Want to be hilarious? Mix these 3 comedy personas
Sweat is going down my back. My feet are heavy. My mouth is dry, and I need to take a shit. It feels like I am about to jump off a cliff without a parachute, but that’s not the case. It’s worse than that.
I am about to perform stand-up comedy for the first time in my life.
I look around, terrified. I am standing in a dark corridor, backstage, with a bunch of other performers. No one talks, which is actually pretty standard for Copenhagen. There are rules in the universe. Joey doesn’t share food, and the Danish don’t do small talk.
But this is somehow different. These people are scared.
Some of the performers are looking at their notes. Others are biting their nails. Others are pacing and panicking. Holy shit, are we supposed to be the funny people?
We look like nervous high school students preparing for a test. Except for this time, laughter IS the expected response.
I hold eye contact with a girl. Her name is Mia. She starts shaking her head.
“Ah man… what if my Holocaust joke’s not gonna work?”
I look her in the eye.
“Don’t worry. It is going to work.”
She smiles at me.
It’s totally not going to work. This audience is way too nice for a Holocaust joke. But I can take a smile. Also, I hate to deliver bad news. Also, I want to see how the joke performs.
We hear big applause as the current performer wraps up his act. The host takes over the microphone.
“And now, please give a big round of applause to our next performer… the very funny Mia!”
Applause, cheering. She goes on stage. She starts her act and her opening jokes work fine. The audience likes her. And then, the moment we’ve been waiting for comes around.
She starts to build up for her Holocaust joke.
Backstage, the comedians look up from their notes. They stop pacing and biting their nails. We look at each other in excitement. The air freezes.
She delivers the punchline.
Bam! Hysterical laughter! Sudden ovation! Some audience members even clap! She fucking made it!
Backstage we all smile and nod. Well done. This is how you do it.
She wraps up her act and walks offstage. Everyone claps and screams, which is amazing for her, but terrifying for me. I am coming next.
As she reenters the backstage, I give Mia a fist bump, and then… I forget everything.
How the hell do I start my set?! What’s my opening line?! What’s my first joke?! What do I do?! Fuck you Mia!
“And now, please welcome on stage… the very funny Gábor Pintér!”
Shit, shit, shit, shit! Where’s my parachute?!
Why the hell learn comedy?
I have been performing stand-up and improv comedy for years. Performing comedy is great on its own, but it’s something you can make use of in your real life too.
Why? Because knowing how to be funny helps you become more likable. Everyone likes to laugh. Everyone likes to relate. Being able to deliver your thoughts and stories in an entertaining way makes you more attractive and fun to be around.
Knowing how to do your comedy shifts your position on the nice-and-funny-graph. If you are nice and funny at the same time, you are golden. People will love you.
To be funny, you can learn about comedy, which you can do in many ways. One is simply learning how to come up with jokes. I recommend this amazing book on the subject.
Another one is learning about comedy personas. And guess what brother. That’s exactly what I’m gonna write about in this post.
What are comedy personas?
Comedy personas are attitudes. They are ways of seeing and ways of telling. You can tell the same joke with 2 different comedy personas and they will land completely differently.
Through my comedy journey, I’ve found 3 defining personas that work fantastically together. Obviously, there are more than 3, and the borders are usually blurred between them.
These 3 however are so archetypical, they are worth discovering in depth. They also happen to extend each other perfectly.
Let’s see what they are and how you can use them.
1. The Self-deprecator
Self-deprecation is probably the easiest approach to comedy. It’s safe and it doesn’t require any opinions. Plus, it’s almost impossible to offend anyone by trash-talking yourself.
Doing self-deprecating jokes is super easy. You just start shooting yourself in the foot and hope to make the audience laugh in the process.
This is how you do it:
Talk about how bad you are at certain things. Compare yourself to superior people. Compare your expectations with your reality. The contrast drawn between these extremes is always interesting and funny.
