Ever notice how some people can have the group lighting up in laughter – even when what they’re saying isn’t exactly ‘Last Comic Standing’ worthy material? Are there ever times when you deliver what you feel is a very line or insight, only to have it fall on a polite smile or blank expression?
There’s a very simple, and very specific reason why this happens, and it’s the same reason why you’re sometimes ‘on’ with every joke you tell and sometimes you can’t even make yourself laugh:
People will typically laugh at the joke when you make them feel as if they’re in on it. More specifically, when you look them in the eyes with that, ‘you know’ look as you start to smile as if to say, “we’re in on this joke together.”
As simple as it sounds, I’ve worked with world class performers to get consistency in their performances, and one of the biggest reasons they would bomb was when they would slip into the rut of telling the jokes with ego – looking off into the distance as if they expect them to land, making it more about themselves in a ‘look at me’ fashion.
When I reminded them to start delivering their jokes to specific members of the audience, not only did audience reactions consistently improve, but more surprisingly, the responses on the comics’ faces were perfect, their timing couldn’t have been more spot on. By making their performance more about their connection with the audience, they brought out the best in themselves.
Also, by looking your audience in the eye, you gain the ability to act on your toes – to explain things if they don’t quite get it at first or to admit that it may not have been your best effort with a smile that doesn’t take yourself too seriously. When you’re looking off as you deliver and then slowly peek at their response with fingers crossed, you can only feel awkward as someone else ‘saves the conversation’, or even worse, you start talking more in a mad attempt to salvage things with that next line, losing any semblance of timing in your desperation.
You lose everyone the moment you try to take center stage, the moment you try to make the joke take center stage. The times when everyone – from your date to your office party – lights up at what you say are the times when you look them in the eye and make it more about the fact that you’re letting them in on something than whatever it is you’re letting them in on.
When you smile, with or without the wink, that’s all you’ll need to be known for your sense of humor – whether or not your jokes were even that funny in the first place.