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Funny Girl

By Melissa Young

My sister is funny. The sort of funny that takes no thought–just flashes of quick wit that leave me giggling and wishing I could even think to say something like that. Whenever I spend time with her, I laugh.

Funny is not my default setting, but oh I wish it were. I wish my knee-jerk reaction was to see the humor in situations because so many times it diffuses feelings rather than escalating them.

My inability to see a joke has also made me a prime target for them. Gullible I am, because it just doesn’t occur to me that people are trying to be funny. Until it’s everlastingly too late. But I have at least learned to laugh at myself.

Funny people are also wicked smart, don’t you think? Bam, they just come out with these great lines. I have to think really hard about my great lines. And usually revise them several times.

I told my husband about my funny-envy. His response? “I’ve stopped trying to be something I’m not.”

Ouch.

But there’s this little hope in me that maybe I could learn to be funny, or at least learn to lighten up a bit.

So tell me, funny sisters, what are your secrets? Can I train myself to see humor? School my feelings toward laughter? I’d really like to spend more time tasting the sweet side of life.

About Melissa Young

(Emerita) is a native of Utah and lives in Cache Valley, Utah, with her husband and three of her four children in their emptying nest. She has an MA in TESOL from Brigham Young University and currently volunteers with the English Learning Center.

30 thoughts on “Funny Girl”

  1. I'm the funny sister in my family. I'm not really sure how it works. How does one of my sisters sit down and draw a beautiful scene, with no thought beforehand, and have it win awards?

    I think my sense of humor is something I developed after years of moving around as a child. You've got to have something to make you stand out from the crowd. It also helped a great deal with flirting in college. Laughter is a strong aphrodisiac.

    My advice would be to go around with a smile on as much as possible. And try to see the world with a sense of rueful irony. Equate current situations with past ones. Reference movies or songs. It helps to have a straight man who feeds you lines.

    As one of my sisters says: "There are those who make the jokes and those who are the audience. Every good comic needs someone willing to laugh." She's my favorite audience and I love her for it.

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  2. I actually have the opposite problem. I am the funny one but have had to train myself to be more restrained. Not everyone gets my humor and not every situation calls for humor. But it is something that I think comes naturally to some and not others. I am glad for those who are willing to laugh with me. Not everyone can or should play the same role.

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  3. I'm a little bit funny. What is great is that when something not-so-great happens I think "Wow, this will be funny to tell my friend/husband." Like on Sunday after church when an old woman opened her car door to say "You're roots are showing!" Kind of rude, but it made me laugh because I'd get to laugh about grumpy old people as soon as I told someone.
    So whenever someone is rude/incompetent rather than feeling really mad I realize I get to tell a funny story!
    It does take practice to tell a story and deliver it well with the right amount of info. I'm no expert but I'm good enough for my husband and my close friends.
    I have a friend who truly is an expert. Her mom is too. They can tell you a story where you are laughing but suddenly you realize that this is really the saddest story and you should be crying but they can infuse the humor in there so well.

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  4. Tough question. Do you need to be raised by hilarious people to be funny? Our neighbors growing up were all hilarious. Every last sibling. In my family (6 kids), we're a funny bunch, but my brother, the second youngest is, BY FAR, the funniest. He can keep a car full of people roaring for hours.

    I can be total smart aleck, but it has to be in the right crowd, like Jessie said. Interestingly, I have a very hard time getting to know and becoming friends with people who cannot laugh. It's big for me. Can you see humor in things? Then I like you. Are you able to carry on a conversation for minutes at a time and not crack a smile? Then it's a tough sale.

    I have a very serious sister-in-law, and while I do enjoy talking to her, the subject matter is never jovial. Advice? If you hear a joke, don't say "That's funny" with a straight face. That lets the air right out of the funny. Whomp!

    Another bit of advice? Watch Brian Regan perform live. He's naturally funny, he can just be talking or even messing up his own joke and it's a blast. And even if you don't learn to be funny yourself, like I said, he's naturally funny, so it's time well spent!

