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Humor is a funny thing. When it works it’s almost as good as sex. When it doesn’t work it’s more painful than a root canal. How many times have you tried to tell someone a joke only to have it come out wrong? Being funny is a talent and the world is full of people who are, what Robin Williams calls, “comedically impaired”. Being able to tell a joke is a minor part of being funny. Luckily for most of us it is a talent you can learn.

Research
This is the fun part. In order to learn how to tell a joke you have to watch the professionals. Today’s stand-up comedians are less likely to tell jokes of the “take my wife, please” variety. You can still learn how to handle funny material by watching The Comedy Network or visiting your local comedy club. Watch how comics move, note their facial expressions, listen to the rhythm of their words. There are also some great videos available. Try Robin Williams’ “Live”, Whoopi Goldberg’s “Fontaine: Why Am I Straight” or George Carlin’s “Jammin In New York”.

Memorize
Start out with a simple joke; it may be one line and then the punchline. The more complicated the joke the easier it is to mess it up. Go slow and add material as you get better. Don’t try to do the “three strings walk into a bar” joke right away. Work your way up to it. Once you’ve picked a joke you’d like to tell, write it down. The worst thing that can happen to you when you’re telling a joke is forgetting the punchline. Repeat it to yourself until you know it off by heart.

Practice your style
The next step is to stand in front of the mirror and say the joke over and over. Try to remember how the person you heard the joke from told it. Say it fast, say it slow. Whisper it, then shout it. Keep trying it different ways until you find one that feels right. Chances are it will be pretty close to the way you first heard the joke. Jokes are usually dropped into conversations: “That reminds me of a funny thing I heard the other day…” They work best when you sound like you’re sharing something with your best friend. Keep this in mind no matter how big your audience is.

Relax
Comedy is meant to be fun. It’s not brain surgery. Nobody’s going to die if you mess up. Take a few deep breaths before starting your joke. Some public speaking courses advise you to visualize your audience in their underwear. Don’t go there. You don’t want to think of anything funnier than your joke. You could end up in fits of laughter that no one understands. Think about how good you’ll feel when people laugh at your joke and then jump right in.

Following these simple steps will make telling a joke a lot less daunting. The only other thing to think about is the situation you are in when you tell your joke. It’s not a good idea to tell a joke that begins “you might be a red neck” when you’re at JoeBob’s Beernut Bash. Remember that humor is meant to make people feel good, not bad. With a little consideration for your fellow human beings you can avoid unpleasantness and still have fun. Who knows, you may just become the life of the party.