“If you are going to tell people the truth, you better be funny or they will kill you.”
– Billy Wilder, Film Director
What does an audience want from a wonderful emcee? Survey says…humor! That’s right– from the attendees’ perspective, that special sauce that makes a wonderful emcee is humor.
I’ll tell you right now…it’s laughter that they’re after!
This doesn’t mean that you must become a professional comedian to be a great event MC. It just means you need to showcase your unique sense of humor when you host a program.
I’m here to help; I’ve worked as a standup comedian, a comic magician, a joke writer, and an editor of several joke books. This chapter is called “Jokes,” but I want to take you deeper than that.
Let’s talk about the five keys to creating humor:
See Related: Intros and Outros – How To Be A Great Emcee
How to make people laugh
Some people think that silliness is the source of humor, and it can be. But the deepest well is humility, and this fits well with what we’ve been talking about in other chapters of the book. You want to laugh with your audience (never at them).
Notice that the word “humor” and “humility” have the same root. It actually goes back to being human.
Look for ways you can do self-deprecating– no, not self-defecating– humor (see what I did there?) in your presentations.
This isn’t about putting yourself down.
Rather, it’s about using a combination of humor and vulnerability to connect with others. If you can embrace a sense of humility and laugh at yourself, you become relatable to the event attendees.
After all, we’re all just humans making our way through any way we can – let’s enjoy a chuckle together.
If I could only choose one of the five keys of humor, it might be this one. To quickly get a laugh, look for ways you can surprise your group.
This might be something you say, something you do, or something you wear.
Be ready to say or do something unexpected and you’ll notice what happens next: laughter.
Here’s an example:
If you learn a card trick and perform it even without telling a funny story, you’ll notice something happens when you get to the end of the trick…people laugh!
Why is that? Because a magic trick almost always ends with a surprise.
#3. Magnify pain
Steve Martin once said that comedy isn’t pretty. What he was getting at is this: When we chuckle with other people, it’s usually as we’re telling stories about things that went wrong.
You certainly don’t want to cause pain with your humorous story. But you can look to pain as a source of humor that can become a shared experience of laughter and amusement.
#4. Odd combinations
A lot of great humor comes from mixing and matching. Think of the great play which became a movie, which then became a TV show called The Odd Couple.
It was a combination of Oscar Madison, who is a grouchy slob, and Felix Unger, who is a persnickety A-type.
Having these two opposite personalities live together created some wonderful comedic situations.
By calling a very tall person and a much shorter person up to the platform, or an older and a younger participant, or an introvert and an extrovert, you can show people the humor that often exists in contrasts (not just tell them).
#5. Repeat, repeat, repeat
This is a real secret of professional comedians. It’s been called the call-back or the running gag– whatever you want to call it, make sure you use it.
Something magical happens in our brains when we experience something repeatedly. This is why little kids will say, “Hey Grandpa, tell me that joke again. You know, the one about…”
When something happens during a session that makes the attendees laugh, you can make a call-back or reference it again.
You’ll notice that what happens is that the attendees will laugh again. They might even applaud!
There are funny stories I like to tell that incorporate some of the keys we just discussed.
Let’s put these elements into action
“I turned my life around; I used to be miserable and depressed, and now I’m depressed and miserable.”
Sometimes I’ll tell the story of my son James when he was five years old. My dad (his grandpa) took him out for breakfast.
My dad said, “James, I’m your grandpa and I’m taking you out for breakfast today. One day you’ll take your grandson out for breakfast.” James said, “Yeah, but you’ll be dead.”
Another funny one I like to use goes like this:
A man is in the hospital, and the doctor comes in and says, “Well, I have good news and bad news. Which would you like to hear first?”
The patient says, “Well, I guess the bad news first.”
The doctor says, “Okay here’s the bad news: we are going to have to amputate your feet.”
The patient says, “Oh that’s horrible, what could the good news possibly be?”
And the doctor says, “The patient next door wants to buy your slippers.”
What do you get when you cross a Jehovah’s witness and an atheist?
Someone who knocks on your door for no apparent reason.
Repeat, repeat, repeat
Lastly, if an interviewee, speaker, or attendee says or does something that makes everyone giggle, I’ll slip it back into my commentary at fitting moments.
Equally important as the funny lines themselves is how you deliver them.
Your delivery can make or break the bit.
Now that we have covered the five keys to creating humor, I want to go over some tips on how to deliver your funny quips.
How to deliver naturally funny jokes
#1. Say it seriously.
Dad jokes are silly. But tell them with a straight face. The more you deliver the line like it’s a serious thing, the funnier it will be!
#2. Emphasize a key word.
Here, I’ll show you:
You will get a bigger laugh– okay, more like a giant groan– when you tell this dad joke and punch up the words “pie rates” at the end. Like this:
“A slice of mango pie in Jamaica is $2.50 and $3.00 in Puerto Rico. These are the pie rates of the Caribbean.”
#3. Slow down.
The biggest mistake that joke tellers make? They rush. Take your time. By this, I don’t mean to make the story longer.
I mean make the story very clear. If you speak too quickly and gloss over the details, the attendees might not follow.
So, take your time with the premise/setup. And then…
#4. Pause before the punch line.
This might be the most powerful tip of all. When you wait a beat – about 2 full seconds – before you get to the joke’s ending, it really makes it POP (pardon the pun as it relates to dad jokes).
Make sure you give a full pause for a moment, even if it feels almost awkward. Then, BAM!
You hit them with the punchline. Trust me. This will create a bigger impact and result in more laughter.
#5. Master one or two humorous stories.
Okay, I realize that it’s probably hard to believe jokes this silly need to be “mastered.” But like anything you want to do well, practice is crucial.
What you want to do is this:
Choose one or two Dad jokes that you find funny. Tell those same lines as often as you can.
Share them at home, at work, at play, or even with new people you meet. Don’t try to remember dozens of jokes.
Just get great at telling a couple of your favorites.
A funny line may be old to you, but it’s probably new to whoever you’re telling it to. Remember to master the words, the delivery, and the timing.
Even if you feel that you are not the best teller of humorous stories or puns, you can polish up a couple of gems and pull them out in an extemporaneous way.
You can also open up your welcome or self-introduction time with a well-placed joke. The most important thing is to look for ways to insert laughter and excitement into your work as a master of ceremonies.
Laughter brings people together in a fun, lighthearted way and allows you to connect with them more easily.
Remember, it’s laughter that they’re after!
Keep Reading: Keep It Moving – How To Be A Great Emcee
This is an excerpt from Adam Christing‘s forthcoming book, “How To Be A Great Emcee: The A to Z Guide to Hosting Events” by America’s #1 Master of Ceremonies. Follow along as new chapters get posted to this blog category each week.