You’re a funny guy or gal. You’ve got your look down pat, and your comedic timing is spot on. Perhaps you’ve even landed a few local gigs. What do you need now? And what will you continue to need throughout the life of your comedy career? Jokes, of course. And once you’ve told all your funny anecdotes and one liners, you’ll need fresh material – more jokes.
But where can you find good jokes, and how can you know if they’re funny? Consider a few time-tested tips.
1. Write what you know
This is a mantra for all comedians, not just writers, but it is especially important in the realm of creativity. Why? The answer is simple – you must be convincing, and to do that you must be authentic. It is difficult to accomplish that seemingly easy task if you really don’t know what you are talking about.
So, what do you know? You know your experiences from childhood. If you have a girlfriend or boyfriend, husband or wife, you understand the often-hilarious dynamics of romantic relationships. If you have kids, you know the unexpected side effects child rearing can bring. If you’re old, you can joke about the trials of old age. If you’ve been in the military, you know the humor unique to that demographic. Your country of origin, race, religion, political affiliation, gender, age, socio-economic status – you understand all of these things because they are part of your own experience. If you feel comfortable having others laugh about these things, you can own it.
2. Read the crowd
You know what makes you laugh. You know what makes your family and friends laugh. If you perform professionally, you know what does and doesn’t make your audiences laugh. Your audience’s background and experiences will affect how they respond to your jokes.
Consider an exaggerated example. Tonight, you’re performing for a group of brown-haired New Zealanders. You say, “How do you drown a blonde? [Dramatic pause…] Put a scratch and sniff sticker on the bottom of a swimming pool!” Your audience rolls with laughter, so you decide to use the joke again the next night – in Sweden. No one laughs. Blonde braids bob in astonishment. You’ve alienated your audience.
That was an extreme example – after all, many blondes enjoy blonde jokes – but you get the picture. Some jokes work with some audiences but not with others. Americans might laugh at a joke told with a false British accent, but the joke might not go over so well in the UK. The bottom line is, know your audience and their sensitivities so you can cater to their needs.
3. Watch the news
Many comedians include contemporary politics or other current events in their routines. This works not only because some events are funny in themselves – think, for example, of the 2016 U.S. presidential race – but because these issues are familiar to people in general. Keeping up with current news items will help you to understand both popular opinion and possibly sensitive issues to better gauge your audience.
Be observant in your everyday life as well. Funny things can happen during the most mundane experiences. Comedian Henry Cho jokes on his album What’s That Clickin’ Noise? that he spends family holidays with pen in hand, just waiting for someone to say something he can add to his routine.
You can do the same. Whether you are out with the guys, playing with your children, visiting elderly relatives, be attentive. If it makes you laugh, it will likely make others laugh, too. If it happens in a family setting, it will be relatable to other families. Just be sure to make a note so you don’t forget the details!
4. Keep using what works
Knock knock jokes, yo’ mamma jokes, Chuck Norris jokes – some categories seem to hang on for long periods of time regardless of how silly they may be. Listen to the types of jokes being told by children, teenagers, and around the office water cooler. Adapt popular material to fit in with your routine.
National Public Radio recently did a spot on “ancient jokes” – yes, jokes in the archaeological record from thousands of years ago. While some no longer make sense to the modern palate, it seems that one form of humor is truly universal and timeless. Call it what you will – carnal humor, lowbrow humor, bathroom humor, childishness – jokes about bodily functions have always and continue to make people laugh.
Consider this example. The oldest joke ever discovered was recorded around 1900 B.C. in Bronze Age Sumeria – that’s about four thousand years ago. It translates something like this:
“What has never happened since time immemorial? A young wife has not farted on her husband’s lap.”
The NPR broadcast even found its modern counterpart, spoken by an unidentified stand-up comedian: “You ever notice women don’t fart in front of you until you’re married?”
What does all this prove? Really nothing more than that flatulence is funny. If you’re still not convinced, take a look at the bathroom skit in Gabriel Iglesias’ I’m Sorry for What I Said When I Was Hungry. While you might not want to build your act solely around bathroom humor, it’s been a stand by forever.
5. If all else fails, borrow some material
As a comedian, you likely grew up watching professional comedians on television or perhaps in person. You likely incorporated some of their style into building your own without even knowing. Perhaps you even appropriated some of their material. That’s okay. As we learned in the last section, the same kinds of jokes have been told throughout much of human history.
So when you’re running low on material, watch your favorite comedian again. Can you adapt a joke or two to your own life experiences? Does something he says jog your memory about something funny that once happened to you? Make the jokes your own, put your own spin on comedic stories, and you’ll be on your way building your own hilarious repertoire.
If you still need some inspiration, check out these websites that specialize in collecting jokes in every imaginable category:
Dang Good Jokes “The best in dang good clean jokes.”
Jokes-Best “The best collection of short funny jokes.”
Great Clean Jokes The first thing you’ll see is cockroaches. Classic!
Laugh Factory Everything from lawyers to yo’ mamma’s.