Humor is essential in any successful presentation. When the audience laughs (hopefully with you) it generally means they have aligned as a group and connected with you, if only for that moment. Group laughter unites people and helps them to relax. When you make them laugh, they love you. Then, when you get serious, they listen even more closely.
Marc Raco is the host of the weekly podcasts Monkey Radio with Marc and Fashion Is Your Business, an award-winning filmmaker, a contributor to Conscious Magazine and former featured blogger for ComedyPop, has performed improvisational and stand-up comedy, been seen in numerous television shows and films, and is an executive producer of The Hope Is Project. He is also a Kentucky Colonel.
This post is written by a guest contributor. Opinions her/his own.
Even for highly experienced comedians, getting that first laugh from your audience, much less weaving humor throughout a presentation, can be a daunting challenge.
Need to know how to get fancy with flying a plane? Ask Top Gun hotshots. Need to understand black holes? Hawking’s your man. Humor? You really can’t do better than learning from professional comedians.
We asked of a number of rising comedians (that apparently means they are funny, understand how to make audiences laugh, and successful enough that they are being talked about and not too busy in their fast food or barista jobs to share answers without their bosses yelling at them) their advice on how anyone can bring “the funny” to a lecture, speech or presentation.
Ten of the working joke-makers we asked took breaks from greasing funny-bones long enough to share what they’ve learned, just in time for our deadline.
Connect with the audience by telling a personal story
I think rule #1 is establishing a connection with the audience. Relax, be comfortable, take your time, but also be confident.
One of the advantages of trying to “be funny” during a presentation is that the crowd will WELCOME it, as often times presentations can be boring. If you aren’t a comedian or don’t feel like taking your first shot at comedy in front of a full house… read a funny quote that fits your demographic and give the person who came up with it credit.
If you are talking to a group of bankers you could start by saying, Oscar Wild said, “Always borrow money from a pessimist. He won’t expect it back.” Get a little laugh, give credit where credit is due, build rapport and move into your presentation.
How to be funny? Just try it. Give it your best shot shot. The group will appreciate it, especially if the last few speakers have been serious. If it’s a group of your piers use an inside joke, make fun of the lunch room or a good natured boss. If you’re not a comedian and don’t feel like a natural joke teller, tell a relatable funny story related to the material your covering or the people in the crowd.
A crowd tunes out when they hear a list of things and tunes in when they hear a story they can relate to. No need to write “material”… just think of your funniest story that fits the situation and lead with that.
Jamie Lissow has been seen on The Tonight Show with Jay Leno, The Late Late Show, NBC’s Late Friday, Last Comic Standing, Star Search, and in his own 1/2 hour special on Comedy Central. He has performed at hundreds of colleges and been nominated for Campus Performer of the Year by Campus Activities Magazine. Jamie has been heard on Sirius XM Radio, Pandora, Opie and Anthony, The Bob and Tom Show and has appeared on Fox News Red Eye over 50 times. He recently finished writing and will be starring in a television show with SNL alum Rob Schneider.
Don’t expect a laugh, and you’ll get it
Maybe I’m not the best person to answer this. Umm… You can’t expect a laugh. You almost have to build in an indifference to your expectations of laughter. Basically don’t be too needy or if something doesn’t get a laugh you get hung up on it instead of just rolling with it.
Mac Blake comes from the bearded streets of Austin, TX. He’s performed at the New Faces of Comedy Showcase at Just for Laughs Montreal, SXSW Comedy, the Moontower Comedy and Oddity Festival, Funny or Die’s Oddball Festival, Fun Fun Fun Fest, and more. In 2013, he won the Funniest Person in Austin contest.
Keep track of what works to become funnier
To make an audience laugh, I would suggest saying things that have made other audiences laugh in the past. If you’ve never made an audience laugh before, start with saying things that you think are funny. Either it will work and you win, or it won’t work and you have one more data point about what NOT to say in the future. Practice to collect this ‘audience data.’
Bonus advice: if a thing you say DOESN’T make the audience laugh, you can make fun of yourself for thinking that it would. Throw yourself under the bus and the audience might find THAT funny. Unless it’s a presentation about bus safety. (Or maybe a joke about throwing yourself under the bus would do the best in that situation. Try it and see! And thanks for making buses safer.)
How do you become a funnier person? Well, the way that works for a lot of comedians is, you start out not very funny at all, then you spend years going to open mics, performing jokes that you’ve written and honed, trying them out, editing them, throwing them out, starting over, until years down the line, you’re eventually better than you were before. You become funnier.
See the kinds of things that work, and the kinds of things that don’t. Improve the ones that do, and get rid of the ones that don’t. Or improve the ones that don’t, if you really like them. Sometimes you’ll like things that other people don’t. And that’s fine, with me at least. Good luck!
Myq Kaplan is a comedian named Myq Kaplan (pronounced “Mike”). He is a 2010 Last Comic Standing Finalist and has appeared on the Tonight Show with Conan O’Brien, the Late Show with David Letterman, Comedy Central Presents, and all the other places he’s been. His debut CD, Vegan Mind Meld, was one of iTunes’ top ten best-selling comedy albums in 2010, followed by Meat Robot in 2013 and his one-hour Netflix special Small Dork and Handsome in 2014. The Comedians magazine calls him “a comedy machine, in the best possible way. the way that some machines vend soda or prevent other machines from killing future revolutionaries – that’s how Myq Kaplan does comedy: relentlessly, methodically, unblinkingly.”
