“Funny happens” is a quote I became known for when I first started teaching improv classes. I’m not sure if I actually coined it or borrowed it. I felt the need to write about this because today at church when a friend introduced me to someone I hadn’t met before, she said “Gina teaches improv. She’s so funny on the spot and I couldn’t do that.”
Nothing could be further from the truth. Everyone has the innate ability to be funny. “Funny” can happen if you observe human behavior and understand your audience. Maybe that’s the hard part for many people because it takes effort to pay attention to others instead of worrying about how they look.
The “funny happens” comment was (and still is) my mantra to prevent my students from TRYING to be funny. Once you understand your “audience,” you have two roads you can travel to ignite organic humor: repetition (relatability) and contrast (the unexpected).
An easy way to think about repetition is to think about how children will make you laugh and then keep doing the same thing until you stop laughing. They study your behavior to figure you out and are rewarded by your reactions. It’s pretty simple … until you become an adult and worry about looking stupid.
Repetition also comes in the form of relatability. We laugh at the things we relate to or have in common with others. Think about memes you laugh at on social media. For me, it’s anything that exaggerates the behavior of coffee or wine drinkers. My instant reaction: “Yep, that’s me.” Even better is when I connect with others who feel the same way. We in essence laugh at our weaknesses that we share with others.
Going back to the comment about my humor, her remark came on the heels of me saying to her husband (who happens to be a former pastor and my spiritual coach for years), “Hey, just wanted you and JC to see I’m here today.” Everyone laughed instantly. Why? I didn’t plan to be funny. I merely said something they all related to: “JC,” aka Jesus Christ. An added layer of funny came from the relatability my coach understood – his efforts to keep me on a spiritual path and the many times he’s asked me “How’s your walk with Jesus going?” It’s our personal, inside joke about my discipline. By the way, you should hear my different answers every time he asks that question! Simultaneously, I was organically utilizing the contrast technique by saying something unexpected. I wasn’t actually “checking in with JC.” Instead, I was checking in with someone I hoped could vouch for me to a spiritual being we believe to exist but can’t actually see in person.
Ways to tap into your own “funny happens” moments:
- Spend more time observing and less time talking
- Look for patterns in others’ behaviors to uncover what’s important to them
- Find commonalities and relatable situations to laugh about together
- Do the unexpected to disrupt the status quo in conversations
- Be vulnerable and willing to look imperfect