“How can I be a funny girl? You can never find anything on how to be a funny girl!” This young lady said to me recently. Interesting question, because literally every single day I get asked questions about comedy; “How can I get into comedy?” “Can I learn to be funny?” “How do I get into stand up?” You name it, when it comes to comedy, I get asked. I realized that I never got asked, specifically, about how to be a funny girl.
I Googled it and she was right! You don’t ever find anything on how to be a funny girl. There aren’t a lot of resources on how to be a funny girl. So I decided to post this blog and dedicate it to being a funny girl.
For the purposes of this post—and so I don’t risk getting pummeled with emails about the word “girl” vs. the word “woman,” I’m going to keep to the title of the post and include women under the umbrella as well, so when I write about how to be a funny girl, I’m also including women on this, because the woman who originally asked that question was well into her 30’s.
I will also address this to young ladies at least 12-years of age and older. The reason? At twelve most kids begin to develop the ability for complex reasoning. It allows for a greater understanding of incongruity and irony, two keys to humor.
Let’s start with why you would want to be funny. First of all, at a social level, funny, is not only a great self-defense mechanism, it helps to get us out of some pretty sticky situations, it’s also a great way to communicate and break through the “stranger barrier” early when meeting someone. When you’re making someone laugh it’s literally impossible for them to dislike you at the same time. So you get to be liked! That’s one reason to seek an answer to the question, “How to be a funny girl.”
In a more professional sense, the comedy industry; be it television, stand up, screen, desperately needs more funny women. Really! It does. It seems that there are so few female comedians. There are even fewer funny ones!
So let’s cover how to be a funny girl. There are a couple of adjustments to being a funny girl, due to societal expectations of being a girl, but we’ll get into that later. Ultimately,, believe it or not, being a funny girl is much like learning to be a funny boy…or man…or guy.
First you should understand the science of Funny.
“Funny” if you look it up, is something that causes laughter. And when you understand that the number element that triggers human laughter is surprise, then you’re already way ahead. Now, you have to ask yourself: how do I create surprise? It’s not by jumping around and acting all weird! It can be very subtle, but very effective. Here are two key ways to create surprise:
- Say something unexpected
- Do or say something that’s incongrous (doesn’t fit)
Let’s cover each of these so you can see how effective they are. Once you have an idea about them, you will start to look for these things in your daily life’s conversations and observations. For the sake of space and time, in this post, I will focuse on the unexpected. I’ll write part 2 about incongruity later.
First, say something unexpected: it’s as simple as changing what is normally said. Like when Rosanne Barr said, “My mother says, ‘The best way to a man’s heart is through his stomach.’ I think the best way to a man’s heart is straight through his chest.”
You can take cliches like that and do what’s called reforming the cliche; which is basically changing the ending of the cliche. How does that fit into your daily life? Take, for example, one of your girlfriends. Everyone knows someone who seems to have a new boyfriend every week. If you don’t know that person, then she might be YOU!
Okay, say this girl’s name is Jill. And I named her that because I knew someone like this in high school. I mean this chick always had a new boyfriend. So you might say. “Jill’s always got a different boyfriend. I can just see her wedding, ‘Do you take this man to be your lawfully wedded husband til death do you part…or next Tuesday?’”
Or what if there was a guy you really liked, “Josh is soooo hot. I’ve wanted to make out with him for like a year–and I’ve only know him 2 weeks!”
“That chick called me a slut and I’m no slut–except on Sundays…then all bets are off…because that’s when my neighbor Earl comes over and brings beer and duct tape!”
Of course you’re kidding, but how about that for saying something unexpected?
Or if an annoying guy thinks you’re hot and says something like, “Babe, you’re coming home with me!” You can say something like, “Dude, you couldn’t put this on lay-away.”
You can learn how to be a funny girl by watching truly funny female comedians. Try this as an experiment: watch comedians like Rita Rudner, Rosanne Barr (early years), Ellen DeGenerous, Diane Ford, Jo Caufield (British). These ladies have awesome comedy structure (meaning they do a great job creating surprise), study thier lines and, as an exercise, write down their jokes. Identify the set up and try to write different punch line. That’ll start giving you an idea of how a joke is formulated.
All of the ladies I mentioned above create surprise very effectively by saying something unexpected. They also all use incongruity well. Once you begin to understand how the jokes are put together and what makes them work, you will start to look for that formula in your own dialogue and conversation and if you recognize it, you can say something unexpected and get laughs. Once you get laughs, you are now a funny girl.
What is funny?
You really want to know what’s funny? How ‘bout some dumb-ass blogger trying to write an article entitled “What is Funny?!”
Funny is such a subjective term. How is anyone going to write about how to be funny? It’s almost like trying to definitively answer, “Who is God?” Or “What is Love?”