Take risks, be specific
What advice or suggestion can you give for making an audience laugh? The quick answer is “being funny.” But that entails being your true self, having the confidence to take risks (don’t hold back), because in the end your unique POV (and sticking to it) is key. It doesn’t matter if the audience agrees with what you say, it’s that they can “see” where you’re coming from.
Be specific, by way of an analogy or an example. Those mental “visuals” help. Make the audience come to you and if you’re clear, unique, and honest they will ride that ride with you, wherever you take them.
Carmen Lynch is a NYC-based comedian who recently made her second appearance on The Late Show with David Letterman. She’s twice been a semi-finalist on NBC’s Last Comic Standing and has performed several times for the troops in Iraq and Kuwait. Carmen has also appeared on Comedy Central’s Inside Amy Schumer and HBO Canada’s Funny As Hell.
Get their attention right away
Most of the time you have about 30 seconds to get the audience on your side. I always open with a self deprecating joke about myself that makes everybody relax a little bit or I’ll address what somebody said earlier if I think the audience will get it. I try not to be mean in the first minute or too risqué’. I feel out the room and if I think it’s gonna go over well I may bring out the more racy stuff.
I try to talk to the audience like we’re old friends with lots of eye contact and even high 5’s here and there if they are close enough. People who are laughing at your joke LOVE to be included in the show. I’ll single someone out who’s really enjoying themselves and I’ll say something like “Oh Me and you are hanging out later!” If you have a funny story that is true (and slightly embellished) someone in the audience will relate. I tell stories like I’m at a house party in one corner of a room telling my friends about something happened. It works for me.
A few years back I was attending a Dale Carnegie Leadership Seminar and at the end we had to make a presentation to the Execs at my job about how to improve my department. I approached it like a comedy show even though I wasn’t doing comedy yet. People loved it! They had tears in their eyes. My first slide was a picture of suntan lotion and a speedo. I didn’t say anything for about 10 seconds and then I said ‘Some of the things we do in my department are useful to me as the items in this photo.” The room erupted! The CEO spit water all over the place! It was about 45 seconds of laughter. I honestly knew I was gonna try stand-up right at that moment.
Get people’s attention right away. You hit em with the big joke (or sketch, skit, etc.) right away. Once they stop laughing and they leaning forward in their seats you can hit em with the more serious stuff but you can always refer to the opening bit to keep’em hooked. When the’re laughing AND they realize that you are making solid business points, they tend to be really impressed.
The other thing you want to do is drive your point home with a great closing joke. For the presentation above, I closed with “If we are able to make these changes to our process not only will it improve productivity……………” and the next slide was a picture of BBQ Ribs and a bottle of Cognac. And I did a little dance.
It all clicked.
James Alexander is a New York based comic who has performed all over New York City, New Jersey, and Connecticut. He has been invited to perform at the Laughing Devil Comedy Festival and the Last Comix Standing competition at Foxwoods Casino.
Share the experience with your audience
I was taught to be present. Connecting with the audience over something that just happened, or is happening is a great way to relate to the audience. You’re creating intimacy by sharing in the experience the audience is having in real time.
While acing gifted classes in high school, Anthony Tmor Morris was also a founding member of a gang in the Fillmore section of the City by The Bay. His street savvy kept him from having more than light brushes with the law, and when drug abuse threatened to destroy him, he overcame his addiction–to drugs that is. He’s picked up a new habit: making people laugh on stage. As a founding member of the troupe Comic Diversity, Tmor has performed for sold out audiences at the Laurie Beechman Theater. His appearances also include Comix Comedy Club, Gotham Comedy Club, Broadway Night Out, Together Apart Presents: Straight Talk No Chaser, and Art Sanctuary Presents: The Celebration of Black Writing.
Be honest, honesty is funny
First off, these questions are terrible. But the key to making a presentation funnier is honesty. If you just say what’s really going on, it’s guaranteed to be hilarious. If you’re in Some s%*$ty hotel or a weird convention centre room, just talk about that. If you’re at a business meeting in Vegas, make a joke about your gambling problem or how there’s a ton of whores or how you’d rather be gambling than doing this speech. Honesty is funny. See how I said ‘these questions are terrible’? That was funny! Capiche?
To make any audience laugh is not easy. First off you need to be very broad and clean to get every crowd to love it. I don’t even know if it’s possible to get every crowd to like something. Some crowds love Bieber and some crowds are smart. It’s a tall order. Your best bet is to do dumb sex jokes or be incredibly hacky. But then you’ll have smart people pulling away so no, I don’t think it’s possible to get everyone on board. Sorry, does this answer suck? Well too bad, it’s the truth.
