I’m a very funny person. In fact, I’m the funniest person I know. I crack myself up on a regular basis. The only problem is that I’m not that funny to other people. I mean, a handful of people think I’m funny – my brother, my mother and our IT guy at work – but everybody else, I’m sure of it, considers me to be decidedly un-funny. And the reason is my ADHD.
For example, I have a really difficult time telling jokes. Either I’ll miss a key piece of information, or I’ll completely forget the punchline, or most annoyingly – my audience will tell me that I used an incorrect word, because the joke simply doesn’t make sense (“You said a rabbi and a doctor, not a rabbi and a dentist“). Then I have to ask what I said and try to figure out what I messed up (“the dentist would have made more sense… now I get it”). Also, sometimes I take too long to tell a joke, and I get interrupted by something in my environment. Or I see my audience yawning. Sigh. Sure I get a good zinger in every now and then, and it helps if my conversation partner and I have similar interests – but often my attempts fall severely short.
So I envy people that are naturally funny. I’ve always wanted to be someone that would have a crowd laughing non-stop. When I was a teenager, I tried to emulate Chandler from Friends (I even asked my hairstylist to give me ‘the Chandler’ – which didn’t work too well with frizzy curls). I memorized his lines and thought that if I could just seize the right opportunities (and if nobody else watched ‘Friends’) – people would like me. I would be funny.
Of course it didn’t work. And while I still envy very funny people, I know my limits about what kind of jokes work for me and which ones I should avoid (namely, ones made up of more than two sentences). But I got to wondering if there was a way for an ADHDer to learn to be funny – to practice it, and know when to use what type of humour. Here is what I’ve come up with.
- Think funny. I’m convinced that humour can function like a muscle — if you exercise it, you’ll find it much easier to use. So whenever you’re in a new situation, or an old one, for that matter, take a moment to think about what is odd, curious, or funny about the situation. Look for links between objects and ideas, hidden connections, double meanings or absurdities. Try it now: look around and try to find one thing you find funny about where you’re reading this. The idea here is that you may build up a store of funny observations (like Jerry Seinfeld), or be better at finding them when the situation calls for it. Say you’re on a train ride and want to initiate conversation with your seatmate. Instead of saying a bland remark about the weather, you can point out something interesting or bizarre. For example, at my office, sometimes the maintenance guys hang padded blankets on the elevator walls to protect it while moving furniture. Whenever I’m in there with a stranger, I say, ‘Hm, kind of reminds me of where I spent my childhood,’ – and I touch the padded walls. Most of the time, it gets a chuckle.
- Use body language. Maximize your jokes’ chances at being funny with accompanying verbal cues or facial expressions. A crooked smile, a tap on the temple with the index finger, or raised eyebrows – these are all little ways to tell your audience that you’re being playful, and will help them get on board with the joke. Often your body language is enough to get a laugh – you don’t even need to say anything.
- Have a good laugh. This can be a hard one to pull off – and you certainly don’t want to be seen as fake-laughing, especially at your own jokes. But if you can, allow yourself to laugh heartily at your own jokes. There’s something very charming and likeable about someone who genuinely derives joy from their own wit. And laughter is contagious, too.
- Plan ahead and do your homework. Just like you would for a meeting or a networking event, anticipate some opportunities for jokes and practice. Headed to a baby shower? Come up with some good baby jokes ahead of time – just remember to DELIVER them in a way that sounds spontaneous.
- Take it to the limit – then take it further. Take advantage of that brilliant ADHD brain of yours and imagine extreme scenarios of what you’re currently experiencing. Let’s go back to that baby shower and get all speculative fiction-y on it. “I think baby showers should be like those mass weddings in Japan. Just get 500 babies and shower them all at once.” If you sense that you’re on a good road with your audience, keep going. “Or just put them all in inner tubes and float them down a lazy river, and we could all line the shores and throw presents at them. You know what, never mind, just get a big hose and spray them all. That would work.” Comedy gold!
- Keep your jokes very short. If you’re like me, then those Cadillac jokes – the long ones with a cast of characters and a rigid timeline – those ones are not for you. Put them back on the shelf and don’t look back. Stick to the one-liners, maybe some two-liners, and jokes that are well-suited to improv.
- Reuse the classics. If you’ve found some good catchphrases or expressions that have gotten you good laughs before, by all means, keep using them! Just because you didn’t invent them doesn’t mean you can’t make them yours. Shows like Arrested Development, The Office or Big Mouth have a wide-enough appeal that you can use lines that people will recognize as belonging to the show, but are being applied in an inventive way. For example, I’m just waiting for someone to ask me what my favourite CBC Radio podcast is, so I can say, “I’m an Ideas man, Michael”. It’s going to be a home run!
Hopefully these tips will help you hit comedy gold with the neurotypicals.
If you have any advice to share, feel free to add it in the comments section below!