This article originally appeared on Brightest Young Things
We asked Shrake, head of Story League, for some tips about being funny when telling a story. Rather than write the list himself, he solicited responses from eight previous Story League winners, aka people who have made money for telling a funny story. ~BYT
MISTAKE: Not being clear on WHY you want to tell this story publicly. FIX:Give it the “So What? Test” before you even pitch your idea, i.e., What would make anyone care about this beyond me (and possibly my closest friends)?
MISTAKE: Not telling enough fart stories. FIX: Eat at Ben’s Chili Bowl more often.
MISTAKE: Telling a story for the first time… on stage. You’ve never told this story to anyone in your life; now you’re telling it to a room full of people who paid to hear a good story. FIX: Tell your story first to friends, coworkers, family, etc., to see if it passes the test — and to make sure it all makes sense! Stories that kill at bars, parties, and other social settings will most likely kill on stage too.
MISTAKE: Your story isn’t a story, but rather a weird, rambling string of loosely related anecdotes. FIX: Pick the best option off your cluster of anecdotes and commit to it. Then, eliminate anything that does not contribute to the arc of the story.
MISTAKE: Memorizing your story, word for word. FIX: Know your story generally and practice different routes of getting to the next plot point or joke. Tell it out loud, either to yourself, or a friend — in person or by phone. (My dog knows all my stories.) By “knowing” your story instead of “reciting” as written (monologue style = boring), you give yourself flexibility in your performance and seem more natural to the crowd. Much better than quaking in fear that you will choke as your panicked brain tries to remember the exact word or phrase you wrote.
MISTAKE: Not making yourself vulnerable. You can tell a funny story about things that happened and your role in those events, but it won’t be memorable unless you put yourself out there. FIX: Reflect honestly on what you felt and how you may have appeared to others even if it makes you look “bad,” because those are the moments when the audience really connects with you and your story.
MISTAKE: Your story doesn’t have an ending. After the climax, you find yourself petering out with an awkward laugh and, “So, yeah….” FIX: Ask yourself how you changed during the story. Did it give you a new perspective? Did you learn something? Did it make you say “never again”? The audience wants to know who you were at the beginning and who you are now. Try to express that, but not literally with, “And so, the moral of the story is…”
MISTAKE: Standing too far from the microphone. FIX: You want your mouth to be about an inch from the mic. It feels too close, but it works. When you hold the mic an arm’s length away, like an “American Idol” contestant belting out the final note of some Usher song, you just can’t be heard — and if no one hears your story, no one can like your story.
MISTAKE: Stepping on laughter and/or waiting for the laughter you think should have come. FIX: Let yourself and the audience soak in the fact that something you said just made the WHOLE ROOM laugh, and don’t let that moment pass by speeding through your story. Also, just because you say something that you believe is funny doesn’t mean the audience will agree, so don’t stand there looking dumbfounded that your witty retort or reference didn’t get the laugh you wanted. Just relax, ’cause the crowd will tell you what is funny and what is whimsical and cute.