The world is a funny place and stories that make you laugh are everywhere. Finding humor that works for an audience, though, takes a little more work. We’ve all experienced situations where we tell what we think is a sidesplitting story but are met with blank stares. These anecdotes tend to end with those dreaded words, “I guess you had to be there.”
The goal of great humor is telling stories in a way that makes your audience feel like they were there.
Be There Yourself
In the morning, make it your daily goal to find the funny. That means actively listening and observing. So, for that day, put away your headphones. Instead of browsing the internet, get up from your desk and get out of your comfort zone.
It’s also not enough to simply hang out waiting for something funny to happen. Talk to people, ask questions about their lives and offer your own insights. Humor begins with shared experiences.
The Pen Is Mightier Than the Phone
The best place to find humor is in your daily life, but active listening isn’t always enough. If you hear something funny, you need to write it down, and you need to write it down quickly. Why? Studies show that after only 12 seconds, 15 percent of the original memory remains. If you want to remember the details, keeping a pen and notebook around is essential.
Phones won’t do, either, because a phone is much more than its notetaking app. It’s a tiny computer that literally holds the knowledge of the entire world, not to mention some really distracting games with gems and candy.
Feel Free to Refine
Compelling humor is exaggerated. Once you find and write down a great anecdote, take time to break it down. Why did it make you laugh? Search for the key element and enhance it. If the story is ironic, play up the irony. If it ends with something cute your kid said, make your kid really, really cute.
Humor is all around us; it’s just a matter of keeping your eyes and ears open. Including engaging, relatable humor in your next speech will ensure that your listeners tell their friends that they really should have been there.
Nick Jack Pappas is a comedy writer, stand-up comedian and one of the founders of Comedywire in New York City.