How To Be Funny — Public Speaking

What Makes You Funny?

Does it help to look funny when presenting humor from the platform?Yes.  But the good news is that if you don’t look funny, that can help you deliver your humor too!

1.  Physical appearance.  If you look funny, that’s a plus when it comes to delivering humor.  Jay Leno has this going for him. Compared to Dave Letterman, Leno is a funny looking guy with a caricature-like and almost cartoonish face.  If you have a large nose, high forehead, ears that stick out, or some other characteristic that makes you look different from the norm, you have the possibility of bringing a smile to someone’s face before you say or do anything.

2.  Props.  You can alter your physical appearance by what you
wear, your makeup, and your props.  Lucille Ball, already gifted
with a funny look (don’t equate funny-looking with not-attractive),
accentuated her humor appeal with makeup which made her eyes look
even larger than they were.  Clowns are a great example of apparel,
makeup and props to create the funny look.  Some improv troupes
depend to a certain extent on apparel and props to generate laughs.
The players wear off-beat outfits and they use wigs and other props
to enhance their stage work.  My improv troupe makes an artistic
choice to be prop-neutral and clothing-neutral.  We wear totally black outfits.  This choice challenges us to make the strength of our performance depend on our fundamental improv skills.  This is the same choice we make when we always keep our material clean.  Props and blue material might both get laughs, maybe even more laughs, but we deliberately choose not to use them. It forces us to be better.

3.  Your reputation.  Most good humor presenters have this element
working for them.  A classic example is Bob Hope.  The band would
hit his theme song, “Thanks For The Memories,” and as Bob would
walk onstage the laughter would begin without him doing or saying
anything.  His reputation preceded him.  And by the way, he had
physical looks which were funny too.  Think of your favorite comic.
The audience also probably laughs at him or her just watching the
person take the stage.  You can LOOK funny because they EXPECT you to be funny.  Your positive track record gives you an edge.  This
advantage will help you get stronger laughs with weaker, lines than
someone who is totally unknown to an audience.  This is a plus I have working for me in my local Toastmasters club.  People expect me to be funny based on my past performance.  Know when you have this working for you and let it give you confidence.

4.  Your actions.  Your mannerisms, gestures and pacing can also
make you look funny.  Many humorous speakers depend primarily on
this factor to help them look funny.  Facial expression and the use
of the pause are the two most important delivery elements that give
you an advantage on the platform.  Some coaches recommend that being BIG with your voice and movement is the key to getting laughs.  But if that isn’t you, and being genuinely you is critical, you can apply the rule of less-is-more.  I’ve found that what you DON’T do can get laughs.  I’m in the contest cycle for Tall Tales in Toastmasters. In my speech I say the most off-the-wall things with a totally straight face.  It works perfectly.  Nothing big.  Huge laughs.  Identify your own style and use it to your advantage.

5.  The non-funny look.  This is also a plus.  Humor primarily
works because of relationships, connections and lack of those
elements.  Therefore if you ARE funny, having mastered both
structural content and delivery techniques, the fact that you don’t
look funny is a plus.  In fact, it’s a significant advantage, just
as looking funny is as significant advantage.  How wonderful.  You
win either way.  I have this element working for me when I speak to a group who doesn’t know me.  They’re thinking, “this guy doesn’t LOOK funny.”  And the pleasant surprise comes when I am funny.  It magnifies the humor.

6.  Me and You.  Where do we fit into this equation?  I don’t look
particularly funny.  Think: Generic guy-next-door.  Think: Mr
Rogers.  Check out my web site ( if you don’t
believe me. (Don’t equate not-funny-looking with not-attractive.)
I don’t especially rely on props.  Occasionally I’ll wear a subtle
Mickey Mouse necktie, but nothing over-the-top to get a laugh.  My
reputation works for me in the local area.  As a minor-celebrity,
not famous mind you, many of my audiences expect me to be funny and behave in a way that ensures they will not be disappointed.  This
may happen to you, for example, in staff meetings at work or at
Toastmasters meetings, if you are consistently funny.  My physical
delivery work for me.  After twenty-five years of studying humor,
I’ve become an overnight success in doing the right things, from a
delivery standpoint, to make me look funny.  The skills are pretty
much internalized and come almost automatically.  And the non-funny
look is definitely an asset when I need to win over an audience
of strangers.  I’ve often had the comment, “Looking at you before
the talk I had a hard time believing you could be funny.”  This
magnifies the effectiveness of my humor. Your set of skills and
assets will be different.  That is neither good or bad.  But used
well, your skills and assets are a plus for you too.

7. An evaluation.  Run through paragraphs one through five and
analyze where your strengths are.  Is there anything you can do to
tap into any of the areas to strengthen your skills at winning the
laughter?  Can you look funnier?  Can you add more punch to your
delivery?  If you don’t look funny, can you develop a dead-pan
skill to take advantage of this trait?  As you become better at
humor, your reputation will start to give you an edge with
audiences which have already been treated to your humor. 

8.  Be funny.  Have fun.