Comedians love to open their sets with self-deprecation jokes because of two reasons. It makes them relatable and it’s easier to punch upwards once they have punched themselves to the ground. This is a technique you can use in newly met social groups too.
💪 Advantages of being self-deprecating
- It’s super simple. Unless you are living a magnificent life, it’s pretty easy to come up with stuff you are bad at.
- It’s risk-free. You are unlikely to offend anyone.
- It’s a great opener. Whether you are on stage or in a new social group, it’s a fantastic icebreaker.
- It’s super relatable. Unless you are talking about something super unique, people will relate to you instantly.
“When I was young I had sex with a prostitute. I was so bad, she gave back the money” - Robin Williams
⚠️ Dangers of being self-deprecating
- You might become a sad clown. The audience might laugh at you instead of with you.
- You might become just a sad person. If people didn’t get the joke, your joke becomes just a sad comment.
- You might come across as boring and self-centered. You need to talk about something else than yourself to remain interesting.
💡 Tips for being self-deprecating
- Use universal subjects. Use general subjects, such as being bad at dating, being bad at sex, not getting enough sex, being broke, living in a bad neighborhood, or being a suppressed dad. These subjects are relatable, which makes people feel empathy for you instead of pity.
- Avoid sensitive subjects. If something deeply hurts you, people will smell it and will feel bad for you. Instead, choose something you can genuinely joke about.
- Exaggerate! Clarify that you are half-joking. Instead of saying you have to pinch pennies by the end of the month, just say you are broke as fuck.
- Combine self-deprecation with overconfidence. What is overconfidence? Excellent question:
2. The Overconfident
Overconfidence is probably the best type of humor for dating. It’s playful. It’s mysterious. Ambiguous and sexy. But how do you achieve that?
Overconfidence is about making statements that are bold and obscure. You demonstrate something impressive, that is either true or not. If you do it right, you’ll keep your audience on their toes. They will never know when you are joking and when you are serious.
Look at Barney Stinson, Joey Tribbiani, or Phil Dunphy. They are perfect examples. They always show confidence, even when it’s obvious that what they are saying is not true. They fake it until they make it.
The danger of this persona is to come across as arrogant.
To avoid this, you have to shift characters. Change your posture, use body language, or even change your voice a bit. Raise your eyebrows. Drawing a clear distinction between the real you and the overconfident you helps the audience to understand that you are (half) joking. The key here is to find the perfect balance in the middle, between “obviously joking” and “obviously arrogant”.
💪 Advantages of overconfidence
- It increases status. Even if it’s obvious that you are joking (and it should be!), the willingness to risk that you come across as arrogant implies confidence.
- It balances out self-deprecation. Mix the two to cover the whole insecurity-confidence spectrum.
- It’s more inviting. People might not want to join in on trashing you when you use self-deprecation. Being overly confident about something is much more playful and inviting.
⚠️ Dangers of being overconfident
- You might come across as arrogant. If it’s not clear that you are joking, you might seem like an asshole.
- It might be offending. Pick the wrong subject, and you might come across as sexist, racist, agist, etc.
- It gets boring. If you use overconfidence exclusively, like everything else, it gets boring.
💡 Tips for overconfidence
- Be extreme. Say things like “never”, “always”, “best”, “worst”, “absolutely not” and “100%”.
- Be inclusive. Instead of saying “I” say “We”. This way you’ll include your peers in your bold statement, which is a very friendly gesture.
- Make lists. If your first overconfident joke doesn’t land well, increase the stake. Take absurdity to another level. This clarifies that you are joking.
- Don’t break character. Some people might challenge your overconfident statement. Don’t back off. Highten your statement by saying something even bolder. Raise your eyebrows even higher.
- Use body language. Change your body language to embody a fancy / posh / picky person. This helps your audience distinguish between the real you and the overconfident you.
- Follow up overconfidence with self-deprecation. Overconfident (and arrogant) characters taking a knock at the end of the story is funny.
