Half of the time when I tell a joke, you can hear crickets. I’m just not that funny. How do you get laughs anyway? You steal them!
There are classes on humor and all kinds of techniques you can learn to be funny, but it’s a lot easier to steal laughs.
I didn’t say you should steal jokes, I said you should steal laughs.
3 ways to Steal Laughs
1 Steal a reaction
Let’s start with the most obvious way. Whenever you conduct a class or presentation pay attention to audience reactions. Every once in a while, someone will respond to something you say with a one-liner that makes the whole room laugh.
Write those moments down.
Next time you teach the same subject or share the same content all you have to do is followup your example by telling the story of the laugh.
For example, for several years I taught classes on retirement benefits at an organization. My humorless version went something like this:
In case you are not aware, one of your employee benefits is a $55,000 lump sum death benefit.
But then one day, as soon as I spoke, a gentleman in the back of the room called out. “Don’t tell my wife!”
I made a note, and from that day on I got to steal the laugh. I replaced my humorless version with this:
In case you are not aware, one of your employee benefits is a $55,000 lump sum death benefit … One time when I mentioned that, a gentleman in the back called out “don’t tell my wife.”
I got to steal the laugh without stealing the credit.
2 Steal momentum
That means that once people start laughing, almost anything you say next will be funny. Your follow-up doesn’t even have to actually be funny, because you’re stealing the power of the first laugh.
Don’t try to make them laugh, just wait until it happens, and then have the courage to say whatever snide remark pops into your head.
Most of us don’t say it because “it’s not really that funny.” But if they are already laughing at something else, your random thought doesn’t have to be funny.
Just say it! 9 times out of 10 your “un-funny” add-on will get another laugh.
When the man in the back made fun of his wife wanting to knock him off for the money, I just added whatever came to mind.
“Don’t tell my wife,” he said.
“Yeah, I guess it’s not really your benefit after all–it’s hers. You’re dead.”
No! That’s not funny. But guess what? They laughed.
When everyone is already primed to laugh at the first joke, all I had to do was steal the momentum and get the second laugh free.
All you have to do is have the courage to say out loud the thought that pops into your mind when you hear the first laugh.
3 Steal the callback
The 20th time you probably won’t get a laugh anymore, but you’ve got at least 2 or three shots to repeat the prime and get another laugh.
Once the audience has laughed at a specific phrase, they are primed to laugh at those words. Whenever you repeat the words, they’ll repeat the laugh.
Pay attention to all the the times the audience laughs. Even if you had nothing to do with it and the laugh happened 3 hours ago from another speaker, write down the words that primed the laugh.
All you have to do is find a place to slip those words into ordinary conversation.
“It looks like we’ve finished our class half an hour early this afternoon … don’t tell your wife.”
Suddenly everybody laughs again, and goes home happy.
I never thought of a single funny thing. I wasn’t funny once. I just stole other people’s laughs.
You can steal them too, and when they laugh they’ll give you the credit!