As a comedian of 25 years, a comedy writer for Jay Leno and The Tonight Show, comedy instructor and founder of The Stand Up Comedy Clinic, (a comedy workshop in Los Angeles), the question is posed to me, literally, every single day. So I thought I’d get serious about it for a minute and try to come up with a possible answer.
Please remember, this is just my theory and by no means a definitive answer. So keep the nasty comments to yourself. I’m still searching too! In other words, shut your conch! J
What is “funny?” You could ask that question in many different ways–“What is funny?” “What is funny?” “What is Funny?” Or even “What’s so funny, bitch?!…” and still come up with a blank stare. I’m not going to proclaim that I know what’s funny to everyone. Funny is very subjective. What is funny to one person is not necessary going to be funny to another. In a nutshell, we’re just guessing, the audience is the judge.
Here’s what I can do. I can analyze funny. In fact, let’s do it together. According to the dictionary, the number one definition of “Funny” is “to cause laughter or amusement.” Most people can agree on that. I was going to say “all people can agree on that, ” but people will find any reason not to agree—just watch the U.S. Congress.
So, for the purpose of this article, let’s all agree on the definition of “Funny;” that it causes laughter or amusement. In this case, since we are looking for laughs, let’s focus on laughter.
Because amusement is even more subjective. To some, the “Tilt-a-Whirl” at a carnival causes amusement. For me, it causes vomit. And here I think we can all agree that—and I’ve done a little research in this area—that vomiting is only amusing…if it’s not you.
Okay, back to what is funny?. How do we find funny? Well since we know that funny equals laughter we can start by looking at the science of laughter. When we do, we discover that according to experts on human behavior, the number one element that triggers human laughter is surprise.
Now by answering that, do you have any idea how far we’ve come now solving our initial question? It’s almost algebraic. It’s almost an “if-then” statement: What is funny is something that causes laughter. What causes laughter? Surprise, and if A=B and B=C, then A=C, then if Funny=Laughter and Surprise=Laughter, then Funny=Surprise! Got it?
Some people say that you can’t teach stand up comedy or for that matter teach somebody how to be funny. And while I do believe you are born with talent and you develop skill, I also know that if you have a reasonable amount of intelligence and a command of the English language you can learn the structures of how to manipulate words to take something seemingly mundane and turn it into something funny. I teach a comedy class in the Los Angeles area and I can teach just that to average, but amazing people and I’ve had tremendous results. How, you ask?
All it takes is a little surprise. Sid Caesar said, “Comedy is a story with a curlicue.” If you tell me a story and you give it a surprise ending, you have just written your first joke. Tell me something about yourself:
Comedian Tim Bidore used to open with this joke: “I come from a large family…four Moms, five Dads…” He just took something mundane, a cliché of everyday life and really just changed the ending. It’s a curlicue. It’s unexpected. Hence, it’s a surprise. Is it Funny? Let’s go back to the formula If Laughter=Funny, and Surprise=Laughter, then Surprise=Funny.
But we also understand the adage, the audience is the judge and in this case the audience still laughs at that line every time…and what is laughter equal to? FUNNY! Now we’re starting to get it!
Let’s look at it in another way…
How about when you go to the grocery store? When you check out, what does the clerk always say? “Did you find everything you were looking for?” Right? How do you usually respond? By saying, “Yes.” Because even if you didn’t find everything you were looking for, you just don’t want to deal with it.
What if you really took a moment, looked at that question and answered it in a unique way and surprising way?
First, look at the question: “Did you find everything you were looking for?” We know what he/she means when they ask that question. What they’re asking is: Did you find everything you were looking for while you were shopping today.
What if we blew it up a little? What if we took the meaning to the next level? “Did you find everything you’re looking for?” But this time we analyze it in a more “universal” sense, what do most people look for, not at the store, but in life; the meaning of life, or a soul mate, or love?
So what if we took one of those interpretations and responded to the question differently? Does it change? Let’s look:
Clerk: Did you find everything you were looking for?
Me: (Looking at the items on the conveyor) Well, I found some wine and some candlelight, but I couldn’t find my soulmate. You had Mahi-Mahi, but I’m just not into twins.
But then you realize that sometimes there might be someone that thinks you’re trying to relate women to fish. So you change it just to be silly:
Clerk: Did you find everything you were looking for?
Me: Well, I found the wine and the candles, but I couldn’t find my soul mate. So instead, I got Cheeze Whiz!”
Now you have something that’s clever and unique. It will get a laugh every time at the grocery store and since it’s impossible to hate someone who makes you laugh, the next time you go into that store, they’re going to have everything you’re looking for!
