What It Takes to Make People Laugh
by Larry Wilde
A bunch of San Quentin cons met in the recreation hall for their evening’s relaxation. Suddenly one prisoner stood up and exclaimed, “72!” Everybody laughed.
Another inmate got to his feet and yelled, “53!” All the men guffawed. A third convict brought down the house just by shouting, “86!” Weasel McCall, a new arrival at the prison turned to Lefty Lanier, a lifer, and inquired, “What’s going on?”
“We’re tellin’ jokes!” he replied. “Instead of tellin’ a yarn all the boys already know, we just yell out a number from our joke books... Saves time.”
Anxious to get in good with the guys, Weasel stood up and shouted, “22!” Nothing happened. Again he tried, “17!” Silence. So Weasel asked Lefty, “How come they didn’t laugh?” “Kid, the jokes are all right,” said the con, ”but you just don’t know how to tell them.”
Part One: Nurturing Natural Talents
The ability to tell funny stories has long been regarded as a unique gift possessed by a very special few. Most authorities agree that it’s not a talent with which most people are born. As a result, really good storytellers are as scarce as free drinks in a Scottish saloon. In the hands of the unskilled or untrained, the best of jokes are completely spoiled through poor delivery, bad timing, unnecessary words and the lack of preparation.
The art of telling a funny story or an amusing anecdote can be mastered by simply knowing and applying the proper techniques. Practically anyone can learn these fundamentals. Comedy is a craft. The techniques used to make people laugh, though not generally known, are nonetheless possible to master.
In show business, some of the more basic procedures were passed along by older veteran comedians to younger aspiring comics. But, by and large, to become a successful professional speaker one had to learn the tricks of the trade the old-fashioned way — through exhaustive, sometimes heartbreaking experience.
Times have changed. Today education and training grounds are more readily available. Schools and comedy clubs abound nationwide. Many comedy beginners write original gags, but for those who cannot create their own material, there are humor anthologies; which provide jokes, quips and stories on every conceivable subject.
For the countless humor lovers who wish to learn how to make people laugh, some practical tools are hereby presented. The following elementary rules and guidelines are offered to help hone the skills needed to evoke laughter from an audience. Download the PDF to continue reading.