A number of famous actors have been quoted as saying on their deathbed, “Acting is easy, comedy is difficult.”

No matter who said it, it is true that humor is a very sensitive phenomenon. It can be affected by time, circumstances, place and audience. During my career I worked in 53 countries. Early on I learned that what might be hilarious in one country could be highly offensive in another. What’s funny to young people is often confusing to us geezers. I learned to be very careful with humor.

Joke analysis consists of the setting, the details, and the punch line. What makes a joke funny is that the set up lines are twisted in the punchline. For example: Rodney Dangerfield said, “My wife and I were happy for twenty years. Then we met.”

Humor theories are as old as Plato. They state that we find the misfortune of others amusing. It makes us feel superior. Sigmund Freud said comedy is a way for people to release suppressed thoughts and emotions safely. Kant’s Incongruity Theory suggests that jokes happen when people notice the disconnect between their expectations – the details – and the actual payoff – punch line.

The lesson is that, if you want to be funny, the most important caveat is you must understand your audience. Then, you can pick a topic, structure your story along the three step model: setting – details – punchline, and lastly, focus on the timing and the delivery. Lay out the setting and the details, pause to give the audience time to form their anticipation. Then, deliver the punch line with an expression and body movement that fits the surprise ending.

Probably the funniest routine of all time is Abbot and Costello’s “Who’s on first.” It is a masterpiece of misdirection. Take five minutes and look it up on the internet. You deserve a
good laugh.

Finally, a common expression is, “He died laughing.” Wouldn’t that be a nice way to go.