Is it OK to laugh when things don’t feel funny?

 In Presence, Story

I like to laugh, and I have an odd sense of humor. Even so, I use it when I can, even during difficult discussions because I believe injecting humor can create space for us to rise above conflict and ease into a better place. However, humor is hard for many people, especially when things don’t feel very funny. Layoffs, budget cuts, economic downturns can weigh on us leaving little room for humor. So to learn more about comedy and how to be funny when it’s hard to find the humor,  I took a webinar with comedy writer, Nikki Frias, author of the book, Does This Divorce Make Me Look Fat? She opened by saying that comedy is universal and sheds light on the similarities we face every day. Since that is what I call Story with a capital “S,” I asked if I could speak with her further about humor. 

Nikki feels humor can make us more receptive to each other. When we spoke, she talked about “the natural tension that people have conjured up within themselves based off daily stress and anxiety and things like that, and [humor] allows people to kind of just breathe or catch their breath.”  As she said, “I always tell people that humor is my superpower because of the amount of response and openness I get from people…I can laugh at myself, I can make fun of myself.” Not everyone feels comfortable doing that, but she feels humor is a way to connect with others. “People are gonna feel comfortable with you. People are gonna talk to you,” which is especially important when times are tough. 

And science is proving her right. In the book, Humor’s Hidden Power: Weapon Shield and Psychological Salve, writer Nichole Force shows that humor can take the edge off because of its soothing effect on the brain. She writes: “Among other things, laughter has been shown to reduce stress, boost the immune system and enhance brain chemistry through the release of serotonin and endorphins.” So, what better reason to use humor than to give your brain a good massage?  

Businessman with a clown nose and glasses, making a silly face

But not everyone is a comedian like Nikki. Some people want to prepare jokes and videos to make the moment lighter. Nikki warns against this. “If you come in with the intention that you are going to make people laugh with specific jokes, you are just creating tension within yourself to maybe not get the timing right. Because comedy is mainly about timing … So, when doing a presentation, I always tell people, instead of worrying about being humorous, you have to make sure that you’re just okay with being comfortable showing more of yourself. And the humor will naturally come in.” 

Nikki’s 3 steps to finding your natural humor and using it: 

  1. Comedy is about timing. If you find something is funny, mention it and add a pause to give it time to settle in. If they laugh, great. If they don’t, don’t worry about it. Just move on but continue to be brave. “Brave is what comedy is.” 
  1. No crude humor. That includes bathroom jokes, racial jokes, bigoted jokes. They’re corny, and nobody finds them funny. 
  1. Acknowledging the weird is great. Not in others but in yourself or your environment. For example, if you look at your PowerPoint and notice a misspelled word, make a joke about it. Maybe read it the way it is misspelled.  Acknowledging inaccuracies can be really funny. 

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