After giving 20 speeches at my local Toastmasters, the club for people who want to learn to speak in public, it was time for a next-level challenge. A new, harder kind of speech. I mentally ran through possibilities: Maybe I could write a persuasive speech, or give a tribute, or try my hand at storytelling.
But the toughest speech I could write, I eventually realized, would be a funny one. I had always assumed people were either funny or they weren’t, and I was about as hilarious as a bundle of spinach.
Maybe I was wrong, though. Maybe I could learn to be funny. I certainly saw the value in it. A speaker can win over an audience — of any size — with a single funny line.
I decided to go for it. I would teach myself to be funny, the same way I’d taught myself any other skill — by studying like mad. For months, I hid away in learning mode, analyzing the work of dozens of real and fictional comedians from Stephen Colbert to Ali Wong to Mrs. Maisel, reading articles and books about humor, and practicing.
It paid off. I participated in the Toastmasters Humorous Speech Contest in my club and won. Then I competed at the division level, and won again. Then I won for all of San Francisco, and made it to the California finals.
Here’s the video:
I’m not saying I’m the new Dave Chappelle, but I’ve been able to use what I learned to inject humor into just about all the speeches I give. And I want to share the insights I’ve found most useful. This piece is about how to craft jokes — all the strategy, sweat, and second-guessing that goes into appearing effortlessly funny. (In another piece, I’ll include tips on how to deliver them effectively.)
Surprise your audience
Have you ever tried to just sit down and write jokes? Go on, give it a try. Whether or not…