The most powerful tool a host possesses is humor. It is also the most dangerous.
While nothing will create a loyal listener faster than making that person laugh, nothing will turn that person off faster than trying to be funny when you’re not.
Nothing sounds worse than the host who is trying to be funny. Nothing sounds better than the host who is.
I believe that if you can make someone laugh, consistently, you have a fan for life. If you can create an enjoyable, fun, lighthearted show that makes people feel good when they listen to it and it puts a smile on their face, that’s powerful.
Humor remains the whole point behind morning zoo radio shows – they’re designed to make you laugh. All of radio as a platform decided 40 years ago the best way to draw a loyal audience was to make people laugh. I think that still holds true today.
The problem is, making people laugh is hard. That’s why stand-up comedy in my opinion is the toughest genre of the entertainment business. It’s why comedic actors are paid so well.
It’s hard to make people laugh.
So, how do you create humor in your show, how do you make people laugh if you are not naturally funny, and most people aren’t?
I’m not funny. But I know how to make people laugh. And so do you.
The easiest way to make people laugh without constructing jokes or bits is through self-deprecation. Stories. People’s lives are shit and they want to know your life is shit too.
They want to know when your kid gets detention, when you have a flat tire, when you gain four pounds and when your wife won’t have sex with you. It’s funny because it’s relatable. It’s funny because it sucks, but we all go through the same thing, and as listeners, we want to know the people talking to us face the same shit we do.
It’s a connection. It’s personal. It’s vulnerable. And it’s funny.
When you’re carrying groceries out to your car in the rain and spill them all over the parking lot, that’s funny. It just is.
One of the hosts at the station where I work recently told a story about how he put diesel fuel in his truck. He spent $70 to fill up his tank only to wreck his engine, have to pay several hundred dollars to have the truck towed and the diesel pumped out, and it destroyed his catalytic converter, another $2,000. That’s funny.
Now, funny isn’t the real bummers of your life – cancer, parents dying, that sort of thing – those stories are worth sharing for a different reason, but the stupid stuff you do and the consequences of that behavior, those are funny stories and we all have them.
When you laugh at yourself your listeners will join in.
Beyond self-deprecation, on a talk show, I wouldn’t hesitate to play funny sound clips from stand-up comedy routines and movies. Play 20-90 seconds of someone else being funny to lighten the mood. Invite funny people onto your show and let them be funny. Get out of their way.
Colin Cowherd, one of the most talented and successful sports talk show hosts of all time has a simple guiding philosophy for how to approach topics on his show: “find the football and find the funny.”
You should make an effort on every show to “find the funny” as well.