So, you spontaneously told a joke at the office, and it was a hit. You told the joke again to the parking attendant and he kinda chuckled. Not the same response but you know the joke is funny because everyone in the break room laughed. It was funny…right? At a dinner with the in-laws that same night, you hesitantly tell the same joke one more time. And everyone stares awkwardly at you until you wish you could shrink yourself down and hide in the bowl of mashed potatoes.
What went wrong? Why did the joke go over so well in one instance and not another?
It could be that it’s a just a different crowd, it could be that everyone was too busy concentrating on uncle Walter’s bad breath and ill-fitting dentures. Or, more likely, it could be something that you can control and manage.
Today on BS news, we have comedian, actor and comedy instructor Foad HP joining us to discuss one of the most likely reasons that a solid joke can flop. (And also why my sets seem to go over much better when I’m in a rancid mood and I get a little shouty on stage.)
It’s All in the Delivery: How to Go from Crickets to Applause Break
by Foad HP
In any sort of public
speaking, your tone of voice is of paramount importance. A person can say one
thing and mean the opposite just through their tone of voice, otherwise known
as sarcasm. In performance, tone of voice can make the difference between
crickets, a laugh or an applause break. Stand-up comics especially, must be
in complete control of their tone on every word.
Equally as important as tone is your pitch, or inflection. An inflection can either be upward or downward. Upward inflections will make sentences sound like questions. Downward inflections will make sentences sound like statements. Use too many upward inflections and one might sound unsure in themselves, and their material.
This upward inflection has a name, it’s called a lilt, and some accents have it naturally built in, like the Australian accent. North American audiences tend to forgive it with “foreign” accents, but are by and large, annoyed by lilts in the North American accent. In North America, women are more likely to have lilts than their male counterparts as well.
Sounding confident and sure of yourself is one of the most, if not the most important part, of stand up. Coming down with your inflections is a great way to sound confident, even if you aren’t just yet. The simplest way to do this is through deliberate practice. Practice your jokes repeatedly, and focus on coming down with your inflection, unless you intend what you’re saying to come across as a question, or unsure.
Being in control of your voice, and all it’s facets will help make you the best stand up comic you can be*!
*Results may vary.
Foad HP is an actor, comic, and writer from Toronto. He has performed at Just for Laughs, taped a set for Kevin Hart’s Lol Network, won the Toronto Comedy Brawl, written for This Hour Has 22 Minutes, and made guest appearances in American Gods and Nikita.