How to be funny
A thin book.
So thin, it has no words on the spine. Thankfully, there are words on the cover.
So with only 5 chapters, is there enough to warrant a look?
Here we go…
Of the author, Robert Klamm was born almost blind.
In his book, he offers a range of exercises, and with the first presented, Learning to Laugh at Yourself, it’s clear he took it in his stride.
And that’s if you haven’t noticed his packed and long career.
When it comes to the exercises, there are no particular instructions. It’s more of a guide.
Points are made with some examples and a few questions are left for you to answer.
This begins with you inspecting your own shortcomings and prompts you in that direction (please, keep your pants on).
There comes the first example of being overweight, and a few things you might say, if you are.
Fine for a starting point but could a career be built around this? Some UK people might say Jo Brand.
Klamm further asks you to think of word definitions, to examine everyday objects for different uses, and to look for the humorous sides of even serious subjects.
These are all useful techniques you’ll find in more ‘advanced’ instructionals. The difference here is that there’s little wordy talk under each item.
You might like this or you might not.
That makes this a thinking person’s book. Short on the words while letting you do the work with the exercises.
The upshot of chapter 1 is to look at things from a different point of view and find humour in unlikely places.
Reading on, the author encourages creativity and gives you a number of games to try. The purpose is to help you produce ideas (the bonus at the bottom of the article is my go at one of them).
Deeper in, there’s a short bit about a neighbour and a lawnmower. A nearby child offers instruction which causes the neighbour to double up with laughter.
Then a bit about a secretly recorded family gathering. That segues into a short story about a woman volunteering for a magician. A bra is involved.
Now you’ve had the important part of the story, I’ll tell you this; the family gathering bit doesn’t speak to me, but the lawnmower and magician pieces give real insight.
They look at who delivers a line and which person is subject to a joke.
Worth considering for future application of your own humour and how you might direct it.
So if a joke or line of yours doesn’t land, but you know it’s funny, think about it; was the target or delivery wrong?
Here’s a photo of the late Robert W Klamm, from the back cover. What he tells you in these pages is that you first need to laugh at yourself. Take that advice to heart, because if anyone’s a target for your jokes, make it yourself first.
There are a couple of exercises to end chapter 2.
Klamm asks more questions to guide you through the process. Here, his first example answers to the first exercise seems lazy; he admits they were done in the spur of the moment. (An important point, away from the topic of this review, is to remember to take time to show and edit your good ideas).
Arguably the most handy part of the book comes next.
Four rules about physical actions and how to get laughs from them. This is really useful, so pay attention if you’re in this part.
Next come Specific Comedy Devices.
It includes 27 different techniques for getting laughs. A useful jumping off point of items to consider.
The devices come with explanations and examples.
And being such a short book, there are no elaborate descriptions.
The author is one who believes that timing can be caught. Sit close enough to a gifted person, and you’ll catch it (since this is hilarious commentary, I’m leaving it here).
What I mean is that he believes timing is teachable, and as a side note, that’s the same school as Jerry Corley.
If Klamm believes timing can be picked up, how do you do it?
He says most inexperienced performers need to start the process consciously. And to develop the skill fully, an audience is required.
Talk of this comes in an interesting chapter that shows one liners and how they can be improved by simple rearrangement.
The tip to put laugh getting words to the end of a sentence, shown with examples, is also found within these pages (as oppose to the empty space near your book or reading device).
Chapter 5 encourages you, the performer, to find your character. It goes beyond jokes and asks you to discover what works for you.
There’s a page on Bob Hope’s character, one on Jack Benny’s, and if you’re too young to know who those two were, they used to be human beings (wah, wah, wah, wah, wa-aa-aa-aa-ah).
He also mentions his own comic character. This has vital clues as to what to look for when developing your own.
Knowing himself, and having understood his personal constraints, this has more applicable information than the discussion on Hope and Benny.
Look at the few suggestion questions included for finding your character; they’re worth trying out.
Finally, if you don’t count the conclusion page, the book ends with 2 more exercises to try yourself. (or you could hand the book to someone else for a go. They could alternatively buy a copy. It’s not that expensive. I mean, who do they think they are? Jack Benny?)
For those that haven’t been taking count, that brings the total number of exercises in the book to… no, I haven’t been paying attention, either.
A small book with some important lessons that appear in instructional books from more established names. Also a few rules that maybe don’t appear in other places.
Give this book a chance, and think about what it says, as it has more depth than its lightweight stature shows.
The exercises and short length mean it’s one of those books where you have to think more to get the most out of it.
Try out the exercises in the book to see what you get out of them. Explore the questions to further ideas you haven’t considered.
Ways to approach ideas creatively.
Important ideas to develop funny ideas.
People who demand more instruction.
A larger book could have provided further examples.
Quicker readers will be through in an hour or two.
A couple of days, max, for the slower, dedicated reader.
Below is my attempt at the final exercise in the book. Exercise 2 on page 48.
Choose a comic device from Chapter 3.
I’ve selected ‘Impersonation’. Write a short comic scenario with other elements from the devices. I choose, Getting it all Wrong, Understatement & Exaggeration.
I’m going to take simple approach here and use a typical fraudster from the bank, kind of scenario. Here it is:
Allan: “Hello, this is Allan. I’m calling from your bank about a recent transaction.”
Rogers: “What transaction?”
Allan: “This is Mrs Jones?”
Rogers: “No, it’s Mr Rogers.”
Allan: “An easy mistake to make.”
Rogers: “Which bank are you phoning from?”
Allan: “Alzo bank.”
Rogers: “I don’t bank at Alzo bank.”
Allan: “An easy mistake to make.”
Rogers: “Not really. I know which bank I use and it isn’t Alzo bank.”
Allan: “That’s interesting. Which bank do you use?”
Rogers: “None of your business.”
Allan: “It is my business because of a mistake in transaction.”
Rogers: “What transaction?”
Allan: “We recently paid you a million dollars by mistake.”
Rogers: “No you didn’t.”
Allan: “You’re denying we made this honest transaction?”
Rogers: “It never happened.”
Allan: “It was $500,000 paid in error.”
Rogers: “That’s half the amount you just said.”
Allan: “Of course it is, sir. An easy mistake to make.”
Rogers: “Not likely.”
Allan: “Please sir, you can help with this recovery. I believe you want to assist your local bank?”
Rogers: “Where are you based?”
Rogers: “That’s not local. You’re miles away. About 20,0000.”
Allan: “Not far. Only half way round the earth.”