People Won’t Laugh If You Oversell the Joke
Comedy is a dangerous game, and it’s a good idea to be cautious when using the words funny, hilarious, or hysterical to describe your own work — for you are setting yourself for a big fall.
Don’t under any circumstances — unless you’re a wildly popular comic — tell the audience that your joke is the funniest thing they’ve ever heard before you say it, or you’ll kill all the humor in it.
When you tell people that something is so gut-bustlingly funny, you’re raising their expectations to unrealistic heights.
Let’s say you’re doing a stand-up gig, and the M.C. goes on and on about how funny you are; they’re sabotaging you. No matter how much the audience wants to laugh, they’re going to sit a little further back in their seats, cross their arms, and silently dare you to make them laugh.
People don’t like being told what to do or how to react.
Audiences are like cats — everything has to be their idea. If you find the perfect sleeping spot for your cat and put them there, they’ll jump off immediately.
If you tell someone they’re going to pee with laughter from something you wrote, they’ll hold themselves back.
Humor is subjective, and what you find hysterical may not be to anyone other than you.
People need to come to their own conclusions about a piece of work, or they’ll resent you for trying to force them to feel a certain way. You can’t always predict how someone will react.
You thought telling a story about your parent’s divorce is hysterical, and someone else may find it tragic.
However, not setting an audience or reader’s expectations high doesn’t mean not being confident in your joke or work.
Any kind of humor-writing, whether it’s for performance or reading, is terrifying. You never know what’s going to land and what isn’t, so you need to believe in yourself and your talent.
You need to take chances and put your funniest stuff out there, and that takes guts. If a joke kills, you know you can trust your gut, and if it doesn’t, you can adjust it, or scrap it and start from scratch. You need to bomb and make mistakes so that you can get better.
It’s important to know your audience — who’s reading your work, watching your performance, or interpreting your material.
Stand-up comics tend to have one or several sets they adapt to whatever audience they’re playing to.
If you’re doing 5 minutes at a church social, you’re not going to want to bring out your best blue material unless the reaction you want is anger and horror — not belly laughs.
There will be some things you write that only you will think are funny, but it doesn’t mean you should enjoy it any less.
If a funny bit or piece of writing doesn’t hit the way you wanted it, too, you don’t have to throw it away. If something is golden, why waste it when you can bring it back later with a new perspective and insight.
One thing to remember is you never want to insult someone for not laughing at a joke or post you thought was hilarious. Calling someone out for not enjoying your humor won’t make you any fans.
If something doesn’t get the reaction that you expected, don’t make excuses, and say you thought it was funny when you wrote it and complain that people are too stupid to under your brilliance.
Instead, find out why they didn’t respond the way you wanted them to — were the circumstances conducive to laughing, or was the humor too cutting edge?
A stand-up comic once told me the best way to deal with a heckler is to figure out if it’s you or the environment that’s making them miserable. Sometimes a heckler is only reacting to a room that’s too warm or too cold, and their animosity has nothing to do with your material.
Stand by your work.
You never want to apologize or say that something is bad about your humor as a way to get an audience on your side. Pity-laughs don’t count as laughs, and they won’t make you feel any better.
No one is going to laugh if they’re worried about your mental or physical state. If your shtick is that you’re a total loser, then you heighten it to show that while there may be some truth to it, you’re basically okay.
Don’t promise something that you can’t deliver.
As you get more experienced writing or performing comedy, you’ll get better at striking the right tone. You won’t build up expectations that are too high, you won’t tell people what they should do or feel, and you won’t cause your audience to worry about you.