How to be funny!
Now that is a provocative title for a blog post! The accepted answer is that you are either funny or you are not. I really can’t disagree with that for the most part. However it is possible to learn about anything and comedy is no exception. Let’s see if we can set up a few guidelines.
First let me begin by saying that having a sense of humor really doesn’t have very much too do with this process. I have met many fabulous comedians who haven’t any discernable trace of humor when they are offstage. I won’t say a majority of them, but you might well think so, if you didn’t know the way the comedy mind works.
A real comedian puts a great deal into his work and spends endless hours jotting ideas and line into little notebooks to experiment and dissect later. If you think perfecting your comedy timing is less difficult or time consuming than dealing a perfect center deal—YOU ARE WRONG. They both take a lifetime, both to get them right, and to keep them right.
It is impossible to be truly funny just spouting of standard lines that you heard another magician get laughs with, or stuff you read in a joke book. You might get some laughs but it won’t make you truly funny. In fact it will just get in the way and probably give you a false sense of confidence. Nothing really worth achieving arrives quite that painlessly. Sadly.
Being funny requires a fully developed sense of self/persona that binds together the words you say into something that is truly unique. Watch Michael Finney, Paul Kozak, Amazing Jonathan, Mac King and other performers who really incorporate true comedy into their magic show. Notice how unique each one is in his attitude and approach. One of the reasons that this is the case is because each of these performers headlined on the highly competitive comedy circuit when it was at its zenith.
We, I include myself, as I headlined the comedy circuit for 11 years, had the benefit of watching real comedians hone their craft. We had a chance to learn from them and with them. You learn magic by watching magicians and not comedians; you learn comedy by watching comedians not magicians. The previously mentioned performers (and two others) have transcended the scope of being categorized in any single mode. They really are funny.
Watch the precision with which a comedian slices unnecessary words from his performance. It is like watching a brain surgeon carve the Thanksgiving Day turkey! See how they choose words with the care of a master chef choosing his ingredients for a special meal. Notice how, over time, a comedian will ruthlessly discard any joke that doesn’t fit his particular character regardless of the laugh it gets.
A good practice for someone who wants to be funny is to write down every word they are going to say onstage. EVERY SINGLE WORD. Then start to work on cutting words out and adding more laughs while doing so. Now this is a challenge that deserves all your active attention. Can you visualize whom you want the audience to see onstage and verbalize why they should think he/she is funny? It requires a great deal of hard continuous work.
Is this work worthwhile? Well it is if you want to be funny, and the old saying is ‘Funny is Money.’ Generally speaking there are a greater number of higher paid comedians than magicians. I hate to burst anyone’s bubble, but most audiences prefer to laugh than be fooled—it is just a fact. If you can be truly funny while fooling people then you won’t have many empty dates in your datebook. Ask any of the performers I referenced!
Be ruthless! Begin by cutting out anything that is really old or ‘hack’ in your act, fill the gaps this creates with original comedy that makes you into more of the person you want to be onstage. You don’t always need jokes to be funny, sometimes they just get in the way, but you do need a clear vision of what it is that you feel can make you different/funny.
Then work at it the way Charlie Miller worked at his bottom deal, and one day, just like that illusive sleight, it will just arrive. It won’t be perfect at first; it will just be the raw gemstone that you can cut, polish and facet into a jewel that sparkles. Is it worth it? Wait until you experience the rush you experience when a real comic comes up to you and says, “Hey, you are funny.” That is priceless!