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How to Be Funny

6 steps to telling a joke ... and actually getting a laugh.
group of young people having a party
Not only are funny people better equipped to deal with stress, they're also likely better at developing a camaraderie with co-workers.Henrik Sorensen / Getty Images

We've all got that one person in our lives (or several, if we're lucky) who we consider "the funny one." This person has the innate ability to crack a joke no matter the situation — and has a knack for knowing exactly the right time to do so.

But aside from being able to entertain your buddies, are there any other advantages to being funny?

As it turns out, the ability to make other people laugh comes with a host of health benefits. "Having a more developed sense of humor has been linked to decreased depression and anxiety in those struggling with stress," explains Joseph Cilona, PsyD, a clinical psychologist based in Manhattan. "Being able to joke as a response to a stressful situation can help diminish stress and buffer against its many detrimental effects." In fact, a study done by the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, found that mirthful laughter was found to lower blood pressure and combat distress. Basically, you'll want to keep that funny friend around in times of trouble — since you can reap these rewards from laughing at whatever you two find yourselves up against. "After laughing, relaxing effects in our bodies include endorphin release, lowered blood pressure, and even a drop in heart rate," Cilona says.

Not only are funny people better equipped to deal with stress, they're also likely better at developing a camaraderie with co-workers. "Being funny is strongly tied to being a flexible thinker," explains Emily Ross, MSW, LICSW practicing at Park Nicollet clinics in Minnesota. "Flexible thinkers can read their audiences well, including co-workers, and adjust the way they present information to them so that it’s delivered in a way that’s most satisfying. That triggers positive feelings from their coworkers, and strengthens the co-workers’ sense of connection to them."

Being Funny Helps People Bond Better

In a recent study done by University College London, two groups of strangers were put together — one that was shown a short comedy routine that elicited collective laughter from the participants, and the other a dry documentary. When it came time for each group to get to know one another, the group that laughed together shared more with each other than the group that did not — which supports the theory that laughter facilitates bonding.

"For both sexes, a sense of humor and a person that makes them laugh is one of the most commonly cited qualities when describing things that contribute to feelings of romantic attraction."

Speaking of cultivating relationships, funny people also have an edge when it comes to finding a romantic partner. "For both sexes, a sense of humor and a person that makes them laugh is one of the most commonly cited qualities when describing things that contribute to feelings of romantic attraction," says Cilona. "Research suggests that laughter can have a big impact on relationships, especially when it comes to fostering connection and emotional attunement."

A study conducted on 77 couples by the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill showed that shared laughter translated to feelings of being supported by a partner. "This suggests that a couple that shares a similar sense of humor, that laughs together frequently and that makes each other laugh often are more like to feel connected and emotionally intimate," says Cilona. "Things like connection, intimacy and attunement can all contribute significantly to strengthening a relationship overall, as well as help insulate it from difficulties and stressors."

Cracking Up Co-Workers Can Give You an Edge

A keen sense of humor can even correlate to being more successful, according to Jameca Falconer, PhD, licensed psychologist at Emergence Psychological Services in Missouri. "Being funny will definitely give you an edge in business," she says. "Studies show that sarcastic people are more successful. In general, when an individual uses humor others perceive them as being confident, and that confidence gives you an edge in the workplace." This may be tied to the creativity insinuated from effective sarcasm. A study published by the Organizational Behavior and Human Decision Processes suggests that being sarcastic correlates to one's ability to be creative — a talent that can go far in setting you apart from your other counterparts at work.

Humor: Born or Learned?

But if you've never been the funny person and want to give it a try, is there anything you can do to start? "Humor tends to be a consistent and lifelong trait," says Falconer. "Most funny people have been funny their whole lives. If you ask the parents and siblings of funny people about their childhood, they will say that they have always been funny. Funny young people become funny older people."

Vicky Kuperman and her husband, Max Cohen, both New York-based comedians, agree — for the most part. "If you haven't been funny yet, you're not going to be funny," says Kuperman. "But if you don't think you're funny, that's a different story. The people who think they're funny are always the ones who are high fiving themselves in the mirror and then go on stage and do a pushup and end up bombing. If you have humor in you and haven't showed it yet, there's a chance you've been holding back because there's a block."

"I bet they're funny but just don't realize it," says Cohen. "A lot of people think saying sarcastic things to people over G-Chat or text, or over a beer at happy hour making fun of whatever the situation is that they're uncomfortable with doesn't count. But that's a lot of what humor is."

Here are some rules for tapping into your inner comedian:

6 Steps to Getting the Laugh

Use jokes sparingly. If you haven't established yourself as a funny person in your respective circles yet, Cohen says this actually gives you an edge. "Humor is all about the unexpected, and no one expects it less than from the unassuming quiet person," he says. "That's the best. I'm always jealous of the person who only speaks once but gets the biggest laugh. So say something with confidence, and not that often, and then you'll be known as that really funny dry IT guy."

Find common ground. As far as what to say to get a good laugh out of your captive audience, Kuperman says that context is key. "Be topical, and know what the collective conscious is thinking about," she says. "This works because you're tapping into things you know are on people's minds versus coming to a work lunch and being like, 'My crazy mother huh?' That's a little out of place if they don't know you as someone who's funny. It's much easier to joke about things people are already thinking about because you have a common set of references and resources to pull from."

Timing is key. If you're drawing humor from the situation at hand, Cohen says you have to pull the trigger on the delivery of your joke as it's happening. "It has to be in the moment, especially if you're in an office setting or at a party," he says. "You can't say, 'Hey remember that meeting two hours ago? Well, here's what I would say to Jim.' That's sad."

Master the punchline. When you're setting up a joke, Kuperman says to make sure that the punchline takes your audience somewhere unexpected. "The structure of a good joke is when it takes a turn," says Kuperman. "My favorite example that I think is brilliant is the one from American Pie. The whole movie, you think she's going to tell a really boring story about band camp — which she does, but then hits you with the punchline. It's dirty, filthy, ruckus and amazing, because you don't expect it from that person. To me that's one of the best jokes in a movie."

Test your material. Not ready to try it out yet, IRL? "Start making jokes on G-Chat if you're scared to make one out loud and see your response," says Kuperman. “You can also start on social media, which is a great platform. I use it to see if jokes work. If it gets enough likes and retweets, it goes on stage. And it's easier than trying it out face-to-face because you don't see people grimacing."

Be prepared to fail. If you're going to give being funny a try, Cohen says the most important thing you can do is to not get discouraged when you fail at it — because you will. "Be okay with the fact that not every joke you make is going to be hysterical, hilarious and amazing," he says, "and that doesn't mean you're any less of a funny person ... unless all of your jokes have bombed. You can be funny and not have every joke land. Just trust in yourself that you'll hit a good couple of them."