    One more thing I wanted to mention, I agree that a funny person is a smart person. My oldest son, who struggled with school as a young kid, is hilarious. He's not the fastest reader, but he has killer reading comprehension skills, he's clever and he's socially aware. Proof? He told his teacher during a parent-teacher conference this fall that the reason his binder grade was low was that when he asked his mom (me!) to sign the calendar, she didn't. I balked: "I was probably very busy that day" (because who wants a teacher to be mad at them? My instinct to "make-up-an-excuse" kicked in.) Then, my sweet 5th grader added in total deadpan "No, she was on Facebook." Laughter ensued, obviously, and my face was beet red.
    Zing! You can't teach that!

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  5. My brother and I like to start run-on puns. Puns depend on the situation at hand however, you can't prepare for them. And you can't use the same ones too often or they get annoying. Our sisters aren't punny and when they see us going at it, they scratch their heads. The more blunt one says, "They're on crack again", especially when we get laughing so hard we end up wheezing.

    My only suggestion is that if you want to make a comment on something, use plenty of hyperbole. A lot of comedy is based on exaggeration and an unexpected juxtaposition of seemingly unrelated elements. "I just shot an elephant in my pajamas. How he got in my pajamas, I'll never know."

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  6. Melissa, I am so with you. I am really gullible and often think people are serious when they were intending to be a joke. And it's embarrassing sometimes to be so dense. But at least I can laugh at myself.

    Also, not that I wish to discourage self-improvement, but I would personally rather you not change too much, because I'm selfishly glad there are more people besides me with this issue.

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  7. If being un-funny is bad, then TRYING to be funny is horrid.

    I do think that God made us all to have humor–it is innate. What some lack is the assertiveness to vocalize. You undoubtedly think clever things (even before you edit), but you haven't practiced enough saying it out loud. Problem with vocalizing is being prepared to fail… like 75% of the time.

    Funny people are merely people who have practiced this and then the expectation is in place from others that whatever they say is already clever/witty/funny.

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  8. Very interesting post! One thing I was going to say that the first commentor said is to try to look at life with a sense of irony. It is from those moments of irony that the really funny stories spring. Sometimes I am really funny and it is usually when I am retelling stuff that happened during stressful times. (It's not always funny WHEN it is happening but almost always later on it is.) More than telling jokes or stories though, I think a sense of humor is an attitude–it is how you view what happens in your life.

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  9. One more thing–I think everyone can be funny or rather, have a sense of humor but not everyone would make a good stand-up comedian. But that's okay. And what would be terribly funny to one group of people would absolutely fall flat in another. One of my college roommates used to say of certain people, "They laugh at my jokes." She meant that these people tried to understand her and care about her and the way they showed that was they tried to ease the social situation and make her feel comfortable . Sometimes that involved laughing at her funny comments but it didn't always mean exactly that.

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  10. If you want to be able to snap back with a funny remark, I think what helps is to do it in your head after the fact. If you think, "I could say something funny about that," then take the time to imagine what you'd say in your free time. Play around. Take your time. Do it in your head. Have fun with it. Cultivate your imagination. The more you do it, the faster you'll be able to think of things, until you can respond immediately and out loud. It sounds like practice, but it's fun practice.

    And read. Read enjoyable books, with a sense of humor.

    I think the key to turning up the funny in your life is to be a sort of Alice in Wonderland person, "I sometimes think of 6 impossible things before breakfast."

    Cheers!

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  11. Thanks for the comments!

    I think what I want to do most is lighten up with my kids. There are lots of things that they do that I could interpret as funny if I were in a less tense mood most of the time. I know I'll never be my sister, and that's okay, but I'd like to be a more relaxed mother. I think humor would help me.

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  12. Melissa, with kids all you have to do is be willing to go along for the ride with a smile. Instead of scolding my son for his preoccupation with fart and poop I laugh when he comes up with a good joke. Not so good for his manners, but it does wonders for his sense of humor.

    I think that those with a great sense of humor developed it as a way to deal with some kind of uncomfortable situation. My humor usually comes out when talking about sad or difficult situations. What else could I do, cry? For instance- there were two funerals in our ward within two days. When I saw my bishop I said, "It's a good thing you're out of work so you can officiate at all these ward events." Two funerals and an unemployed bishop are not funny, but they're so sad I just couldn't say anything else. (Thankfully he laughed.)

