How To Be Funny


Woody Allen famously said that tragedy plus time equals humor. With that in mind, here’s a pro tip for How To Be Funny: Tell a story about yourself when you suffered, when you thought all was lost, when you thought the world had aligned against you. It’s helpful if at the time you were suffering you were absolutely convinced The Worst Thing Possible had happened. Ideally, you will have believed that you would never love again, never write again, never be happy again. Ideally, you believed that there was absolutely nothing funny about what was happening to you. After all, what was happening was a tragedy.

It is extremely important that at the time you tell the story you know that everything actually turned out okay. You loved again, you wrote again, you were happy again. Life moved on and you moved on with it, and interesting opportunities presented themselves, and the world did not stop spinning and your heart did not stop beating and your mind did not stop thinking. All is well.

The difference between what you believed once and what you know now is comedy. The comedian tells the story with the advantage and vantage granted by time, with knowledge of the future your past, suffering self was naturally denied. You portray the suffering but do not agree with the suffering. Moreover, there’s no drama in the portrayal. You don’t withhold the story’s end. The very fact that you are telling the story comically reminds the audience that nothing is as bad as your character believes it to be.

This is why people sometimes say to comedians, “That’s not funny!” I understand this sentiment completely. What we call tragedy does indeed require a certain amount of time to become humor. It is a central tenant of the human condition that we must learn how to live again when life appears to have denied us the conditions where we believed meaningful living was possible. It’s also why we love comedies. How nice to laugh at suffering that is not our own, to look upon in another what we fear for ourselves and be reminded of how every story actually ends.

If you like the ideas and perspectives expressed here, feel free to contact me about individual coaching and group workshops.

William KenowerComment