If I had to pick one thing that students, big and old, desire the most in all of their work, it's to be funny. Funny poems, funny stories, funny scenes, funny public speaking topics, funny conversationalist.... In fact, I'd say that the second place - dark and possibly tragic - comes in a distant second. Like, no contest.
I love to laugh; I love to make people laugh; I love to teach people to make other people laugh. I'm no stand-up comedienne (the very thought makes my bowels liquify), but I do get it - I get the need for the rush, and the sheer power that comes from being able to have that effect on people. It's sweet.
But it also places a ridiculous amount of pressure on people who are learning to speak. Being funny is tough. It's equal parts timing, energy, knowing your audience, surprise, confidence, and expressiveness. It's a very elusive combination of elements that cannot be systematized or formulated.
Too many times, though, students will ONLY pick things that they find funny, equating humour with fun. They will avoid pieces or topics that are serious, contemplative, simple or just plain interesting. Why?
There's this moment - this moment where you feel the pulse of the humour. It's that millisecond between this word choice and that word choice, this upwards inflection and that downward inflection, this raised eyebrow and that knowing glance. And frankly, it's a very addictive substance.
When I'm working with students, and they sooooooo want to be funny, I often have to reign them in. Why? Because when we begin to emulate what we think is funny, we become painful to watch. It's the vocal equivalent of *jazz hands* - it's the overdone emphasis, the miming every would-be funny phrase, the excruciatingly long pause (for laughter that never comes), the rushed delivery because it's so darn funny to them, that it's even funnier when it's faster (trust me: it's not).
Being truly funny - and this is the crux of the matter - is about being yourself. And too many people think they have to be someone else in order to be funny. That's probably the most profound thing to learn.
To that end, picking pieces or topics that challenge you to, first and foremost, communicate as yourself, from a wellspring of deeper human feeling, grappling with ideas, words, and stories that ask more of you than timing - that's where the real art lies. Because in that place you will find the ability to connect with others, becoming more than you imagined you could be - the speaking and the person are truly connected.
Then, if we can manage THIS, we can move on to other - frankly, simpler - things. Like being funny.
This is a leap of faith, a wild jump into the unknown - if we take the mask off, become visible, take a risk, what happens? Isn't better to cross that road, before throwing humour into the mix? Humour feels scarier, but it's actually safer.
Hello! My name is Donna, and Raconteur is my Studio. Words are my passion - especially beautiful, powerful words, beautifully and powerfully shared. I never planned to be a Spoken Arts instructor, but I was lucky enough to have fallen into the work 23+ years ago - and I have never really looked back.