Of course this is only one way to create laughter. This method creates surprise by saying something unexpected by using a comedy formula called, Double Entendre. It’s French. The literal interpretation is: “Two meanings.”
In my comedy courses I’ve broken down ten major comedy formulas that are used in contemporary comedy today. These formulas are used, literally, by all the comedians working today. Bottom line is if they make you laugh they are using one of these formulas.
When you learn these formulas and learn how to properly apply them, you can learn to effectively create surprise and as we learned earlier, surprise is the number one element that triggers human laughter.
That’s it for now! Stay tuned for my next article: “Who is God…or is God Love?”
Jerry Corley’s Stand Up Comedy Clinic is an 8-week comedy class based in Los Angeles. Jerry teaches the fundamentals of comedy and humor writing and works hand-in-hand with students to help them create their own 5-7 minute stand-up act, which they perform in a Los Angeles Comedy Club.
By Jerry Corley | Founder – The Stand Up Comedy Clinic
Strange title for a blog you say? Well, wait for my follow-up, “How I flushed 50-Bucks On The Way To Vegas, Just To Warm Up!”
I write this blog entry as a follow-up for my previous entry, which was “Shut Up and Write!” It was written to inspire and light a fire under the backsides of all of us—including myself—who get lazy and don’t write. I don’t know why we do it.
Some people say there’s no motivation to write when there’s no money. Well money shouldn’t be the only motivation. It’s nice to make a living in comedy; I’ve been doing it for over 20 years and I have to tell you that the feeling just can’t be fully quantified, to get paid what what you love doing.
I always write because I love it. Sometimes there’s money, but that’s not why I do it, but you never know. Hence, this story:
I was just sitting on the toilet the other day. I usually take my Droid in with me. I can check emails and respond to texts…My sister sends me a text:
“Two guys wearing ‘Children’s Musical Theatre Summer Camp’ shirts walk into a European Wax Center…(you finish the joke).”
I quickly texted these:
…One of them asks the clerk: “how much to remove the hair from my asshole?” The clerk looks at one of them then looks back at the one who spoke and says, “We would first need his permission.”
…One guy asks, “what makes this a European Wax Center?” The clerk says, “we wax you until you call America to bail you out again.”
…One guy says, “What makes this a European Wax Center?” The clerk says, “We wax everything; your arms, your legs, your back, your chest…everything. But we don’t touch your precious area…your armpits.”
…they each pay 300 dollars to get ‘the works.’ Upon leaving, one of them turns to the other and says, “So you think NOW we can pass as one of the children?”
…They both walk out of the wax center red and in pain. One says to the other, “That’s the last time I volunteer to do a rendition of “HAIR” on “Opposite” Day.
My sister then said, she was “wiped.” And I quickly texted, “What did one turd say to the other?” “Whew! I’m wiped!”
Viola! It was then that I realized that I had a client who loves to do adolescent shit humor. So I quickly texted that stupid turd joke to him. He loved it and deposited 50 bucks in my PayPal account. NO KIDDING!
So write for the fun, write for the passion. The money might just a happen as a result!
It would be wrong and inappropriate to button this with …and remember sometimes shit happens…okay, see? I told you it was wrong!
By Jerry Corley | Founder – The Stand Up Comedy Clinic
Comedy writing is rewarding. There is no better feeling than writing a joke and getting an appreciative laugh. Okay, maybe there is a better feeling but that belongs in a different blog…besides, if I told my wife that the things she does don’t compare to joke writing, she might get offended. But I digress…
The dichotomy between the fun and the reward of getting the laugh versus the sometimes tedious and frustrating process of comedy writing, is often misunderstood. Comedy writing is fun, but it’s also work. Most comedians and comedy writers forget about that. You have to put in the work to get the rewards. The more work you put in the bigger and better the rewards…usually.
It is like guitar playing. I play guitar as a hobby. The more I practice, the better I get. The better I get, the more I want to play. But when I stop practicing and just play the songs I already know, I stop getting better. Got it?
Sometimes the work might not produce material that works. But that’s the process. You have to learn to accept that sometimes the writing session comes up without truly rewarding material. You have to brush it off and return the next day. Everyone goes through that. The better you get, the fewer encounters you have with that kind of failure, but it does happen.
There are two major mistakes comedians and writers make when writing comedy.
- Giving up too soon.
- Trying to find something funny to write about.
Giving up too soon is very common with comedians and comedy writers. Recently I did a comedy writing seminar at the World Series of Comedy in Las Vegas, a week-long comedy conference/competition I recommend to all comedians. While at the seminar I asked the comedians how many of them spent a minimum of 3 hours a day writing material? Five comedians raised their hands—that’s out of eighty in attendance!
