Illustration by Jason Schneider
How to Be Funny
Professional comedian Jane Condon shares five tips for being funny.
Want to make your students or kids laugh? Considering standup comedy to supplement your education salary? Jane Condon, Ed.M.’74, author of the new cartoon book, Chardonnay Moms, shares five secrets about her own success touring the country and appearing on shows like The View and Today as a professional standup comedian.
- Nuns can be helpful. “This is where I learned in high school to pass notes and whisper funny jokes. Thank you, Sister Mary Conleth, Sister Magdocia, Sister Vincentia, Sister Rose Immaculata, Sister Marylena. But biggest thanks to Sister Edwardette who scared me daily. No notes in her class! It was alltrigonometry and Latin III.”
- Remember your great teachers. My fourth-grade teacher in the TAG program made all of us stand up and give speeches. I talked (at length, probably too long) about my trip to Washington, D.C. In her class, I also made Mount Vernon out of a shoe box, a foot-high Washington Monument with a flour-water-and-salt reflecting pool, and a cardboard Lincoln Memorial. My eighth-grade English teacher, Mrs. Shilonski, had us read Shakespeare’s comedy As You Like It before anyone told us Shakespeare can be hard. And we loved it and this material all helps.
- Embrace family problems. Most comedians have a great pain somewhere in the background. We had drinking and mental illness. But we also had love. When my dad died when I was 15, my job as the youngest of four was to jump up and down and entertain people. “I know that’s bad but… look over here.”
- Find an audience. Before you perform in front of a paying audience or classroom, you need friends and comedy buddies who laugh at your jokes. And you need the honest ones who don’t — until the joke is good. Also once I get a show, my first question is always, “Who’s the audience?” Be conversational, as if talking to a friend.
- Lastly, do it. Get on stage. As much as you can. Do it, do it, do it, then do it some more. (Classroom teachers are lucky. They have stage time every day.) Use surprise, exaggeration, specifics, emotion (remembering that “I hate” is funnier than “I love”), and honesty. Authentic is the highest praise. And here’s the best advice of all, the simplest but the hardest: Be you. Show us your world. As Oscar Wilde once said, “Be yourself. Everyone else is taken."
Read a profile of Condon in the Winter 2012 issue of Ed.