'?"), and social issues ("I live within a gated community in Detroit; everyone on my block has bars on their windows.").
I believe that comedians have a responsibility to be funny and express a point of view without preaching. Finding a platform that fits your style of comedy is the toughest part of comedy.
I find that Christian and family-friendly comedy works best for my style of comedy. It allows me to perform for audiences that include both grandchildren and grandparents. Working as a clean, Christian comic also challenges my creativity. I focus more on subject matter. I don't have the luxury of falling back on a cuss word, or inappropriate subject matter to get a laugh.
Working as a clean comedian also affords me the opportunity to be seen by individuals who would have never considered hiring a comedian to perform at their parents' 50th anniversary gala. Working clean has given me the opportunity to produce comedy show fundraisers for several metro Detroit churches and nonprofit organizations such as the AARP and the Red Hat Society.
Contact Simply Shanell at firstname.lastname@example.org. She plays the Clean Side of Comedy on Oct. 6, at the Millennium Center in Southfield, with headliner Jonathon Slocumb; ticket info at cleansideofcomedy.com.
Cornelius A. Fortune resisted the urge to mention Sigmund Freud's 1905 rib-splitter The Joke and Its Relation to the Unconscious. His editor couldn't. Send comments to email@example.com.
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