When I tell a story on stage, I want to get laughs. I know not all storytellers work like this, but if you do and you are looking to punch up your story to squeeze in some more laughs, I have some quick tips that may help you make your story funnier.
Storytelling is not stand-up — the story comes first — but that does not mean that you can’t have jokes baked into your stories that will make people laugh.
Here are some easy tips that you can do in 20 minutes or less. So, get out your story and begin making notes. Remember, these are spices you are adding to your piece. You cannot make whole meal of these tips, so, like turmeric, use sparingly.
- Give a character in your story a specific description that your audience can recognize
In my one-person show, “World’s Greatest Dad(?),” I describe the priest who was presiding over my dad’s funeral: He was big, tall with doughy hands and a puffy face and this giant green robe. He looked like a Muppet.” When I call this character back I refer to him as “Father Muppet” and it gets a huge laugh. Sometimes it does not need to be as complicated as my example. For example, if you’re describing someone who waited on you at the DVM, you could say, “The guy at the counter looked like Bernie Sanders’ older brother.”
- Be specific
Sometimes the fast way to punch up your piece is to be more specific. So take a few minutes to look over your story and see where you are being too vague. For example, saying, “I drove my car to the prom,” is ok, but what is more interesting is, “I drove my mom’s Chrysler minivan to the prom.”Depending on your comedy chops, you can even be a little over descriptive. For example, instead of saying, “I ate a bowl of cereal,” you could say, “I ate a whole stale box of Lucky Charms and the marshmallows were as hard as rocks, so it wasn’t magically delicious.”
- Use metaphors
Depending on the length of your piece, sometimes you just need to find one or two places to add some more humor. One simple device is add comedy is to compare two concepts. For example, in my first one-man show, “I’m 27 and I Still Live At Home and Sell Office Supplies,” I said: “The whole point of the Santa Claus suit was to retain heat. It was like what tin foil is the baked potato.”
- Revel a truth about yourself
Revealing a truth about yourself that is specific to you and your life is always a great way to make people laugh. Here are some I have used over the years in different performances:
- “I grew up Catholic, though everyone thinks I’m Jewish.”
- I don’t like Christmas, because I don’t like to give.
- Like my Facebook page. It really helps with my low self-esteem.
- I hang out with people who are more fucked up than me, because it makes me feel better about myself.Yes, they are structured as a joke, but they are rooted in truths about myself and reflect my storytelling persona.
- Add an Inner Dialogue or an Aside
One of the easiest thing to do to make your piece funnier, especially if something weird happens to you or someone says something strange in the story, is to add an aside or some inner dialogue. In “World’s Greatest Dad(?),” when my dad is dying and I ask him how I can help prepare for his death, he says, “I want you to speak at my funeral and I want you to make people laugh.” Then I go into an interior monologue: “I wanted to say, ‘Dad I have agent for that.’ But instead, I said, ‘I would be honored.’” By adding a little aside, I’m able to squeeze in a little laugh in a very dark section of the story, which breaks things up a bit. In fact, when done right, serious moments that are filled with tension can be a great place for a laugh.