Want People to Listen? Try Being Funny

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This piggybacks off a post Craig Newmark made on LinkedIn: He’s the “Craig” in Craigslist, and in this piece dispensing advice, he talks about how he used to be a big know-it-all when he worked at IBM. As he says, “My boss told [me] that it had become a real problem with about half my co-workers... [but] my saving grave was my sense of humor.”

Basically, people couldn’t stomach him when he was acting like a know-it-all. But when he tried to be funny, people would listen.

I know what you’re possibly thinking: I’m not funny.

It doesn’t matter.

I’ll explain why best I can for the non-comedy crowd, but this goes back to a lot of basic tenets in improv. One of improv’s big catch phrases is that there’s “truth in comedy.” It means comedy doesn’t come from trying to be funny, it’s about playing the reality of a situation. You can tell a terrible joke in a funny way and it will still be funny — and if the funny way is you nervously trying to get through a big, long, circuitous joke that doesn’t really pay off in the end it doesn’t matter. Watching people squirm or struggle is inherently funny, relatively speaking. It isn’t funny because it’s fall-down funny hilarious, but it’s funny because it’s honest and so much of our day-to-day is engineered to mask what’s going on in our minds, to just do our jobs and to just keep our own personal business to ourselves.

It’s why people didn’t like Craig. He’d act like a know-it-all because he felt like everyone else was beneath him or not as smart as he was. But that’s why Craig realized that it “didn’t matter if I was funny or not” because at least he wasn’t being a jerk.

I’m not saying anyone who reads this blog is a jerk — in fact, I find that highly doubtful — but if you find you’re having trouble getting people to listen to you, well, try a new approach. Try telling jokes. Try being something different that’s closer to who you really are. 

David Wolinsky is a freelance writer and a lifelong Chicagoan. In addition to currently serving as an interviewer-writer for Adult Swim, he's also a comedy-writing instructor for Second City. He was the Chicago city editor for The Onion A.V. Club where he provided in-depth daily coverage of this city's bustling arts/entertainment scene for half a decade. His first career aspirations were to be a game-show host.

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