An Introduction to Joke Telling
Telling jokes is an art form that I’ve been experimenting with ever since my parents labeled me as the jokester sibling. The script stuck, and till this day I feel compelled to entertain whenever I’m surrounded by family and friends. It’s a double-edged swords at times, because once you’re known as the “comedian”, there’s always an expectation of making people laugh. However, I enjoy watching others laugh and smile, so I rarely complain. The remainder of this article will touch on audience, timing, accents, and content to get you started on your joke telling journey.
Know your audience
One of the first things I learned as a communication student was the importance of Ethos. Ethos is generally described as the reputation of the speaker, and this will vary based-off the audience. Regardless of how funny you are as an individual, you will always be limited by what your audience is willing to embrace (e.g. a feminist group would not be the best place for Hillary Clinton jokes, or Trump’s, “grab her by the pussy” remarks).
I prefer to walk the line in my friendships and intimate relationships, because I believe that comedic moments should not be wasted. In high school, following Bush’s new law, I use to say, “no joke left behind”, and I try to adhere to this credo as much as possible. Life is too short to worry about offending others. I come from a place of sincerity, not wanting to cause anyone serious harm, but I also agree with Dave Chappelle, when he said, “people are becoming brittle”.
A slight digression on the status quo of political correctness follows, please skip the proceeding paragraph if you’re not interested in politics or social issues.
The Bay Area has become the spearhead of the progressive liberal movement in California, which has bread a politically correct (PC) environment, resulting in shaming anyone who dares to speak their mind. Paradoxically, the proponents of PC culture have become the antithesis of social progress. Instead of allowing others to speak freely, they demonize opposing viewpoints, issue ad hominem attacks towards “ignorant” people, and end the conversation before either side can gain any insight. Even though I generally agree with liberals on social issues, I refuse to censor my speech to avoid hurting someone’s feelings. Stand-up comedians are required to challenge the norms, inform others, and provide an alternative perspective. If you’re not willing to shift your perspective, you will never be a successful comedian, and will constantly be held back by people’s comments; break free from conventions.
Timing is everything
Knowing when to tell a joke is often more important than the content. Witty people and stand-up comedians are able to banter with audiences because they are able to come up with retorts quickly. If someone spills a drink or does something awkward, the first person to make a remark will have an advantage over the comedic opportunity.
Another important aspect of timing is the rate at which you tell a joke. Dramatic pauses before the punchline or drawn-out speech are two ways that you can keep your audience’s attention. I occasionally use the redneck voice, and slow my speech to a rate that would be expected from someone living in the south. When telling a story or joke, quickly cover exposition and less prominent aspects, and then slow down for the juicy details.
Accents and tone
Two of my favorite stand-up comedians are Bill Burr and Dave Chappelle (both are masters of impersonations). I highly recommend checking out any of their more recent acts; while watching, pay close attention to their timing, accents and nonverbals gestures. They have rehearsed these jokes for hours, and have spent decades perfecting their craft, but a few hours spent studying their routines will serve as an amazing foundation. Comedy, like all skills, is formulaic, if you can master an accent and adjust your tone to highlight the punchline, you will be on your way to being a better joke teller.
Content is key
In order for jokes to work, the audience needs to relate. News is a salient source of comedic content because a lot of people are aware of the more popular headlines. The recent allegations of sexual misconduct are fodder for comedians (both Burr and Chappelle have commented and joked about this issue). Also, President Trump’s weekly blunders; add a little garnish, and voila, an easy joke which any democrat or light-hearted conservative can handle.
If you are with a group of friends for the night, try to tie in references that happened throughout the evening. Innocuous comments can turn into inside jokes. A scenario might involve a freudian slip that revealed an embarrassing admission, don’t be afraid to capitalize on the opportunity, but don’t be too harsh.
I hope you had a laughed from Mr. Chappelle’s skit. If not, then you’re either a bigot or have humor issues; both of which I can hopefully help you with. Drop a comment or joke below to get the good times going.