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April 2024
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Humor in the Ordinary

Identifying comedy in everyday life can alleviate stress, improve your mood, and enhance your speeches.

By Greg Glasgow

Two women laughing together outside

No one knows the power of humor to deal with life’s challenges more than Denver-based comedian Josh Blue. Winner of the fourth season of NBC reality competition show Last Comic Standing, Blue was diagnosed early in his life with cerebral palsy, a loss or impairment of motor function that can cause issues with muscle tone, movement, and posture.

He’s found that people are more comfortable around him if he can acknowledge his body movements right away, something that not only lightens up the mood but explains his situation as well.

“People always think I’m drunk,” Blue begins one of his routines. “I was walking down the street one day, and the police picked me up. I said, ‘Wait a minute, fellas, I’m not drunk—I have cerebral palsy.’ The cop said, ‘That’s a pretty big word for a drunk.’”

Humor became a defense mechanism early in life, Blue says—a way to laugh at himself before others could laugh at him.

“Being physically disabled, I could cry about it and be sad, or I could have a laugh and go with it,” Blue says. “I’d much rather be laughing than crying.”

He recommends that others take the same approach to life, looking for the humor in the everyday and just generally lightening up.

“People are way too serious about everything,” he says. “If you can take everything with a grain of salt and not be so serious about all the little things, it makes life smoother. It just makes it more enjoyable to wake up in the morning.”

Most importantly, Blue says, learn to laugh at yourself.

“I think that’s mandatory,” he says. “Not enough people are able to do it. When you can laugh at yourself, the other things in life aren’t as bad.”

Boost Your Brain by Laughing

Experts say laughter is one of the quickest and easiest ways to improve your mood and increase your physical and mental health. A study from the University of Nebraska showed that laughing increases energy, while research from Northwestern University found that watching a comedy routine increased volunteers’ ability to engage in creative problem solving. And according to a 2016 paper by Norwegian researchers, people with a good sense of humor live up to eight years longer than those who don’t like to laugh.

“Smiling and laughing will immediately improve your mental health, improve your physical health,” says Stephan Dyer, a banker-turned-comedian whose company, reTHINK Group, inspires personal and professional growth through the lens of comedy. “Laughter makes everything easier, and it makes you feel grateful at the same time for everything that you have.”

“If you can take everything with a grain of salt and not be so serious about all the little things, it makes life smoother.”

–Josh Blue

Humor can also help take the sting out of the bad things life can throw your way, says American comedian and corporate speaker Judy Carter.

“When we laugh at a problem, it makes a problem more manageable,” Carter says. “And when we can find the humor in a situation, it makes it less painful. If you’re going through a bad breakup, for instance, the moment you can make jokes about it is the moment you’re on to healing.”

How to Find the Funny

If you’re not a professional comedian, it can be difficult to find the humor in everyday situations. Experts offer a few tips:

Immerse yourself in comedy.
“Go on Netflix or YouTube and look for stand-up comedy specials or comedy movies,” Dyer says. “It’s about breaking up the 9-to-5 grind and the copy-paste of every day. It doesn’t even have to be comedy to make you laugh. You can join a volleyball team or a hiking group or dance class. Because you’re already out of your comfort zone and there’s tension, humor is going to come in and release it.”

A Toastmasters club meeting is another opportunity to find humor. Challenge yourself to add a bit of humor in your speeches or Table Topics® answers. If you really love humor, try the Engaging Humor path in Pathways, or compete in a Humorous Speech Contest.

Look for things that don’t make sense.
One of the best ways to find humor in daily life is to look for things that raise questions, or don’t quite add up.

“I pay attention to things that are weird,” Carter, the American comedian, says. “For instance, I just saw a sign that said, ‘Ears Pierced While You Wait.’ As opposed to what? ‘Oh, no, I’ll just leave them here, and I’ll come back for my ears a little later.’ Noticing things that don’t make sense and ranting about them is how you find the funny in day-to-day life.”

Write it down.
“The best way to pay attention to funny things is to do what comedians do: Carry a notepad around, and when you see people laughing at something you said, or you heard something you think is funny, write it down,” Dyer says.

The technique not only trains your brain to pay attention to humorous moments; it gives you potential jokes to include in your next speech or presentation. Including humor is a great way to keep audiences engaged, Blue says.

“In college, when my professors were funny, I learned so much more from what they were teaching,” he says. “It’s the same in the business world. If you want to grab your coworkers’ attention, don’t just do the usual. Have something unique.”

Dyer agrees, adding that humor can prompt emotions in a way that words alone can’t quite achieve.

Maya Angelou said, “People will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel.” This resonated with Dyer. He says, “Comedy makes people feel great, and it makes you as the speaker look more approachable, more easygoing, more vulnerable.”

Having a developed sense of humor can also help you roll with the punches when the unexpected happens in the middle of your speech. A loud noise interrupts your flow? Make a joke about it. For example: “Don’t start cheering yet; I’m not done with my presentation.”

“In comedy, that’s called ad-libbing,” Dyer says. “When you get used to writing stuff down on a daily basis and recognizing it regularly, your comedic muscles are being exercised. Then you can turn anything serious into something funny.”

The Power of Laughter

Not only does humor get an audience on a speaker’s side, it also bonds the room closer together. Something about the primal, intimate act of laughter connects us in a way few other things can.

“Every time I do a show, and people laugh together for an hour, I feel like it brings humanity together,” Blue says. “There are people in the theater from all different walks of life, but they’re all laughing together at the same thing. I feel like it goes a long way.”

Most importantly, experts say, don’t underestimate the power of humor to improve not only your outlook, but the outlook of your audience.

“The world is really in bad shape right now,” Carter says. “People are very angry and depressed, and everybody’s full of anxiety. If you can deliver your message and your story, no matter how serious it is, in a funny way, people will love you. People love people who can make them laugh.”


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