How to Be Funny in English

Would you like to know how to be funny in English? When I say, “funny,” I don’t mean acting like a clown.

You want to be able to say something witty, so that you can make your friends laugh. When people think you’re funny, you can subtly show that you are smart. I’ll teach you how to make people laugh.

What Is Laughter?

There’s one thing to keep in mind before I teach you jokes or funny things to say to your friends. People laugh when the tension is broken.

When a shy girl goes up on the stage to give a speech, she might cover her mouth and chuckle. That’s because she is subconsciously trying to alleviate her nervousness.

The same thing goes for your everyday humor. People laugh to break the tension.

So when you think of making people laugh, you have to know (1) how to build tension, and (2) break the tension at the right time.

So here's how to do them.

How to Build Tension

Building tension involves making people anticipate for the resolution or climax, or set the right atmosphere so that you can take them by surprise when you tell your punchline. To escalate anticipation, you could:

  1. Tell a story and set the tone of suspense, mystery, wonder or excitement.
  2. Say something with double or hidden meanings.


1. Tell a story and set the tone of suspense.

We all love hearing stories. They are a great way to build suspense and tension.

“The other day, I was sitting in front of an apartment and this dude was staring at me with an evil grin.”

2. Say something with double meanings.

Saying something with double meanings would create a tension. But if you go overboard, you could come across as rude and too sarcastic, so be careful!

“I like your new hairstyle. It makes your head look normal.”

This seems like a compliment, but it could also imply that your head doesn’t usually look normal. You can interpret this in both ways, compliment or insult.

How To Break Tension

You need to have built tension if you were to break it.

You can break tension by:

  1. Saying something opposite or unexpected and taking the audience by surprise.
  2. Stating or dramatizing what’s obvious.


1. Saying something opposite or unexpected and taking the audience by surprise.

This is a snippet from one of Louis CK’s stand-ups.

“I went down to the courtyard of my building. I didn’t look good. I had stains and food. I was sitting down on the bench of this courtyard and I’m feeling a little out of place. Then there’s a guy who’s looking at me thinking that I don’t belong here. He says, ’Do you live in this building?’ I said, ‘No.’ Why not start there?”

In a normal situation, you’d expect him to say, “Yes, I live here.” But he said the opposite of what the audience would have expected him to say. The audience thought it was funny.

2. Stating or dramatizing what’s obvious.

I had told this to a friend on her wedding day. She had the wedding dress on.

“You look prettier than last week! What happened?“

She thought it was funny. And the reason why she thought it was funny is because I’m stating the obvious – she’s beautiful because she’s got the dress and had her make up on – and dramatizing it but with a hint of hidden meaning – “prettier than last week” does that mean she wasn’t pretty last week?

So there you have it. If you want to be funnier and make people laugh, build and break tension.

About Josh

뉴욕 출신 일본계 미국인. 현재: 비즈니스 영어 강사로서 활동. 전: 서울교육대학교, 파고다 어학원, 현대백화점, 인천도시공사, 동시통역사. 출연: EBSe, JEI 재능, 한국일보. 영어, 한국어, 일본어 가능. 좋아하는 음식은 타코스. Read more »

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