Learn to Be Funny – The Steve Allen Technique


Here is a fairly simple method that can help you learn to be funny; or more specifically hone the funny that you already have.

Legend has it that U.S. Comedian Steve Allen learned how to write jokes by copying out jokes from joke books. Now, while I don’t advocate learning how to write jokes as the basis for using humour in speeches or presentations, it is something that we can certainly learn a lot from.

The point of the technique that I am about to outline for you is not to steal someone else’s material. That is a completely deplorable thing to do. The idea is to learn about quality.

Here’s an easy method for improving your humorous writing skills:

1. Select a favourite comedian. Grab a DVD or use YouTube and select about 5 minutes of their act.

2. Then what you do is transcribe their material word-for-word.

3. Re-watch the clip and make a note on your transcript of where they get laughs. You can do this using an asterisk (*) or whatever annotation works for you.

4. Count the number of words used in the bit before the laugh (the set-up line).

5. Then count the number of words that are used in the sentence that generates the laugh (the punchline).

It would also be worth making a note of the laughs that are generated by things other than words. For example, a gesture, a sound or a look and so on.

Remember, that you’re not looking for the material to read funny on the page. In fact, it probably won’t to be honest with you. Your humorous doesn’t need to look funny on the page, leave that to the writers of humorous prose. We’re dealing with spoken word humour.

What this exercise allows you to do is to get a feel for the quality of the material as it appears on the page. You’ll gain an understanding of the brevity and succinctness of what is being said. If you do this with a couple of different comedians, you should then count up the number of words that each comedian uses in their set-up line and their punchline and take an average.

This is about the amount of words you need to use in order to convey your funny in the most compact way.

I’m not sure if Steve Allen wrote out the same jokes over and over in order to learn to be funny, or if he wrote out new jokes each time. But what I would do is go back to the comedian that you first used and write out that material several times. Don’t short cut this step by using cut and paste, hand write the material out so you learn via osmosis.

By regularly working through this exercise, you will begin to get a feel for how you can edit your own speeches once you have written them.

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