These top tips will inspire you to tell a story with the swagger of a true stand-up comedian!
Banish that ‘Tell a Joke in 10 Easy Steps’ book and disregard tips loaned by enthusiastic uncles on tawdry boys’ nights out. Keeping an audience of any size entertained, is an art — and, like all others, it requires practice and a study of human psychology. Of course we’re here to save you the trouble of a whole lot of research and reading. Having quizzed the funniest guys in showbiz on the tricks of their trade, LIVEINSTYLE.COM presents a concise storytelling cheat sheet that explores five top tips that will help you tell a story with the swag of a true stand-up comedian — an art that is likely to land you every dinner party invitation and hot date on the near horizon!
Everyone envies a good stand-up, even a bad one! The gift of evoking chuckles in a smitten audience is very rare. You may be an average Joe, but the ability to engage and entertain any audience will catapult you straight to the top of the pecking order, where you’ll be adored by everyone from the ladies to the lads.
Let’s begin by assuming you aren’t genetically programmed with the natural swag of a stand-up comedian. Here’s the good news: a staggering majority of funny guys aren’t born with it. There is much more to the art of storytelling than just a gift of the gab and charisma (though they always help!). If you’re looking to score as the host of the next exciting evening out, or even to make your mark at a business conference, here’s what you need to know about telling a story the stand-up way…
Storytelling is all about engaging audiences, and there’s nothing better to up the stakes than an introduction that goes straight for the jugular. A writer has the time to set up a background and ramble for a few pages, but a raconteur really has just a few minutes to hook his audience. Pick a strong subject that takes the interest of your audience into consideration, because selecting the right story for the right crowd is paramount.
Also remember that the story or joke, while immensely important, is not enough in itself. British comedians Richard Herring and Josie Long say, “You need to be able to appear relaxed and confident, control the room, think on your feet, involve the audience without letting them steal focus from you, and adapt your style and material to dozens of different scenarios.” It’s a recommendation you should regard, irrespective of the platform or occasion.
GO FOR GOLD
According to Matt Besser, one of the world’s leading improv-artists, there’s no talent like knowing when to hold back. A stand-up comedian has a readymade (paying) audience, while it’s more likely that you’re at a party with a bunch of other folks who are telling other stories. You need to get the audience vibe. “Don’t follow a great story with one that is less than that,” Besser warns. Either hold your peace, or pitch a tried-and-tested winning tale with complete confidence.
BE AN EQUAL OPPORTUNITY OFFENDER
Russell Peters (that crazy Canadian comedian every joke-loving Indian has adopted), has a rule about picking on his audience. “I’ll tell a joke about a group of people only when they’re in the room,” he says. It’s healthy advice, especially if your brand of humour naturally tends to be high on sarcasm.
Even then, avoid attacking low-hanging fruit like nagging wives, mother-in laws, politicians and the Russian mafia — and watch your blind spots. If not yourself, always find something or someone new to take a dig at and do it to their face. You really don’t want to start an argument when all you’d intended to do was be funny, so be mindful of your audience at all times.
PRACTICE AND PERSIST
“I’ve always considered myself to be just average talent and what I have is a ridiculous, insane possessiveness for practice and preparation,” admits one of Hollywood’s funniest superstars, Will Smith. Write down every funny story that comes to mind (even if you’re in the strangest place when inspiration hits), before you forget it.
Then practice telling the tale out loud. You may not hit the jackpot immediately, but try and try again. Iconic American comedian, actor and writer Louis C.K. urges amateurs to jump up on any platform they get, to “try, fail (and), repeat.” Success at storytelling won’t always elude you.
EDIT LIKE A BOSS
There’s nothing as unfunny as a story that goes on forever. As hilarious as you may be, people just don’t have time.
Before clinking a wine glass and gathering attention, always ask yourself, what would you say if you only had five minutes to tell the story? At the same time, be careful not to edit out too much information or you’ll leave out material that’s important for the setup or overall story.
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