If you’re not spending a few hours a day writing, then get the hell out of the business. It’s cut-throat out there and if you’re not putting in the time on your comedy writing, then you’re not going to be able to compete in the stand up comedy business. Besides, if you treat yourself as a professional, the results will begin to start coming back to you in a more professional way. Dig in. Dig deep and get to work.
I learned this many years ago. I was touring with a guy who used to be the head writer on a comedy show. I wrote a joke about Congress that I was pretty proud of. I told it to him. He said, “dig deeper.” I wrote another one, he said, “dig deeper.” He kept repeating that until I had put 3 hours in on the joke. By the time I was done I had 30 lines for that one joke and the more I worked, the funnier they got.
Because of that one event, I started digging deep all the time. It wasn’t long before I got 30 lines in two hours, then an hour.
The Biggest Mistake We Can Make When Writing Comedy
The other big mistake comedians and comedy writers make when writing comedy is they try to find something funny to write about. It’s uncanny. We’ll look at the newspaper and online stories and repeat like a mantra: “that’s not funny…that’s not funny…that’s not funny.” Until we conclude that there’s nothing funny in the news today. And that’s the biggest mistake we can make when writing comedy.
A joke in its simplest form is STRAIGHT LINE – PUNCHLINE. It’s not FUNNY LINE – PUNCHLINE. So the comedy writer must be vigilant in taking the straight line, the fact, the statement and writing it down. Isolate it in its most unfunny state, then, turn it funny by finding the double-entendre play, or doing a reverse, or doing a listing technique or an analogy play or apply 7 other comedy formulas to turn it into something funny. But always start with a straight line first.
Set a goal: When you sit down to write, just tell yourself you’re going to write 25 straight lines. For some of you that could be the most writing you’ve done in a while.
Keep checking back I’ll have more on this later.
Here’s an age-old argument that never ends; Can you learn to be funny? You’ll get answers on both ends of the spectrum. What’s interesting is the people who DON’T believe you can learn to be funny are really negative. They’ll actually call me and leave a nasty voicemail about how you can’t teach anyone to be funny. Makes me laugh, because the truth is “funny” is learnable.
As infants, we learn what funny is. If you look at a baby and you say “ooooooooooh—BOO!” The baby, laughs! It’s uncanny “ooooooooh—BOO!” You’ve probably seen it a hundred times. It’s because the person doing the “performance” is creating an expectation with “ooooooooh.” In the babies little mind “ooooooooh” is going to go on an on. Then you shatter that expectation with a quick “BOO!” It’s the surprise that gets the laugh. Pretty simple concept and it doesn’t change when we get older either. Surprise is still the number element that triggers human laughter. So, I’m sorry naysayers, you can learn to be funny.
It’s as simple as sharpening your awareness of the opportunity to shatter the expectation and create the surprise. If you take any statement of piece of dialogue and you suddenly change the perception of what is being said or, say, change the perception of the meaning of a word, you’ll have surprise which will result in funny. “I’ve been losing my hair lately. It bugs me a little bit. Like in the mornings when my wife is running her fingers through my hair, but I already left for work.” That line gets a laugh every time because the audience has a perception of “running her fingers through my hair, ” once I let them get that picture in their heads, I throw in that the hair she’s running her fingers through is the hair left behind on the pillow after I went to work. Because their image was shattered, they laugh. Learn to identify the opportunity to spin what you say at the last minute and you will learn to be funny.
In comedy, that’s called a reverse. It’s classic, and if used properly, that formula will get a solid, triggered laugh from an audience every time. Well, unless the audience doesn’t speak the language you’re speaking, or they’re dead. And if you’re running your jokes by a dead audience, then you should see a shrink, or better yet, stop playing the Hollywood Improv.
The reverse is just one of the humor formulas you can learn in your journey to learning to be funny. It’s one that I teach in my comedy classes and seminars. It’s powerful, but it’s one of those formulas you want to avoid using in back-to-back jokes when doing a routine. Once you give up the formula your audience begins to anticipate the surprise. Then it’s no longer a surprise, is it?
Here’s a real-life scenario in which I used a formula to lighten the mood. My wife and I were expecting a baby. I came home from work late one night and she was laying on the couch. She said, “I’m having gas pains.” I said, “Babe, everyone is, it’s like $4.25 a gallon!” She laughed. The we discovered that those “gas pains” were coming 3 minutes apart.
That is called the double-entendre formula. Take the perceived meaning of the word and turn it into something that the listener didn’t expect. I’ll talk more about that in a future blog…you know, the blog that I write where you can’t teach someone the skills to learn to be funny…
Jerry Corley is the founder of the Stand Up Comedy Clinic. He teaches the science behind the art of comedy from his studio in Burbank, CA.