Humor as a quick-witted technique: to make others laugh


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Text comes from: Schlagfertigkeit (2015) by Dr. Matthias Nöllke, published by Haufe Verlag, Reprints by friendly permission of the publisher.
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With humor you are much quicker - also because you break specific expectations. Here you will get to know the various types of laughter and learn which techniques you can use on which occasion.

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Dr. Matthias Nöllke Matthias NöllkeDr. Matthias Nöllke is SPIEGEL-Best-selling author and works for Bavarian Radio.

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Parry attacks

When our quick-wittedness is demanded, we usually deal with situations in which the opposite side does not think so well with us. Somebody accuses us, tries to degrade us or attack us. If we are simply loosely and funny, this can be in the eye.

Example: again too late

Mr. Menke is late for work. His supervisor, Mr. Lackner, awaits him and sneers: "Well, Mr. Menke, last night celebrated a little too long, huh?" - "I implore you," remarked Mr. Menke pathetically, "forgive a man with an excessive need for sleep." Mr. Lackner shakes his head without understanding.

To parry an attack, we have to offer a little more than the signal that we are not really serious about what we're saying right now. We must try to make the others laugh. Then we won.

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Laugh disarmed

If the other laughs about our answer, nothing much can happen to us. He can no longer seriously attack us. Laughter connects and disarms. That is why it is so incredibly attractive to put up with a funny response, which the attacker must laugh with.

Then the situation is settled and relaxed. But how do you start that and make someone laugh who first attacks you? There is no magic recipe for that, but if you follow the advice below, chances are you'll be fine.

The three ways to make an attacker laugh

When someone attacks us, they generally have no intention of “laughing” with us in a relaxed manner. So we have to outsmart the attacker and make him laugh against his intent.

This is quite possible, for laughter is very limited to our will. Laughter can burst out of us, can overwhelm us if we do not want it. In our opinion, there are three ways to make someone laugh who does not deceive us as someone who wants to amuse us:

  • We break the expectation.
  • We rely on the contagious power of laughter.
  • We play the clown

Break the expectation

Komik lives from surprise. What is predictable does not make us laugh. That's why witty sayings also take off so quickly. But do something that the other person does not expect - and he'll laugh. At least if the thing is not threatening. When danger arises unexpectedly, we do not burst out laughing but in panic.

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The basic recipe is almost frighteningly simple, but it seems to us to be biologically programmed. We have to laugh when we are surprised in a harmless way. The scientists in the laboratory have even been able to prove this.

Example: Light weight laughter

Imagine a series of ten weights. They raise the first, it is very easy, the second is a little heavier, the third still somewhat heavier, and so on.

The weight becomes ever heavier until you reach the tenth weight, in the sure expectation to now lift the heaviest. But no, it is the easiest of all. They lift it up with a swing - and have to laugh.

Build expectations and disappoint

Playing with expectations almost always works. But you have to have expectations. The more certain the other person anticipates a certain thing, the easier we can “disappoint” his expectation and make him laugh.

In situations that are rather uncertain, where much is possible, it is much harder for us to achieve a pooling effect. Even if we do something quite mad, astonishing, this will not make the other laugh as reliably as a small but unmistakable deviation from a stable expectation. Just how easy it is to do this in your daily life.

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Practice: breaking expectations

Break through your life with deliberate expectations and pay attention to what is happening.


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