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  13. Humor frequently occurs when some is said or done that is contrary to expectations. For instance to give my kids a laugh, I tell them as they are headed out the door to the school bus, "Make sure that you are really bad boys today at school." They laugh, because they are the type of kids that never want to get in trouble and they know I wouldn't tolerate bad behavior.

    As someone said, you can develop humor by looking for irony in life. It also helps to keep the target of humor on yourself. That way you never hurt anyones feelings. People will feel more comfortable around you and like you better if they know you can laugh at yourself.

    Your ability to be funny depends a lot on your comedic timing. That really can't be taught. You have it, or you don't

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  14. Comparisons to other things, like others have said, are great. Another wonderful way to be funny is to say something outrageous with a straight face. For instance, we went out on a double date with friends for Valentine's Day (and these friends have told us they like hanging out with us specifically because we're entertaining). We were talking about haircuts and what styles take longer to style and my husband started talking about how he has to get his hair wet and dry it every morning unless he takes a shower, which gave me the perfect springboard to complain about how long he takes. With a completely straight face I told them it takes him literally two hours to do his hair. They, knowing it was hyperbole, laughed.

    Anyway, good luck. I'm sure you can train your brain. It's just mostly about making lots of quick comparisons in your head to find the funny ones and saying them before it's too late. Like a friend of mine was talking about how her son gave away most of his clothing to poor people at the end of his mission before coming home, and I asked if he was thinking of becoming a nudist. You've got to save those ones for the right crowd, though.

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  15. I think a big part of humor is training yourself to see the long view of things. Plenty of things that are most definitely not funny right now, will be very funny after a day goes by (or two, or a week, or ten years). When I got robbed as a missionary, the part of me that wasn't scared to death was thinking, "This is going to make a great story when I get home!"

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  16. Melissa,

    I'm right there with you (and Emily too, it seems). I'm getting better at it–and I can do deadpan/sarcastic humor when the mood strikes me–but if I'm stressed at all my sense of humor dies.

    As proof that I've gotten better: when I was in high school, I had a math teacher who had my brother the year after having me in class. One day, my brother did something funny and the teacher stopped, looked at him, and said, "A Collings [my maiden name] with a sense of humor? I don't believe it." Unfortunately, what I remember of myself as a senior in high school is that this is probably true.

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  17. Funny is my default setting, which is good in some ways; it can help people relax and feel at ease. But it also has some drawbacks too; it can be seen as very inappropriate. Which it is at times. I just tend to see the humor in most situations. I've really had to learn when to just shut up because humor can be seen as being cold (nobody wants to laugh at a funeral).

    I think the best advice about being funny would be to be willing to make fun of yourself. Don't take yourself too seriously. Because being honest about the bad things is sometimes the funniest thing there is.

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  18. I have a sister who is very funny and I love talking to her; not only does she make me laugh but she brings out the funny in me. She has the ability to lighten up any situation. Whenever I'm feeling sad or worried I can talk to her and laugh and I always come away feeling better. I am grateful for humor—I think it's definitely a gift given to us by a loving God to help smooth our path through life.

    As for developing a sense of humor, I don't have any helpful tips, but I second bth's advice: watch Brian Regan perform (you can buy one of his DVDs online—go to Brian Regan.com). Watching him may not help you become a comedian yourself, but I promise you you will laugh. We love Brian Regan in our house.

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  19. I am NOT funny, but I have mastered the art of laughter. I am the best audience anyone will ever find. Life is funny, even if I'm not. My talent is to laugh at it all.

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  20. Melissa M: Me, too! My sister is hilarious and we laugh constantly when we're talking, but it's usually because of how she relays things, not because of anything I say. I'm not funny or quick-witted but I really enjoy it when others are funny, especially when they don't think they are but I do!

    I think it's equally important to know how to laugh (and *when* to laugh..) as it is to know how to make others laugh.

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  21. I concur with all the comments saying to watch Brian Regan, or other standup comedians. Ideally their way of looking at the world and being able to find funny in stuff will wear off on you. At the very least, though, you can totally steal their jokes – you'll be downright hilarious to people who don't know the routines! 😉

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  22. (nobody wants to laugh at a funeral).

