Being funny is not easy. It is also not something everyone should try.
Some people are naturally funny.
Some people are not. Those are the people who should not try to be funny.
There are few things less entertaining than someone trying to tell you they are funny. You never hear great comedians saying, “Thanks for coming out tonight. I’m funny.” If a comedian is truly funny, there is no reason to tell the audience he is funny.
Just be funny.
You ruin your credibility when you tell me you’re funny. It is like saying, “To be honest with you …” When I hear that, I instantly think, “Have you been dishonest with me up to this point?” Don’t tell my you are honest. Just be honest. Don’t tell me you are funny. Just be funny.
Average television hosts will often say, “We have a great show for you tonight.” Have you ever heard a host say, “Tonight’s show is pretty average, but thanks for showing up anyway”? There is no need to tell me the show tonight is great. That is assumed.
If you feel the need to tell me you are going to be funny, you probably are not as funny as you think. Let the audience decide if your content is actually funny. Saying you’re funny does nothing to make your content any funnier.
This rule holds true for laughing at your own jokes.
When you laugh at your own jokes, it is as if you are telling me you think you are funny. Some of the best comedians deliver their jokes with a straight face. That makes the joke even funnier.
If you say something off the cuff that makes you laugh sincerely, that is natural and perfectly acceptable. When you are trying hard to be funny and simply laughing to encourage others to laugh, you cease being funny. You become the annoying guy at the party that keeps trying to be funny when the rest of the guests are tired of the routine.
Sitting alone in a room talking into a microphone to an audience you cannot see is one of the most difficult things you’ll attempt. You have no idea if the audience finds you amusing. It is nearly impossible to tell if the audience is understanding what you’re saying. Are they crying with you? Do they find your material funny? Is the audience as upset as you are? It is hard to tell. Every host faces the same dilemma.
You can only trust yourself. If you are passionate about what you’re saying, the audience will follow. You don’t need to tell them to be angry or sad. You don’t need to tell your audience to laugh. You don’t need to hold their hand and lead them. If you have faith in yourself and believe what you are saying, they will get it. Trust your words.
It takes practice to be confident enough to deliver your content without reacting as if you are also the audience. Hold back. Use restraint. Pause where you think the laughter would be … then move on. No need to acknowledge the laughter. No need to laugh yourself. Just move on.
When you simply move on, you allow the audience to decide if your content is amusing. Either they laughed or they didn’t. If they laughed and you moved on, perfect. Your joke worked. If they didn’t laugh and you moved on, perfect. You didn’t make reference to laughter anyway.
If you are laughing and your audience is not, you are laughing at a joke they didn’t find funny. You sound silly. If they are laughing at a joke and you are not, they are entertained and you are now focused on the next entertaining piece. Nothing lost. The audience doesn’t expect you to laugh at your own joke. If you didn’t think it was funny, you wouldn’t have said it in the first place.
Let’s back up a step.
If you’re not funny, that’s ok. You don’t need to be funny. You only need to be entertaining. Entertaining doesn’t necessarily mean funny.
Think about movies. Not all movies are written to be funny. On the other hand, all movies are written to be entertaining. Some are action flicks. Some movies are romantic. There are scary movies and suspense thrillers and mysteries. There may be some naturally funny scenes in the movies. But, not all movies are funny.
Not all podcasts need to be funny either. They only need to be entertaining. Know your limitations. If people find you funny, then knock yourself out. Be funny. Make people laugh. Some people have that talent. But, if you’re not funny, find another angle. Don’t try to be funny if you are not naturally funny. You’ll just become annoying.
How do you know if you’re funny?
People that love you will tell you if you are funny or not. Find people who love you enough to tell you the truth. A causal friend will not admit you are not funny. They don’t want to hurt your feelings. Casual friends won’t tell you that you look fat in those jeans, they hate your new haircut or you are not funny. Only people who have your best interest at heart will care enough to hurt your feelings in order to save you from yourself.
You can determine what is funny by listening to your show with others present. Don’t tell them where the funny parts occur. Just notice if and when they laugh. Over time, you’ll get a feeling of which parts are truly funny.
To figure out what is funny, you could also hire a coach. When you’re paying a good coach, you’re paying them to tell you the truth. A poor coach will tell you what you want to hear, so you don’t fire them. A good coach will tell you the truth. Your coach should tell you which parts are funny and which are not. You should also learn how to spot those areas, how to improve your show to make it more entertaining, and whether or not you should even attempt to be funny. A good coach will go beyond pointing out your weaknesses and help refine your skills, abilities and talents.
The occasional e-mail from a listener that says you’re funny is NOT a way to determine if you are funny. Three e-mails do not constitute a valid sample when you have hundreds or thousands listening to your show. Those e-mails only tell you three people find you funny.
Your mom will always find you funny. That doesn’t mean it’s true. You will never get an e-mail that says, “Hey, that line about the piano that you laughed at made me chuckle.” People don’t have time for that.
If you are unfunny to the point of annoying, you may begin to get hate mail. It takes a lot to get that kind of mail. Don’t take hate mail too seriously. Armchair critics are usually not very talented. They can’t do it, so they criticize it. Ignore them.
I’ve coached radio hosts for almost 20 years. One of the most difficult pieces of coaching is getting talent to trust themselves. They learn by doing and trying and failing and trying again. Over time, after reviewing many, many shows, the trust slowly builds. Confidence grows. Shows become stronger. The audience becomes larger. The influence of the host becomes greater. That’s when your show becomes truly powerful.
As you record your podcast, be confident in your content. Just put it out there. Trust that people will find it entertaining and amusing. Laughing at it won’t make it funnier. It also won’t make me laugh just because you’re laughing.
Just be funny. Or don’t. But whatever you do, don’t tell me your podcast is funny.
Editor’s note: If you’re looking for some funny podcasts for inspiration, try this list of the top funniest podcasts as picked by comedian Jordan Cooper.