What To Do When Your Funny Story Isn't Funny

I'm a terrible storyteller. With enough keyboard time I can turn a personal experience into a passable narrative, but in person I fall to pieces. Whenever I try to share a "funny story," even if I've tried following Lifehacker's storytelling tips, I see my audience's faces freeze into a rictus as my story reaches its disappointing climax. So I've abused my power as a journalist to ask some comedians for free advice: How do you fix a funny story that's not working?

I forgot something about comedians: Because they hang around other comedians, they hear way too many "funny" stories. And they're sick of them. So their best advice is, to stop trying so hard.

"The most important thing is self-awareness," says Nicole Drespel, a UCB teacher and writer for The Chris Gethard Show. She recommends acknowledging out loud when your story isn't working out, which might win back your audience.

But she also says she's spent too many nights at tables full of comedians, "where clueless blowhards with status are monopolizing everyone else's time like we're all extras in the unaired pilot of their life. They deserve to maybe have a story fail." So if you've seen any signs that you're talking way too much, take her advice:

Be willing to cut your losses. You're not actually performing. Nobody bought a ticket for this show. You're a human being interacting socially so don't treat your listeners like they're supposed to be a captive audience. You are never going to get your audience back if they resent you for kidnapping.

Stand-up and Last Week Tonight writer Josh Gondelman suggests giving up too:

Bail on the boring story. Ask other people questions! That's what good conversation is! It's not being the most funny person in the room.

This is an unsurprising answer from Josh, a famously polite guy who is so inquisitive and genuinely interested in others that talking to him can feel like being interviewed. And if a professional "funny story" teller is saying "your funny story isn't that important," you should probably listen.

I don't usually love when the "quick fix" is "just don't do that thing," but honestly in this case it's a relief. If you just don't have wacky stories, you don't have to force them; no one will miss them. Just ask other people questions until you find their good stories. But if you really want to fix your own story, read our other advice and hone that thing until people want to hear it.


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