3. The Rage Comedian
Rage comedy is the Wall Street of comedy. It’s all or nothing. You either win your audience over completely or not at all. There’s hardly any middle ground.
A commonly used rage comedy technique is the “let me explain” technique. Grab your audience’s attention by making an outrageous statement, like “You know what’s hilarious about sexual assault?” (Bill Burr in Paper Tiger). With this technique, you introduce your conclusion first, wait for a moment (that’s the “let me explain moment”), and then back up your statement with your jokes.
Again, this comedy persona is the riskiest of all. On the flip side however, this persona can be the most relieving too.
Hearing someone putting your thoughts into words in an entertaining way is fantastic to listen to. It gives you that “Finally someone says it out loud” feeling. This persona has also the highest chance of earning the “Funny because it’s true” badge.
Rage Comedy’s sexy little sister is Cynicism. She can achieve the same result (providing critique and addressing important issues) but she’s a much safer play and she lacks Rage Comedy’s passion. Smaller risks, smaller stakes.
💪 Advantages of doing Rage Comedy
- It’s real, man. Rage comedy requires real opinions. Opinions require thinking and criticism.
- It gives you a confident look like nothing else. Real opinions imply strong confidence.
- It can be super relieving. Think of that “Finally someone says it out loud” and “Funny because it’s true” feelings.
⚠️ Dangers of doing Rage Comedy
- Easiest to offend people with. Strong opinions will naturally generate counter-opinions. Pick the wrong subject or the wrong audience, and you are crucified.
- Almost always requires an act-out. You need passion to deliver your rant effectively. You need to use voices, faces and gestures for maximum effect.
- You might come across as an asshole. To avoid this, express vulnerability for example in the shape of self-deprecation jokes.
💡 Tips for doing Rage Comedy
- Stand by your opinion. You need a strong standpoint to deliver Rage Comedy with confidence. Think through what you are saying thoroughly.
- Warm-up. Use 1. Self-condesence or 2. Overconfidence before jumping into Rage Comedy.
- Use stories. Stories make it easier to feel empathy for you and see things through your lens.
- Rant on small stuff. Instead of raging over feminism and abortion, get angry over irrelevant stuff. That’s funny too. Think about first-world problems, such as “when the pizza is not evenly sliced”. Get angry over that.
- Use the “Let me explain” technique. Shock your audience with a bold statement. Back up your opinion with jokes. Feel free to clarify that you are just messing around at the end.
- Use the “I know what you’re thinking” technique. Represent the counter opinion too in your rant. Demonstrate, that you know what the usual reaction is, and debate with that statement too.
- Always punch upwards or sideways. Making fun of the less fortunate ones with rage is an extremely risky (and perhaps, morally questionable) business.
Mix these personas to surprise people
Everyone develops their own comedy personas. Sometimes it happens consciously, sometimes unconsciously. It becomes your default, go-to attitude when you want to make people laugh.
Some people use self-deprecation jokes 90% of the time. Others prefer overconfidence. Others feel comfortable delivering cynical jokes only.
If you want to become more conscious about your comedy skills, try out mixing all these 3 personas. Experiment with the ones you feel the weakest at. Try telling your favorite stories in a different comedy persona. This will make your social skills more colorful and versatile.
That’s my time, thank you guys, you were amazing
I wrap up my act and walk off stage. The audience is applauding and cheering. Backstage, performers are congratulating and high-fiving me.
“Well done Gábor, well done! Can’t believe you are a first-timer!” - they are patting me on my shoulders.
This was easy. What was I afraid of? I should’ve known that I am a comedic genius. Now I am confident that this will be always this easy and that I’ll never ever bomb. Ever. Finally, I know how I will make billions as an artist and donate hundreds as good person. Should I quit my steady and secure programming job now or should I wait until Monday?
I am high as fuck. My brain is full of dopamine. Dopamine? Or is it endorphins? I don’t know. I don’t know what the fuck this is. All I know is that I love this feeling.
All I know is that I want to do this again.