Why You Should Stop Trying To Be Funny
Irony is everywhere nowadays. You cannot watch a television program, view your feed on Facebook, or get through a conversation without coming across an attempt at humor. Indeed, as a writer I have noticed the emergence of more and more online publications dedicated to the mockery of everything from politics to sex. And it seems every site wants writers who can deliver commentary on serious issues in a humorous way.
The trouble is that most people aren’t funny; and those who try hardest to be so are typically the worst at it.
Taking note of the comedic or absurd in everyday life is a natural human urge. For most of us, however, it is best to leave such private observations just as they are—private observations. If you are not naturally funny, then you should not try to be so in front of others; for there is nothing more pathetic and irritating than the man who believes he has a talent for comedy when he really hasn’t.
A friend of a friend of mine, who joins us occasionally, is such a person. He is unable to resist throwing out witticisms whenever he’s in a group of people. He will tell stories about things that have happened to him while commuting to work or individuals he’s met while at other parties and turn these into satirical narrative. He puts the kind of pitch and tone in his voice that is meant to signal his intent, but the problem is his stories are dull and uninteresting, and thus fall flat as humor. People give polite laughs to be sociable. No one, including me, has the heart to tell him that he’s not funny, and that he should stop trying to be.
At some point, we all feel the urge to do this kind of thing—especially if someone else does it first. However, you are better off not doing it. You will save yourself embarrassment and keep those around you from having to suffer through another tiresome attempt at irony. It takes real talent to be truly funny—talent that is quite rare. There is something about hearing Chris Rock and Jon Stewart and Stephen Colbert speak that puts a smile on your face even before they’ve reached the punch line. In the various comedy stands that I’ve gone to, the people who make me laugh have this quality—to a lesser degree. If you don’t have it, then you should stop pretending that you do.
There are many ways of being interesting and worth paying attention without trying to be funny. Developing your sense of wit is one such way. Wit is quite a different thing from comedy. The latter is irony pursued systematically, while the former is irony incidentally made. To be witty requires only that you stay alert to the conversation around you. Your aim should be to engage with others on their own ground. This will enable you to further the conversation by developing the ideas and suggestions you detect in what they say. If this is done with a dose of common humor, then it can lead to a fun and lively discussion.
I am not a funny man. I have known that for a long time. I suspect that the vast majority of other people on this planet aren’t funny either. However, it is hard for most of them to accept that. We live in a time in which ‘funny’ has been made equivalent to ‘exciting’—also interesting, successful, sexy, attractive, etc. There is a fundamental error, however, in believing that an attempt at being funny is the same thing as actually being funny. Your best move with regard to this particular fad in our current age of trends-gone-mad is to remove yourself from it. Focus instead on being simple, enjoyable, and intelligently pleasant.
About Christopher Reid Chris was born in Washington, D.C. and lives in Britain. He works as a blogger, essayist, and novelist. His first book, Tea with Maureen, has just been published.