Mark Normand has done a Comedy Central HALF HOUR special, has appeared on TBS’s CONAN twice, Showtime’s “Live at SXSW”, INSIDE AMY SCHUMER, TruTv, Best Week Ever, Last Comic Standing, @Midnight and released an album with Comedy Central records titled “Still Got It” (its not bad). In 2013 won Caroline’s March Madness competition, beating out 63 other comedians. And this is a real shocker for all of us but he was also voted Village Voice’s “Best Comedian of 2013”, I know right? In 2012, Mark appeared on “John Oliver’s New York Standup Show” on Comedy Central, and in 2011 was picked as one of Comedy Central’s “Comics to Watch.” Mark was named one of Comedy Central’s Comics To Watch for the 2011 New York Comedy Festival. Mark was also named Esquire’s “Best New Comedians 2012”, Splitsider’s “Top 10 Up and Coming Comedians on Each Coast”, and Time Out New York’s “21 New York Comedy Scene Linchpins”.
Be yourself and slow down
Advice I would give to make an audience laugh: BE YOURSELF. What makes you ‘you’ and what makes you laugh –> that’s funny. Trust yourself. If it’s funny to you people will relate. When I am an audience member and I watch someone who is completely comfortable with their person, with their idiosyncrasies and unique view of things, I just want to come along with them on the laugh ride.
When I am performing sometimes I will think to myself: can I say this out loud, is it too embarrassing, will someone lock me up?! But I figure if it’s something I thought I have to trust that other people have giggled about inside their heads as well. People share common experiences. Set your silly free! If you’re just not a funny person at all then I don’t know what to tell you. Maybe be as unfunny as possible, and then that will be funny. Just own it.
To make any presentation funnier — slow down. Talk at least a beat slower than you think sounds normal. People can’t laugh if they can’t keep up. Give a good pause after something you think is funny, it will highlight your punchline. Watch people who move their bodies in a way that illustrates the laugh points, either by making their eyes bigger or a funny mouth expression or arm movement. It’s as if they are saying “Right?! You should laugh here!” without having to say it.
Leah Bonnema is a Stand-Up Comic based in New York City. Huffington Post named her one of their Favorite Female Comedians and College Candy listed Leah as one the Ten Funniest Female Comics. She has been featured on AXS TV’s Gotham Comedy Live, VH1’s 100 Greatest Series, IFC’s Comedy Drop, Above Average, Elite Daily, ComedyTimeTV, Patrice O’Neal’s The Black Philip Show and is a regular on Riotcast Radio’s The Hole. Leah has had the honor of performing for the troops in Iraq, toured throughout the Middle East and performed for the US Marines at the famed Friar’s Club. Leah was a finalist in ‘New York’s Funniest’ during the NY Comedy Festival and was featured on ‘The America Stands Up Showcase’ at The Magner’s Glasgow Comedy Festival. She has also performed in the Women in Comedy Festival, The 360 Comedy Festival, The Maine Comedy Festival, The NY Underground Comedy Festival, The Reel Recovery Film Festival, The Charleston Comedy Festival and at The Piccolo Fringe. Leah has opened for comedy legends Darrell Hammond, Kevin Nealon, Paul Mooney, Sarah Silverman, Pat Cooper and Gilbert Gottfried. She headlined the Breakout Artist Series at Caroline’s on Broadway, which was rated a “Top Pick” by AM NY. Leah is a regular comedy writer for United Stations and Lizz Winstead’s Lady Parts Justice.
Make it personal, work your pauses
Steve Urkel famously said “Did I did I do that?” to raucous (laugh tracked) applause multiple times throughout his show and it was funny (to people in the 80’s) because he wouldn’t IMMEDIATELY say it, he’d pause for laughs, look around, look up and down, make a face, THEN say it. Work your pauses.
Make things personal. People like when they feel like they know you personally. TMZ has made sure of that. Be self-deprecating! Even if you’re super awesome with no faults like me. Lie! Lie! lie!
Janelle James is a Caribbean born comic who started doing standup in the midwest. Now based in New York City, Janelle has traveled extensively as the feature act with veteran comics and has performed at the Bridgetown, Limestone and The Eugene Mirman comedy festivals.
Reality is always funnier than fiction
Most great jokes resonates a lot of truth and is exaggerated to the point of ridiculousness. Find the funny in the truth as opposed to trying to write a joke.
What legit suggestion can you make to make any presentation funnier? Breaking the ice and starting strong is pretty important. Great comics can always bring an audience back to their side after a rocky start but why work that hard? Start off with something light: poke light fun of yourself, nothing too uncomfortable to get the audience on your side, or start something silly and energetic. They will be on board for the rest. And be yourself- it’s easier said than done but the more comfortable you are as yourself in front of a crowd the more likable and comfortable people will be listening to you no matter how many mistakes you make or stumble on words- use that opportunity to make fun of yourself.
Christine “Sooyah” Jun is an original member of Comic Diversity. Sooyah is inspired by Dave Chappelle, Bill Burr, Louis CK, Lewis Black, Tina Fey, Eddie Murphy, Richard Pryor and many others. Sooyah has performed in sold out shows at Comix, The Laurie Beechman Theatre, and performs all over New York City.
Share your tip to make any audience laugh in the comments!