The biggest questions I get in teaching humor courses is: Can comedy be taught? Many times it’s comes as an attack. The most recent one I received was from some guy in San Diego, who was of course afraid to share his name. He left messages and sent emails—a full on assault!—(shaking in my boots…well, to be honest, Skechers). He said, “You can’t teach comedy! You either are funny or you’re not! You, of all people should know that!”
I didn’t understand a couple of things, first of all why all the hostility, dude? And secondly, why me of all people? If I’m the one teaching comedy, then it’s definitely not me! I did this with a smile on my face, of course, because I usually smile at such naivete.
It’s the kind of naiveté you find when someone is generally ignorant about a lot of things. They’re usually the same people that think that we didn’t actually put a man on the moon, Sadaam Hussein was responsible for 9-11, and that a stripper smiles at you when you give her money, because she really likes you!”
But I digress…comedy can be taught because all comedy has structure. It has a wide variety of formulas and techniques that can be utilized to surprise the listener or viewer. And if surprise is the number one element that triggers human laughter, wouldn’t it be wise to learn the different ways a humorist can write or deliver a line or a story that will create surprise?
You can learn comedy on your own, but if you study with someone who is knowledgeable and who has experience then you can probably get funnier faster. Learning comedy is like learning anything. It takes time to get good, but if you study with a good teacher you get better faster.
Comedy is a lot like magic. When a magician puts a ball in one hand, wave the magic wand over it and the ball disappears only to reappear behind your ear, he used misdirection to distract you so that you didn’t actually see where the ball was going. He created surprise. He’s doing the same thing a comedian does when the comedian leads you down one path verbally, only to misdirect you so that he can surprise you with the ending. As in… “This morning, I woke up in the hotel room and the housekeeper was banging on the door, just banging…finally, I had to get up and let her out.”
This is called a reverse in comedy and it works all the time. It’s just one of the formulas I teach in my comedy classes, workshops and seminars. The reverse; learn to use it. Its effectiveness will surprise you. In fact, it works so well, it’s like magic!