    Jennie, can you come to my funeral and make people laugh?! Because I honestly want it to be a party, a happy celebration. No long faces and mournful speeches. If I could get Brian Reagan or Jim Gaffigan to do a bit, that would be even better! Have you seen Jim's spiel on bacon?!

    I am learning to be funny. I had to start with kid humor…like adding the words "On the toilet" to the end of every fortune or Dove Chocolate foil wrapper sentiment with my 11 year old. Really, that makes every one of them funnier. And I think some people are born naturally funny…they don't have to practice, and in fact, the reason they ARE so funny is because they are so quick with their responses in situations that they could never have prepared for. Planning to be funny reminds me of the following scene in Pride and Prejudice:

    Mr. Bennet: How happy for you, Mr. Collins, to possess a talent for flattering with such… delicacy.
    Elizabeth Bennet: Do these pleasing attentions proceed from the impulse of the moment, or are they the result of previous study?
    Mr. Collins: They arise chiefly from what is passing of the time. And though I do sometimes amuse myself with arranging such little elegant compliments, I always wish to give them as unstudied an air as possible.
    Elizabeth Bennet: Oh, believe me, no one would suspect your manners to be rehearsed.

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  23. My husband and I have very different senses of humor. My husband loves to tell outrageously exaggerated stories for the sake of humor–and to act them out if possible. This is always to the great amusement of his family. They think he's hilarious, and I just roll my eyes when he gets going.

    I'm less of a performer and more of a wry "zinger" type of person. When I was in high school my friends called me Daria after the character. (Ironically, I had never seen the show. I was too much of a goody-two-shoes to watch MTV.) I was also raised in a family that really valued the witty remark, so I honed my skills there.

    I'm not funny to people who don't appreciate sarcastic humor. My mother-in-law, especially, does not appreciate my commentary. She just thinks I'm being mean. It can be a valid point because my type of humor can be mean. I do use humor often to point out incongruities, but I do turn it on my own behavior just as often.

    The positive thing is we can make these too views work together. I think my husband is over the top sometimes, but the kids really love it. And I can keep HIM laughing while he's doing it (by making fun of him the whole time) so it all works out.

    I would say do what works for you, and don't worry if others think you're funny. As long as you see the humor in the situation you'll be happy in the long run.

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  24. I am a huge Brian Regan fan, too! My wit was cultivated in adolescence as a way to deflect that insults of a ruthless older brother. Now I use it to entertain myself–I often chuckle while writing in my journal… or elsewhere.

    But yeah, don't try to hard. The only thing worse than someone trying to be funny is the patronizing laughter of other people.

    My sister and I have great conversations, too–it is wonderful to have one person in the world who really understands the meaning behind every inflection in my voice.

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  25. Brian Regan is the best.

    If you want to be funny, hang out with the right people. I get funnier when I'm around funny people, and I find myself re-using or repeating their best stuff in another situation. After all, the people we hang out with all rub off on us, and it's always great when I'm rubbing with the funny.

    (Wait, that doesn't sound right…well, you know what I mean.)

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  26. My friends are always telling me that I'm funny, which I don't understand. I personally don't think I'm funny. I'm actually quite boring and straightforward as a person.

    But I have this propensity, this pathological need to tell the truth at the expense of propriety and sometimes even self preservation–and I think that's what people are actually laughing at… like a recent experience I had when I was in a YSA lesson on chastity and when I got bored of how bored everyone else was of the topic, I simply said, "If it's not yours, don't touch it."

    They thought this was hysterical, and when one of the males chimed in and said "Even if it IS yours, don't touch it," the topic was sufficiently discussed and we moved on. Considering that was my actual objective, I can't say that I minded.

    When you're keenly aware of how things are supposed to be, anything which isn't like that becomes ridiculous to you, and thereby becomes funny. Because many of us try to be sensitive, we suck the funny right out of everything that happens because we realize that we can't laugh at someone without acknowledging that what they've said or done was mockable.

    I would say that if you want to be funnier, give yourself permission to laugh at things that are ridiculous. Then all you have to do is repeat what you see, and it becomes your best material 🙂

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  27. I'm with Blue, please laugh at my funeral. In fact I may prepare a slideshow of my hairstyles through the years for the occasion. When done right, laughter is the perfect salve for grief.

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